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Fishing With a Pepper...

  by A.C. Becker, Jr.

East Bay is the third largest major bay within the Galveston Estuary, It is also the best sportfishing bay of the upper Texas Coast. But that's true only if you know what, where and how to fish it. The fishing is most consistent from spring through the fall. It is inconsistent during the winter, but if you know when and where to go, winter fishing can be bonanza time for speckled trout, especially six to nine pound trophies, and keeper redfish. My personal trophies from West Bay include a 10.1 pound speckled trout and an 8.6 pound flounder. Down through the years the bay has yielded one state record sheepshead and three consecutive state record flounder.

The bay is best understood when one converses with people who have spenta lifetime fishing it. Two such people are Lloyd and Cookie Pepper, a man and wife Galveston Island guide team that has fished West Bay exclusively since 1957. Cookie, who started guiding professionally in 1973, specializes in drift fishing and fishing the birds. She has a 9 1/2 pound speckled trout and 48 inch redfish to her credit from West Bay. Lloyd guides the same kind of fishing but he prefers wadefishing. His West Bay trophies include an

8 1/2 pound speck and a 25 pound redfish. When not on the water fishing, Lloyd spends his time building custom fishing rods.

"The bay is nothing like it was when we started fishing it in 1957," Lloyd says. "The in and out flow of the water at San Luis Pass has changed very much since the building of the San Luis Pass Bridge. The Pass is getting narrower and the only deep holes behind it are on the curves opposite the KOA Camp, Cold Pass, Mud Island and Bird Island. The water over the bars is getting shallower, and that makes for poor fishing on fast incoming tides because the water becomes so sandy. The best fishing is on a slow moving outgoing tide."

The best fishing in the vicinity of the Pass starts in April and continues through October. Experience shows the east part of the bay from Carancahua Reef and into deep water Offatts Bayou and the Crash Boat Basin is from late fall through the following March.

"In this part of the bay the fish can move quickest from shallow to deep water and back," says Cookie. "The tides and currents aren't as strong in this part of the bay in the cold weather months. Studies by biologists indicate during the cold months fish move from the jetties (North and South Jetties bordering the Galveston harbor entrance) to the east end of West Bay."

The Peppers agree West Bay gets the bulk of the sport anglers because it is so easy to reach from Houston. They note it is a narrow bay protected fairly well from the wind. They say a lot of people fish the bay from smallboats totally unsuited for wide open Galveston Bay, the largest bay in the estuary. Galveston Bay can become violently rough, during the passage of winter weather fronts.

"People come down to West Bay for speckled trout, redfish and flounder in that order," Cookie says. "West Bay seems to hold a lot of flounder through the winter, but I really don't know why. Every year wehave that big flounder run around Seawolf Park on the east end of Galveston Island and along the Jetties. We used to have flounder runs like that at San Luis Pass, but that was back before the San Luis Pass Bridge was built."

Since the construction of the bridge, San Luis Pass has become narrower and narrower with the pass proper shifting closer and closer to the east end of Brazoria County.

Actually, flounder fishing is generally good the year around in West Bay, and along the saltgrass marshes on the Galveston Island side of the bay. The most productive area stretches from behind San Luis Pass eastward to Anderson's Ways."

The Peppers say salt grass and widgeon grass show signs of coming back in West Bay. "Salt grass has been planted behind San Luis Pass and off Galveston Island State Park at the end of Jolly Roger Road," Lloyd says. "Getting grass growing back in the bay again would be a big help for fishing. There is already a lot of shell in the bay, and the oysters show signs of reproducing since the bay has been closed to oyster boats."

Cookie adds the large number of shell reefs in the bay make for excellent drift fishing for speckled trout and keeper size redfish.

West Bay is the shallowest of the four major bays in the Galveston estuary, and as a result in order to score well on fish one has to pay attention to the tides. The lowest tides occur during the winter months when blustery weather fronts howl in with northerly winds that literally blow the tides out of the bays. There are many occasions in the winter when tides fall from two to four feet below the predicted stand or so low the overall area looks like a scattering of wet mud flats. This is when the fishing is best in the eastern end of the bay where there are numerous branches of deep, water: Intracoastal Waterway, Offatts Bayou, Lake Madeline, Crash Boat Basin, Anderson's Ways Channel, Hitchcock Diversionary Canal, and some holes around North and South Deer Islands.

Easterly and southerly winds make for the best fishing since these winds tend to push water into the bay. Sustained easterly and southeasterly winds can make tides in West Bay rise two to three feet above the predicted stand.

Fishing can be good on a very light northerly wind, but strong northerly winds blow the water out of the bay. The poorest fishing is on westerly winds. Look for best fishing conditions on easterly and southerly winds.

Key reefs for fishing include Carancahua at the mid-point of the bay and mile long Confederate Reef in the east end. The most consistent fishing under the birds occurs along the north side of the bay from Carancahua Reef eastward to Green's Cut and on the Galveston Island side from Anderson's Ways westward to Hoecker's Point. This area is called Duncan's Alley.

"Although San Luis Pass isn't what it used to be," Lloyd says, "from June through August you can find all kinds of fish, such as tarpon, jackfish, Spanish mackerel, ling and tripletail in the far west end of the bay." When the Peppers started fishing the bay in 1957, tarpon were occasionally found as far east as the I-45 Causeway and Offatts Bayou.

There are boat launching and bait facilities at most of the bayfront developments on West Bay. (Fish Finder map no. 1018 covers West Galveston Bay to Freeport.)

The Pepper's can be reached at 409-737-1136.

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