Fishing in Texas, the Top 12 Game Fish
The subject of this article will be fishing in Texas, the top 12 species, focusing on freshwater and inshore saltwater fish game species.
The state of Texas offers anglers some outstanding fishing opportunities. Coastal waters have excellent populations of redfish and speckled trout. Other species such as flounder, sheepshead, and drum are plentiful in the shallow, fertile bays. Freshwater anglers target trophy largemouth bass, crappie, catfish, striped bass, panfish, and more in Texas lakes and rivers.
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Stephanie is our Texas expert
“Little bit about me, I just started fishing a couple years ago. It wasn’t anything that my family did, and certainly wasn’t something that you see many women doing. When I met my man it was his passion, I fished to be with him, but it quickly became something that I loved, it became my passion, it became my reset button, and it fed my soul. I started getting more and more into fishing learning about the baits, the reels, the rods, and soon it wasn’t him asking to go fishing, it was me asking him to go fishing.
“It wasn’t long before it wasn’t him asking to go fishing it was me asking to go fishing and learning new knots and baits and reading about fishing techniques and studying the maps. I absolutely love fishing and I would like to tell all the ladies out there this is not just a mans sport, get out there on the water, get your lines wet you won’t regret it.
Tackle for fishing in Texas
“My favorite reels to use are Kastking. The Sparticus is my favorite reel, spooled up with 15 pound braided line. It is paired with a Waterloo rod. I like a 7′ medium action rod. I use a 24″ pice of 25 pound flourocarbon leader.
“When the tide isn’t moving and it is slow I like to tie on a High Water Fishing Lures Popping cork tipped with gulp or even live bait and it turns the fish on. My go-to bait when fishing docks and jetties is a ¼ ounce jig head with a live shrimp. It catches every species in Texas”!
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles and reports can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
Top Texas inshore saltwater species
The shallow bays along the Texas coast from Houston to South Padre Island offer anglers excellent opportunities to catch fish. Speckled trout are the top inshore species, with redfish being a close second. Flounder, black drum, and sheepshead are also available.
1) Speckled trout
Speckled trout are arguably the most popular saltwater species in Texas. They are a beautiful fish that are aggressive and strike rates and artificial lures with gusto. Speckled trout school up on the shallow flats as well as in the passes. Trout are also fantastic eating.
The entire Gulf Coast of Texas from Houston down to South Padre Island is ideal speckled trout habitat. The wide, shallow bays consist of mud, we, sand, and oyster shell bottom. Submerge grass beds and oyster bars in particular attract the forage that speckled trout feed on. Their diet consists of both crustaceans and bait fish.
Many speckled trout are landed by Texas anglers using a noisy cork. These corks provide casting weight while also being used to attract fish. The top of the cork has a concave face which makes a loud “pop” when twitched sharply. This noise simulates feeding fish and attracts both speckled trout and other species to the bait dangling below. Anglers can use either a live shrimp or a soft plastic bait on a jig head under the cork.
Redfish are another very popular inshore saltwater species targeted by Texas anglers. They also thrive in the shallow bays and passes. Redfish will often be found in schools on the flats in late summer. They gang up before moving out into the Gulf of Mexico to spawn.
Redfish can be caught in very shallow water. Oyster bars are prime spots as they forage for crabs and shrimp. They are also found in the rock jetties and under docks and bridges. Live shrimp and small bait fish are the top live baits. Jigs and weedless gold spoons are good artificial lures. The same popping cork techniques that produce trout will fool redfish as well.
Schools of bull redfish can be encountered in the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Anglers coming across one of these schools are in for a treat! The reds will be fairly easy to get to bite if anglers are patient and quietly ease into position. These are large fish, so make sure the tackle is appropriate.
Flounder are another much sought after inshore species. They are found right on the bottom. Flounder are predators with surprisingly large mouths and prefer live prey such as bait fish and shrimp. A live shrimp on a ¼ ounce jig head is very productive. Live mud minnows and other small bait fish are great baits as well.
Flounder have an interesting life. When they are born, they swim up right, the same is most other fish. However, at some point in their life they turn over on their side and the eye migrates to the side facing up. This results in the flounder swimming with one side down all the time and both eyes looking up.
Flounder will bury themselves in the San with much of their body covered except for their mouth and eyes. There mottled markings blended in well with the sandy bottom. Generally, flounder will do this right on the edge of structure where transitions from hard bottom to send. Then, they will ambush any prey that wanders within range.
Flounder will also stage near structure in the passes. Outgoing tides are a great time to fish for them as they lie in wait, hoping to ambush a meal. Heavier jig heads and sinkers may be required if the current is strong.
4) Black drum
Black drum are cousins to the redfish and are similar in feeding habit and locations. Redfish are actually red drum. Black drum can be found in surprisingly shallow water for their size. Black drum will also school up in very deep water and passes and out in the open Gulf of Mexico. Smaller specimens are good to eat, however, larger drum can get a bit wormy.
Black drum are similar to redfish with a few exceptions. For one thing, they grow larger. Secondly, black drum feed primarily on crustaceans whereas redfish feed on bait fish more often. Also, while black drum will occasionally take and artificial lure, the vast majority are caught by anglers using natural bait. Blue crabs cut in half are a top black drum bait, especially for anglers targeting the larger fish. Plenty of black drum are caught on shrimp as well.
Black drum are similar to sheepshead and looks, especially when they are smaller. However, they are a bit more elongated. Black drum love all structure such as bridges, docks, jetties, oyster bars, ledges, and more. Anglers targeting black drum fish live or frozen shrimp or fresh cut crab right on the bottom.
Sheepshead are plentiful and popular along the entire Gulf Coast, and Texas is no exception. These tasty members of the porgy family are almost always found around some type of structure. Docks, bridges, jetties, rocks, hard bottom, ledges, artificial reefs, and oyster bars will all hold sheepshead. They feed primarily on crustaceans and are usually caught by anglers using shrimp or fiddler crabs.
Sheepshead can be found in shallow water at times, especially along the edges of oyster bars that drop off into deeper water. However, most are found in water between six and 15 feet deep. Docks and bridges are prime spots to target sheepshead. Rocks and jetties will hold plenty of fish as well. Structure such as wrecks and artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico will produce sheepshead, and sometimes larger specimens.
Several species of shark inhabit the shallow bays and inshore Gulf of Mexico waters in Texas. These provide great sport on light tackle and will actually take an artificial lure. Blacktip and bonnethead sharks are the most commonly caught shark species.
7) Jack crevalle
Jack crevalle are a terrific inshore game fish! While not considered good to eat, these fish grow large, pull incredibly hard, hit lures and flies, and are almost always in a feeding mood. What more could an angler ask for?
One great aspect of jacks is that the fishing is often times visual. Jacks will herd bait fish up on the surface and then feed aggressively. This can be seen from a long way off on a calm day. They will pretty much hit any lure of bait that comes their way. Jacks are found on the flats, in channels and passes, near bridges and docks, and out in the Gulf of Mexico.
8) Spanish mackerel
Spanish mackerel are found in large numbers in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. They are often found feeding on the surface. Birds wheeling and diving are another sign that mackerel are in the area. Spanish mackerel will also move into the passes and bays. Anglers catch them free lining live bait, casting lures, trolling, and fly fishing.
9) king mackerel
King mackerel, or “kingfish” are an extremely popular saltwater game fish all along the Gulf Coast, and Texas is no exception. While they are found offshore, they do move in quite close to the beach when conditions are right. Clear water that is in the low 70’s will attract bait and therefore kings. Anglers mainly catch them by trolling artificial lures and live bait fish. This allows for them to cover a lot of water in search of fish.
Top Texas freshwater species
9) Largemouth bass
Largemouth bass are arguably the most popular game fish in the United States. Texas is second only to Florida when it comes to numbers and size of largemouth bass. Anglers could make the argument that Texas has the best bass fishing in North America. Most Texas bass, especially the larger ones, are transplanted Florida strain fish. The environment and growing season in Texas our perfect for largemouth bass to prosper.
Many large lakes were created and Texas in the 1960s and 1970s. Many acres of flooded timber provided excellent cover and habitat for largemouth bass. That, along with the advent and popularity of bass tournaments helped grow the sport quickly. Texas offers anglers bass fishing 12 months out of the year, one more reason for the popularity of largemouth bass in Texas.
Most anglers targeting largemouth bass do so using artificial lures. Many of the advancements in technology and development of lures resulted from tournament bass anglers. Top baits include plastic worms and other soft plastic baits, spinner baits, hard bodied plugs, spoons, and jigs.
Largemouth bass are normally structure oriented. It will generally be found around some type of cover such as fallen timber or weeds, along with docks, bridges, and other man-made structure. They will at times school up in open water, particularly on the edges of channels. Largemouth bass spawn in the spring in shallow water.
Crappie are the largest member of the pan fish family. They are extremely popular throughout the United States. Crappie tournaments are becoming more numerous each year. While crappie do not put up a tremendous fight, they are a beautiful fish, fun to catch, and are fantastic eating.
There are two types of crappie, black crappie and white crappie. For the most part, their diets, habits, and locations are similar enough to cover them together. Minnows are the primary diet of crappie. Therefore, the vast majority of anglers targeting them use either small live minnows or artificial lures that mimic the small baitfish.
Small plastic tail jigs and marabou jigs are extremely productive crappie lowers. They can be fished slowly and enticingly to fool crappie into biting. Different weights can be used to cover the water column. While there are many different manufacturers of plastic tail jigs, and they can all be effective, Stephanie prefers Mudd Butt baits.
Jigs can be cast, troll, and vertically fished. Trolling has become extremely popular as it allows anglers to cover a wide path with multiple lures at one time. Special rods up to 20 feet long can be used. Jigs can also be fished vertically while the boat drifts along the bottom or is held in position over likely structure with the trolling motor. Finally, jigs can be cast toward shoreline cover and under docks.
Texas crappie fishing
Stephanie loves crappie fishing and is sharing some of her tips here with other anglers.
“I wanted to share some information on freshwater crappie fishing. We fish brush piles starting in spring and on into summer. The warmer it gets the deeper the brush piles need to be. We fish slip corks with minnows, but also throw 1/32 oz or 1/16 oz jigs when the brush is deeper. I like to fish the curly tail grubs when fishing brush piles but also like the Bobby Garland Slab Slayer or Minnow Mind’R.
“When it gets warmer we like to move to the piers and docks. Generally, the best time to target crappie under docks is when the sun is up high. We had the best luck on an older docks in about 7′-8′ of water as well as a covered boat dock. My favorite dock shooting rod is a 6′ medium rigged with my KastKing Centron 500 spooled up with 4 pound line. My favorite combination is a 1/32 oz jighead and the Mudd Butt Baits 2″ Crappie squirt. These don’t get tangled.
Shooting docks for crappie
“I try to shoot as far as I can so that it puts me in the right direction while swinging back to the boat. Sometimes they are holding far back on the piers and other times they are holding right on the edge. You just have to find them but once you do they are typically all in about the same area. I caught some of my biggest crappie on the docks of Lake Conroe”. Check out a full length article on the Fishing Ladies site on Lake Conroe.
Texas also offers anglers excellent fishing for bluegill, sunfish, shellcrackers and other pan fish. Just about every creek, river, pond, and lake in Texas offers anglers the chance to catch these feisty little game fish. Pan fish are great fun and great sport when targeted using ultralight spinning tackle or fly rods.
While many species can be lumped into the pan fish category, they can actually differ quite a bit and habit and diet. Bluegill are probably the most aggressive, eating just about everything. They will eat insects, worms, crustaceans, and small baitfish. Of all the pan fish, they are probably the most willing to attack and artificial lure. Small jigs and spinner baits are top lures.
While other types of sunfish such as green sunfish, redear sunfish (also known as a shell cracker), red breast sunfish, and longhair sunfish will take a lure or fly, most are caught using live baits such as worms and crickets. Of this group, shell crackers are the largest. They get their name from feeding on mollusks and other crustaceans. They are normally found in slightly deeper water.
12) Striped bass and hybrids
Striped bass were introduced into Texas lakes in the mid-1970s. As submerged timber rotted and disintegrated, largemouth bass moved to man-made structure, especially docks. As striped bass are an open water fish, they became a perfect replacement for the bass which had moved to the shorelines. By any measure, they are a great success!
Most of the striped bass caught in Texas lakes are stocked. Striped bass move up into flowing rivers to spawn. Many lakes and impoundments have dams which restrict the movements of striped bass. Therefore, they cannot access these flowing streams to lay their eggs.
In many instances, forage fish were added to the lakes for the striped bass to feed on. Gizzard shad, hickory shad, and blueback herring were the most common species. These complement the striped bass as they also prefer open water. Freshwater striped bass in Texas grow very large feeding on the abundant forage.
Trolling for striped bass
Trolling is a terrific way to locate and catch striped bass. It allows anglers to cover a lot of water in a relatively short period of time. Striped bass often relate to the channel edges of the original River bed. Anglers often troll back and forth over the channel edge with jigs and live bait.
Anglers can also cast for striped bass. This is particularly true when they are seen working on the surface. Also, striped bass will move to the bank at times and on lakes where possible, striped bass will move up into the rivers and can be caught there by anglers casting lures as well.
Hybrid striped bass are available in Texas lakes as well. They are a mix between striped bass and white bass. These are known as “hybrids”, and “wipers”. They do not grow quite the largest striped bass, however they are abundant in very aggressive. Hybrids can be identified by their broken horizontal line on their body. They are also a bit wider than striped bass.
Fishing in Texas, the top 12 game fish; Catfish
Catfish are becoming quite popular in Texas as game fish. They are becoming the targets of more and more anglers seeking a truly large freshwater fish. The introduction of blue catfish along with the native flathead catfish give anglers the chance to catch a fish that is close to 100 pounds. Channel catfish are smaller in size, but much more plentiful in terms of numbers and are probably the best eating of the three.
While all three of the Texas catfish species are similar, there are variations in their diets and habits. All three catfish species are opportunistic and will scavenge when food is readily available. However, all three are predators and willingly eat live prey. Catfish sometimes get a bad reputation as a species that scours the bottom and devours whatever tidbits they can fine, but this is not at all true.
Catfish are found in streams, small rivers, and larger rivers and lake systems. They normally feed on or near the bottom, but can be found up higher in the water column at times. They do prefer cover, especially fallen trees and rocks. Catfish are nocturnal feeders but can be easily caught during the daylight hours as well.
Most anglers targeting catfish use a sinker with a short leader in a hook. The list of baits in a catfish will take is long, but includes nightcrawlers, chicken and pork livers, crayfish, live minnows, chunks of fresh fish, and prepared commercial catfish baits. Top spots and rivers are outside bends with cover. Catfish and lakes are found near bridges, riprap shorelines, channel edges, and near the dams, especially in the tail waters.
13) Blue catfish
Blue catfish are commonly caught in the 20 pound to 40 pound range and grow March larger than that. While they are native to some parts of Texas, they have also been introduced to larger lakes and river systems. Blue catfish prefer large bodies of water, both rivers and lakes.
These are true predator fish. While they will eat insects and crustaceans, especially at a younger age, they start feeding on live bait fish sooner than other catfish species. In some River and Lake systems, they are actually considered to be a problem and stay feet so heavily and grow so large. Blue cats are similar in appearance to channel catfish. However, they do not have spots and have a slate blue grey coloring on their back.
14) Channel catfish
Channel catfish are by far the most abundant of the three catfish species. They are found in a wide range of habitats from small creeks and slow moving streams to large rivers and lakes. Young channel cats mostly eat insects and then switch over to muscles, crustaceans, and baitfish. The adaptability of channel cats to its water type and diet is surely a key to its abundance in terms of numbers.
Channel catfish are a very popular freshwater fish species, perhaps second only to largemouth bass. There range and numbers are primary factors for this. Very few anglers in the United States live very far from a spot where they can catch channel cats. They are also extremely good eating and by far the best of the three.
15) Flathead catfish
Flathead catfish grow very large. They easily reach weights of over 100 pounds. As the name suggests, they have a large flat head and are pale yellow to light brown in color this gives them their nickname of “yellow catfish”. Flathead cats are solitary predators and prefer deep holes in creeks and rivers with a sluggish current and lots of cover.
Flathead catfish differ from the other catfish in that they feed exclusively on live fish. They will eat insects and other opportunistic meals as young fish, but at an early age they switch over to feeding exclusively on whatever forage is available. In areas where it is permitted, a large live son fish is considered a great bait for flathead catfish. Anglers to catch them on cut fish as well.
In conclusion, this article on fishing in Texas, the top 25 species will help anglers understand the locations, seasons, baits and lures, and techniques needed to catch more fish. Anglers can find all Texas fishing regulations on the state site. What is your favorite Texas game fish?