CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — An estimated four million fish died along the Texas coast because of the Arctic blast in February that saw temperatures remain below freezing for an extended period of time.
Ninety percent of the spotted sea trout -- a popular target for recreational fishermen -- that died, perished in Corpus Christi Bay or the lower or upper Laguna Madre.
That amounts to hundreds of thousands of dead trout, and missed opportunities for local anglers and those who come here to fish.
“Here in the canal we saw a lot of those (dead) fish right out here," Padre Island resident and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi's Harte Research Institute Chairman for Gulf Strategies Larry McKinney said. "So it’s pretty sad and scary.”
Something else McKinney sees in the canal behind his home encourages him: He said he's seen three spawns of a particular type of small forage fish that are an important food source for larger fish such as the spotted sea trout.
“I was afraid that if that freeze killed those menhaden, then it would be a tough time," he said. "Not only would we lose fish to the freeze, but those that survived would have nothing to eat. But that’s not going to be the problem. We’re in good shape there.”
McKinney also credits limits that Texas Parks and Wildlife put on trout for their resurgence.
Prior to the deep freeze, an angler could keep up to five of the fish that were between 15 and 25 inches long.
After the freeze-related fish kills, the limit is three fish, and they have to be between 17 and 23 inches.
A man visiting from Austin with his brother and nephew followed those guidelines during an eight-hour boat-guided fishing trip Monday.
“Twenty-two (inches)," Berkley Griles said while holding his only trout-catch of the day. "It was right below the limit."
Griles and his brother said they weren't concerned about the fish kill while planning their trip, and they're headed home pleased with their experience.
“Just come and visit and come fish," he said. "It’s some great fishing down here."
“The fish are back," his brother Jamie Griles said. "You should be, too.”
Even though the duo followed the rules, McKinney hopes other anglers will go even further to continue to help the local fish population return to normal.
"I’m releasing everything I catch, and that’s what I ask everyone to do," he said.