Good year in great outdoors

Where the outdoors is concerned, 2011 has really been an unusual year. Even back into latter 2010, there was a definite shortage of rainfall. That situation has continued until even now. Sure, we have enjoyed some good showers in Southeast Texas, but the big lakes are all still at a very low level. But all in all, there have been many more positive things that have taken place than negative ones.

Beginning in January 2011, the annual crappie run on Toledo Bend was right on time. The weather was cold, and that’s when the hordes of crappie show up on the upper end of the lake. The area north of Milam known as the Chicken Coop has historically been the go-to place for wintertime crappie. The word is the colder the weather, the better the fishing becomes. Those crappie migrate upstream to feed upon the clouds of shad that are also there annually. The fish that showed up in 2011 were a good bit larger than usual. In fact, most of the anglers who were hasty enough to go out in that cold weather caught many crappie in the 1 1/2 to 2 pound range. Following that action came the catfish and white bass and some happy anglers.

During the early springtime, the big lakes – Toledo Bend, Sam Rayburn and Lake Livingston – were continuing to lose water. Even so, the largemouth black bass were finding places to stage and then spawn. With so much structure available, bass catching was excellent. I would suspect that all three of the lakes experienced some of the better bassing since the last drought. Our winter continued on into what would normally be the springtime. In fact, it seemed we went from winter into summer, with very little spring. Even so, the Rio Grande turkey hunters scored well. There were fewer folks going after the eastern turkeys in East Texas, and the birds proved to be a real challenge.

When summer actually began, the weather was not only hot and dry, but it was also windy. The folks that would normally be seen out after speckled trout, redfish or flounder were forced to either remain on shore or head to the big lakes where crappie fishing continued on for a good while. The folks that enjoy fishing from the bank discovered that there were large numbers of speckled trout and redfish feeding along the north levy road. The anglers that were using live shrimp seemed to be able to take 10-fish limits in a short time. Lure fishermen also did well, but they would need to remain fishing a little longer. The Gulp seemed to be the hot lure when it was fished under a popping cork. This super action soon began down on the south levy road. The action was so good and so consistent that both boat and bank fishermen were casting in the same areas.

Soon after that great speckled trout and redfish action, the Sabine jetty began to yield some really good-sized specks and redfish. There were also some black drum that were present to take natural bait. Lure anglers did well, but the anglers that took along live shrimp got into some fast speckled trout action. Not only were the jetties good, but the fish turned on all along the ship channel. Whenever the water became warm and clear, the Spanish mackerel moved in. These fish provide a lot of action, but they also take the lures from the fishermen that do not use a leader.

The water all along the Gulf Coast, up into the ship channel and on into the rivers remained more salty than normal. In fact, there was a hot flounder run on the channel side of Pleasure Island where the drain runs into it. This situation lasted for several weeks and then many saltwater fish species were showing up in the rivers all the way to the saltwater barrier on the Neches River. Tripletail, grouper, Spanish mackerel, specks, flounder and redfish, along with drum, sheepshead and croaker are still up in the rivers because of the lack of freshwater flowing into them.

Then came the teal, the doves, and now the major waterfowl migration of wintering birds into the Southeast Texas marshes and flooded rice fields. Having contacted outfitters several times regarding their duck hunting success, some report the best hunting in at least 10 years. Finally, the thousands of snow geese are covering both the rice fields and green fields with 30 percent or more of young birds. That means super good goose hunting.

Then add the exotic hunting, the feral hog hunting and predator hunts, and we can look back over 2011 as a banner year in the outdoors. All of the great fishing and hunting has happened despite a prolonged drought and, in some cases, mega wild fines. The good times will likely continue into 2012.

Tune in to KSET 1300 at 6 p.m. on Thursdays for Billy Halfin Outdoors and listen to the updates daily at 7:25 a.m., 12:25 p.m. and 6:25 p.m.