Tyler Thorsen caught and released our biggest trout of the day, this nearly six pounder, from rocks near the mouth of Alazan Bay, using a pumpkinseed/chartreuse Crazy Croaker.
Gene Black (right) caught a good number of trout between 20-25 inches, all on his trademark root beer red Bass Assassin. He released them all into the brownish waters of Baffin Bay, where we found them.
This 24-inch trout, caught with a morning glory Bass Assassin by Aubrey Black, came from the rocks of Black Bluff, where bay waters were off-color but not necessarily brown with algae.
Water is ugly, but not dangerous
Outdoor Calendar: 02.13.05
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Brown out? Maybe not
Algae bloom doesn't seem to be hurting local fishing
February 13, 2005
LOYOLA BEACH ó The air over Baffin Bay on Fat Tuesday was murkier than the tide.
A cap-less Tyler Thorsen and I barely could distinguish the shadowy profiles of Aubrey Black and his father, Gene, as we marched a northward assault on the bayís south shore. Recent reports of an aquatic brown algae in the bay had me expecting visibility through these waters to be hazier than that hampered by last weekís fog, which, from my belly-deep perspective, obscured the nearby Kenedy Ranch and swallowed lures at the end of each cast.
But it wasnít that bad. The water clarity, I mean.
There is no doubt, however, that a light to moderate brown tide has recently returned to sections of Baffin Bay and its finger bays, reviving sour memories from a previous algal bloom that lingered here for seven years. But compared with the now infamous Upper Laguna Madre outbreak of 1990, this one is mild.
Allow me to provide some perspective. Based on brown algae cell counts taken from water samples, todayís bloom is more like a beige tide, about 10 times less dense than cell counts from 1996, when the outbreak peaked at 3 to 4 million organisms per milliliter of water.
Tracy Villareal at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas recently tested several samples taken from some of the murkiest waters of Baffin and her offshoot bays. He estimates cell counts to be several hundred thousand cells per milliliter.
Million, thousands, it makes little difference to fishes, because brown tide, unlike red tide, does not harm them or affect the flavor of their fillets. This yellow/brown alga also does not harm humans, like its irritating crimson cousin.
To what degree the current level of brown tide affects fishing, however, is a question we set out to explore last week. I was pleased with what we discovered.
Old timers such as longtime guides Ron Behnke and Doug Bird will tell you that a really dense brown tide does indeed hamper success with certain lures. Bird said he had so much trouble spotting the rocks of Baffin Bay during the previous brown tide event that he abandoned those efforts to seek greener waters in the Landcut and Corpus Christi Bay.
It wasnít necessarily that fish could not spot his lure ó though this also was a complaint from some anglers ó it was that sinking lures hung in the rocks because even in the brightest sunlight these rock formations were obscured by the opaque water. A float helped offset this annoying problem by keeping lures above the invisible structure.
As Iíve said before, many anglers discovered they could boost success by adding noise to their presentation with either shrimp or soft plastics. This worked so well that many of those anglers still have not removed the Alameda Rattling Floats from their lines.
And letís not forget that during the peak of the previous brown tide bloom, a wade angler in Baffin Bay caught the then-state record speck, a 13-pound, 11-ounce fish in February 1996. Word is the fish fell for a slow-sinking chartreuse Corky, a soft plastic mullet imitation.
It was the year of the wall hanger, despite the brownest of tides, according to local taxidermists.
And letís also not forget that during much of the 1990s brown tide episode, Baffin Bayís trout population was recuperating from the 1989 fish-killing freeze. The murky tide actually might have helped shield newly hatched fish from predators, thereby boosting survival rates. It might surprise you that state gillnet surveys during the latter part of the previous brown tide here showed higher populations of trout, redfish and black drum compared with before the bloom. All signs suggest the bloom had no short- or long-term adverse effects on the resource.
Behnke suggested that brown tide mostly forced anglers to adjust. Murky water is not pretty and most of us avoid brown water for aesthetics alone. So itís hard to know whether fishing success during the previous brown tide really was put to the test.
We know that catch rates with natural baits, particularly croaker and piggies, remained virtually unchanged during the previous bloom. Of course, we could assume sightcasting was difficult.
So last week we decided to began our day scratching the surface of Baffin Bay, conspicuously rattling topwater plugs across an off-color chop. The first clue that we were noticed came from an arching misfire launched at Thorsenís black/chartreuse Skitter Walk by a 25-inch speck. Blowups continued for the next hour or so, resulting in several hookups, but nothing sizeable.
They wanted subsurface lures, specifically dark Bass Assassins dragged along the ancient rocks jutting from a sandy bay bottom. Aubrey Black landed a fat 24-inch trout and his dad caught several upper-class fish, including a couple 23s and a 25, each fooled by his trademark root beer red Bass Assassin. None of the fish we caught tasted a stringer.
This was a good start to our test.
One thing about brown tide is that it migrates. East Kleberg Point might be tainted with algae one day and the next day youíll find the same slug is in another section of the bay. Aubrey Black first noticed a flow of suspicious water in August, seeping into the bay from a sizeable saltwater lake between Black Bluff and Los Corrallos on the Kenedy Ranch shoreline.
This brown water spread throughout that section of the main bay and into Alazan Bay, resulting in a slight color change that lingered for weeks, Black said. Then between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the bloom made its way into the far reaches of Alazan Bay for a time.
Since then, Black said the brown slug has faded and intensified periodically, apparently settling into Cayo del Grullo and Laguna Salada for now. Some people say it never left Laguna Salada. Water samples recently were taken from the back of Laguna Salada, off Neubauer Point at the mouth of Cayo del Grullo and near Kingís Inn at Loyola Beach.
Weíre not sure what causes brown tide and weíre not sure what stems it.
But I can tell you it didnít hamper our fishing last week. We caught trout at each location we tested. We didnít fish in sections of the bay where brown tide was most evident (we never do), but we fished some fairly murky water. We caught a dozen or more trout longer than 20 inches, including two 25s, a handful of 24s and several 23s, all on lures.
Keep me posted on your test results.
Outdoors writer David Sikesí column appears Thursdays and Sundays. Contact him at 886-3616 or firstname.lastname@example.org