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Sometimes a legislative death can provide for a far greater resurrection

By Dade Phelan

House Bill 1979 was an idea born and bred in the brackish waters of Orange County.

Building on the momentum of two blockbuster professional tournaments, John Gothia was eager for Orange County to host a national high school or college event. Despite having the country’s largest youth fishing trail, the statewide 14-inch slot limit for largemouth bass proved to be a stubborn roadblock. Participants of all skill sets would have difficulty in catching a complete tournament bag. Although elusive here, a full live well is easily attainable in other areas of the state.   Professionals will follow the circuit but amateurs will follow the fish.

To level the playing field, we drafted and filed HB 1979. This bill would temporarily reduce the slot to 12 inches for catch and release high school and college tournaments in Southeast Texas waterways. The events would have been strictly permitted and regulated by Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD). Ida Schossow, President of the Greater Orange Chamber of Commerce, and Mr. Gothia testified in committee to the tremendous economic and social impact of the two Bassmasters Elite tournaments. They argued sound points regarding the ecological differences between our waterways and that of the “sharelunker”, freshwater lakes such as Rayburn or Fork. The facts pertaining to high salinity levels, expanded food chains and pressures from coastal storms did not deter many central Texans from voicing their opposition. One individual opined that Southeast Texas anglers were just not skilled enough to catch the larger fish. This resistance did not stop us from advancing the bill out of committee and placing it on the House Calendar.

Although HB 1979 officially died on May 14th, its spirit certainly did not. In negotiations with TPWD, an agreement was reached to update the decades old freshwater study that eventually led to the statewide limit. To the Departments great credit, they have followed through with swift results. The progress to date:

The Department has collected 562 largemouth bass for length-frequency and age structure analyses from the lower Sabine and Neches rivers, as well as the Taylor Bayou complex.

Fish aging structures (inner ear bones, known as otoliths) have been allowed to adequately dry in preparation for aging under microscopes.

Fish collection data is being entered into an electronic database.

Fish length-frequencies will be generated and aging structures processed.

A local angler opinion phase will commence soon to gather a historical perspective on the area’s fishing environment.

Should the revised analysis prove what many in the area already know, we could enjoy a reduced size slot limit for largemouth bass as early as Spring 2016. Although plenty of work remains, I want to thank TPWD and the many concerned citizens of Southeast Texas for their cooperation in what could be a monumental change for our area’s anglers.

It is honor to serve the citizens of Southeast. If I may ever be of assistance please contact me at dade.phelan@house.state.tx.us or 512.463.0706.

God Bless you all and God Bless Texas,

Dade Phelan is Texas House Member Representative for District 21