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Thread: Nice gigging article from the Houston Chronicle

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    Default Nice gigging article from the Houston Chronicle

    ​Part 1


    Tompkins: Bay gigging has roots in ancient tradition
    By Shannon Tompkins | August 13, 2014 | Updated: August 14, 2014 1:04am
    • http://www.chron.com/default/article/Tompkins-Bay-gigging-has-roots-in-ancient-5687677.php#next"][/URL] Photo By Picasa As Wyatt Lang hunts in the background, Dylan Motley strings a flounder he gigged after using a portable, submersible battery-powered light to locate it.
    • http://www.chron.com/default/article/Tompkins-Bay-gigging-has-roots-in-ancient-5687677.php#next"][/URL] Photo By Shannon Tompkins/Houston Chronicle Wyatt Lang and Dylan Motley use portable, battery-powered, submersible lights to sweep the bottom of a sandy flat as they hunt flounder on a summer night. Nocturnal flounder gigging is a traditon along portion of the Texas coast, and can be very effective. Because state fisheries crews conduct their angler harvest surveys during daylight hours and seldom encounter giggers, fisheries manages have only rough estimates of participation in the recreational flounder gigging fishery and the number of flounder those angler take. Thsoe numbers are of great importance to fisheries managers looking for ways to improve the state's struggling flounder population. Houston Chronicle photo by Shannon Tompkins
    • http://www.chron.com/default/article/Tompkins-Bay-gigging-has-roots-in-ancient-5687677.php#next"][/URL] Photo By Shannon Tompkins/Houston Chronicle As fellow angler Dylan Motley hunts in the background, Wyatt Lang prepares to gig a flounder he located as the fish lay in ambush on the bay floor on a shallow flat. Nocturnal floundering is a tradition on the Texas coast and can be an incredibly effective way to take the popular, tasty flatfish. Houston Chronicle photo by Shannon Tompkins
    • http://www.chron.com/default/article/Tompkins-Bay-gigging-has-roots-in-ancient-5687677.php#next"][/URL] Photo By Shannon Tompkins/Houston Chronicle A submersible, battery powered light illuminates a flounder "bedded" on the sandy botom in inches of water along Texas bayshore. Flounder giggers using the portable lights hunt shallow flats at night, often taking their five-fish limits of the tasty, hugely popular marine fish. Houston Chronicle photo by Shannon Tompkins
    • http://www.chron.com/default/article/Tompkins-Bay-gigging-has-roots-in-ancient-5687677.php#next"][/URL] Photo By Shannon Tompkins/Houston Chronicle Dylan Motley reaches to subdue a flounder he gigged on a recent nighttime trip to a shallow flat on a Texas bay. Clear water and low tides produce the best conditions for giggers who stalk the flats using lights to illuminate the bottom and show outlines of flounder waiting to ambush meals inthe shallows. Houston Chronicle photo by Shannon Tompkins
    • http://www.chron.com/default/article/Tompkins-Bay-gigging-has-roots-in-ancient-5687677.php#next"][/URL] Photo By Shannon Tompkins/Houston Chronicle As fellow angler Wyatt Lang hunts in the background, Dylan Motley strings a flounder he gigged after using a portable, submersible battery-powered light to locate the flatfish as it lay in ambust in shallow water. Flounder gigging is increasingly being done from boats that can float in very shallow water and are rigged with high-tech air-drive motors and high-intensity light. Gigging on foot is the tradtional method, and is much harder and slower than floundering from a boat. But the wading flounder giggers are in much more direct connection with the bay and the fish they pursue. Houston Chronicle photo by Shannon Tompkins
    • http://www.chron.com/default/article/Tompkins-Bay-gigging-has-roots-in-ancient-5687677.php#next"][/URL] Photo By Shannon Tompkins/Houston Chronicle A southern flounder, taking advantage of its compressed body and ability to camouflage itself, lies on the sandy bottom in inches of water, waiting to ambush small finfish, shrimp, crabs or other forage that wanders too close to the efficient predators. Houston Chronicle photo by Shannon Tompkins.
    • http://www.chron.com/default/article/Tompkins-Bay-gigging-has-roots-in-ancient-5687677.php#next"][/URL] Photo By Shannon Tompkins/Houston Chronicle As his portable light illuminates a bedded flounder, Wyatt Lang carefully uses marks on his gig to make certain the fish meets the 14-inch minimum length requirement before he attempts to gig the flatfish. Houston Chronicle photo by Shannon Tompkins
    • http://www.chron.com/default/article/Tompkins-Bay-gigging-has-roots-in-ancient-5687677.php#next"][/URL] Photo By Shannon Tompkins/Houston Chronicle Wyatt Lang strings a flounder he gigged after using a portable, submersible light to locate the fish as it lay in ambush on the bay floor. Nocturnal floundering is a tradition on the Texas coast and can be an incredibly effective way to take the popular, tasty flatfish. Houston Chronicle photo by Shannon Tompkins
    • http://www.chron.com/default/article/Tompkins-Bay-gigging-has-roots-in-ancient-5687677.php#next"][/URL] Photo By Shannon Tompkins/Houston Chronicle With three flounder already on his stringer, Wyatt Lang sweeps his portable, battery-powered light on the bay floor looking for other "bedded" flatfish. Flounder, which hold in deeper water during the day, move to the shallow flats at night where darkness gives them protection from (most) predators and puts them in position to ambush small finfish and other forage found in the shallows. Houston Chronicle photo by Shannon Tompkins
    • http://www.chron.com/default/article/Tompkins-Bay-gigging-has-roots-in-ancient-5687677.php#next"][/URL] Photo By Shannon Tompkins/Houston Chronicle Flounder aren't the only thing giggers are likely to encounter on noctural fishing forays. Stingrays hunker on the same flats as flounder, and the rays, with their toxin-carrying barbed "spikes" can present a danger (and certainly an adrenalin surge) for flounder giggers. Houston Chronicle photo by Shannon Tompkins
    • http://www.chron.com/default/article/Tompkins-Bay-gigging-has-roots-in-ancient-5687677.php#next"][/URL] Photo By Shannon Tompkins/Houston Chronicle Carrying gigs, Dylan Motley, left, and Wyatt Lang use battery-powered, submersible lights to hunt flounder on a shallow coastal flat. The battery-powered submersible lights, often with brilliantly bright LED bulbs, have replaced the cumbersome, hard to maintain, sometimes dangerous gas-powered lanterns coastal flounder giggers long used to locate "bedded" flatfish at night. Houston Chronicle photo by Shannon Tompkins
    • http://www.chron.com/default/article/Tompkins-Bay-gigging-has-roots-in-ancient-5687677.php#next"][/URL] Photo By Shannon Tompkins/Houston Chronicle Spray flies as a gigged flounder frantically flaps in a vain attempt to escape. The fish was the fifth and final flounder angler Dylan Motley collected on a recent nighttime gigging trip on a Texas bayshore. Texas anglers are limited to taking no more than five flounder per day during most of the year, with the limit dropping to two per day (and gigging prohibited) during November. Beginning this year, the two-flounder daily limit will be in effect during all of November and the first two weeks of December, the peack of the annual flounder migration from bay to Gulf and the period when the fish are most vulnerable to hook-and-line and, especially, gigging. Houston Chronicle photo by Shannon Tompkins
    • http://www.chron.com/default/article/Tompkins-Bay-gigging-has-roots-in-ancient-5687677.php#next"][/URL] Photo By Shannon Tompkins/Houston Chronicle Dylan Motley strings a flounder, one of several he and fellow angler Wyatt Lang, looking on, collected on a recent night of using portable, battery-powered submersible lights to locate bedded flounder in the shalows of a Texas bay. Houston Chronicle photo by Shannon Tompkins
    • http://www.chron.com/default/article/Tompkins-Bay-gigging-has-roots-in-ancient-5687677.php#next"][/URL] Photo By Shannon Tompkins/Houston Chronicle On nights when conditions are right - a low tide, light wind, clear water and a shallow flat adjacent to deeper water - skilled giggers often take their five-fish daily limit of the tasty flatfish from Texas bays. Houston Chronicle photo by Shannon Tompkins

    The rising moon on a recent night silhouetted a patch of what passes for high ground in the half-water/half-land world of a bay-rimming estuary. The slight elevation, covering an area about the size of a bedroom and maybe a couple of feet higher than the surrounding marsh, was perhaps 100 yards away and at least a couple of hundred years removed from where Wyatt Lang, Dylan Motley and I stood ankle-deep in salty water, squaring our gear - gigs, stringers, lights mounted on lengths of PVC pipe, packs bearing the batteries to run the lights - in preparation of engaging in an activity with which the folks responsible for that little mound would have been quite familiar.The high spot is a midden - basically a trash heap holding discarded oyster and rangia clam shells created by generations of aboriginal Texans (Karankawa, almost certainly) who lived along the Texas coast and drew their livelihoods and their lives from the bay waters.Middens mark ancient camps where the people hunted and fished and gathered, and they picked their spots well. Archeological research of coastal shell middens turns up hundreds, sometimes thousands, of otoliths, the tiny ear bones of fish. Because ear bones of each fish species have a distinct shape, researchers can tell what the ancient people caught and ate from the adjacent waters.Flounder - specifically, southern flounder, the largest and most common of the dozen or so flatfish species inhabiting Texas coastal waters - were, archeologists learned, regular featured guests in the Karankawa version of a Crock-pot.Archeological and historical evidence also indicates those ancient Texans procured their flounder using the same method we three employed on that recent summer night: gigging.

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    Part 2

    Floundering in the dark
    Flounder gigging's basics are simple. Participants stalk the shallows of coastal bays, using a light to illuminate the bay floor and looking for the outline of a flounder lying on bottom. When a flounder is found, the hunter/angler uses a spear-like gig to impale the fish.
    The practice works only at night, when flounder move out of deeper water where they spend daylight hours and into shallows - often in water barely deep enough to cover them - where they settle onto the bottom, flap their flattened bodies a couple of times to help cover themselves with camouflaging sand or silt, and wait to pounce on small finfish, crabs, shrimp and other forage.
    "They're ambush predators, and they use that cover of darkness to their advantage," Lance Robinson, upper coast regional director for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's coastal fisheries division, said of flounder.
    That darkness hides flounder from things that would prey upon them, too - herons and other avian predators that are not active after sundown. But not from humans bearing lights and gigs.
    The Karankawa used torches, often fueled with slatherings of tar and oil from natural seeps, as lights and sharpened cane stalks as spear/gigs in their floundering. Today's giggers bear much more effective gear. Powerful submersible lights, often using LED technology and powered by rechargeable batteries and fit on lightweight plastic poles, have replaced the unwieldy, hand/arm scorching, gas-burning lanterns used by generations of Texas flounder giggers. The submersible lights are much easier to handle and, because they can be used under water, solve the problem of surface glare that can make it hard to spot bedded flounder.
    Technological improvements in boats and lights also have made it possible for giggers to work shallow flats from the comfort of a boat, and in some areas of the Texas coast, boating flounder giggers outnumber those who do it the traditional way, afoot.
    But for those wanting to make a direct connection with the bay, the fish, the night and a coastal tradition stretching back thousands of years, nothing beats getting out of the boat and stalking the flats on foot.
    Dylan Motley stuck the first flounder of the night maybe 90 seconds after we eased away from the anchored boat and into the darkness.
    "Not a bad start," he said from his small circle of light as he reached into the warm, clear water to begin the sometimes dicey dance of corralling the impaled flounder. The pinned flatfish was, understandably, not happy, and exploded in a flurry of flapping that showered Motley with salty water. But held to the bay floor by the gig in Motley's hand, the flounder was going nowhere except onto the stringer.
    The spot the pair picked to work that evening was, as the nearby midden indicated, a great one for flounder. A slightly elevated ridge, exposed on low tide, ran along the edge of the flat, and a deeper channel sat nearby. Flounder moved out of the channel and into the shallows, settling into ambush locations along the edge of lines of aquatic vegetation or spots where the current would carry clusters of bay anchovies or other forage fish within range of a flounder's wicked set of teeth and amazingly fast pounce.
    We had other things working in our favor, too. The tide was low, concentrating flounder. Wind was light from the southeast, keeping the water clear. Water clarity is crucial to flounder gigging success and a reason the practice is effective only in some Texas bays.
    "If the water's murky, you can't see the fish," Lang said. Watching tides, wind and moon phase are crucial to picking the right nights to hit the flounder flats, he said.
    It's possible to find good flounder gigging opportunities in most Texas bays, but the best areas are along the middle coast.
    "Bays on the upper coast - Galveston and Sabine - have some of the best flounder fisheries in the state, but they generally are too murky or the bottom's too muddy for gigging," said Mark Fisher, science director of TPWD's coastal fisheries division. "They are lot like Louisiana, where they have a lot of flounder but almost no gigging."
    Watch where you step
    Mid-coast bays, with their large expanses of shallows, aquatic vegetation that helps filter water and a lack of water-muddying sediment from river discharges, offer the state's best gigging opportunities.
    We methodically worked the flat, slowly sweeping lights left and right and searching for the outline - sometimes faint, sometimes bold - of a "bedded" flounder. We found more than flounder. The bay floor and shallows were alive with whelks and small crabs, swarms of bay anchovies and small mullet and marine worms that pulled back into their benthic hides when light found them.
    And there were rays, as there always seem to be when you find a spot holding lots of flounder. Stingrays like the same conditions flounder do, slipping into the shallows in the night and preying on mollusks. It certainly raises a gigger's adrenaline when the light reveals the spade-shaped outline of a ray. And it's even more interesting when the ray flaps away only to swing around and swim into the gigger's muddy wake, as the "sharp-tailed flounder" do all too often.
    The rays can be dangerous but seldom prove more than a momentary gut-check for giggers and a strong reminder to avoid stepping backward and scoot your feet when walking in water too deep to see bottom.
    It was a good night, with just enough wind to keep the mosquitoes at bay but light enough not to murk the shallows. The tide, dead low when we got there, slowly oozed in as we stalked the flat, our lights sending showers of silversides and mullet into the air and, regularly, illuminating the outline of a fat flounder.
    By midnight, Motley had his five-flounder limit, and Lang lacked one fish. That was plenty.
    As we waded back to the anchored boat, I noticed the waxing moon threw a beam on the water that stretched straight to the old midden, bathing the oyster shells in silver. Just a coincidence, I'm sure.



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    Good article that's me in there Dylan Motley

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    Well-written, thanks for sharing

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