Fishing & Boating News

Splashes of Gold

by: Ed Snyder, Ed Snyder Outdoors

Young angler strings up a few for supper
Photo by Ed Snyder
A good mess of croaker for the fish fry
Photo by Ed Snyder
(Sep. 15, 2010 - Galveston Bay, TX) With rod bowed and pulsating, the lady angler squealed with joy reeling in her first fish EVER. A flash of gold splashed into the net as her husband landed a small, but chunky Golden Croaker. The menu for their supper table tonight would include crispy filets of golden brown.

Small in size but HUGE in popularity the golden croaker is a highly valued entree on family dinner tables. Golden Croaker ( Micropogonias undulates ) also gives credence to its ability as a fighter when hooked. FAMILY FUN is the key word here folks when enjoying the annual fall fishing phenomenon of Galveston Bays Golden Croaker run.

A species of the Drum family, croaker don't reach the ponderous weights of its cousins, the Black Drum or Redfish, but adult golden croaker have been known to reach 19 inches in length and 4 pounds in weight. Normal catches during the fall run however will be in the 3/4 to one pound range with numbers of fish outweighing poundage.

The golden croaker are often mistaken for other species such as yellow tail (sand perch) spots (croaker-like fish with a spot near its gill) the rat red (undersized redfish) and puppy drum (small black drum). All these fish make grunting, or drumming sounds similar to the croaker. So it's best that you really know their differences or you may be ticketed and fined by game fish officers. Unfortunately for the angler Croaker are often mistaken for rat-reds (undersize redfish) which are illegal to harvest. Look for the SPOT on the tail to identify the difference betwixt the two and you should be safe.

Croaker are silvery in color during their juvenile stage but turn bronze, or golden hued during their adult phase. Their upper bodies are marked with small speckles in wavy vertical lines and have under-slung mouths with barbles with razor sharp gill-plates, which must be handled very carefully to avoid razor like cuts to your hands.

The Golden Croaker are an Atlantic species, separate from the Gulf Croaker, and are found all along the eastern seaboard into the Gulf of Mexico. Fished for as bait and food along the Texas Gulf Coast by anglers in bays, cuts, and estuaries, the croaker are also found offshore in waters as deep as 300 feet around offshore oil and gas rigs. \

Inshore anglers target these fish mostly during their annual fall runs when golden croaker begin massive migrations from inshore bays to spawn in the deeper waters of the Gulf during winter. It is during these runs that they are concentrated in huge schools and are the easiest to catch by most everyone using anything that can have a hook tied to it.

Getting its name from vibrating their air bladders to attract females during spawning season the croaking sounds of the males can even be heard above the surface of the water when huge schools pass under piers, boats, or docks. After spawning in the Gulf, tides and currents will carry the free-floating croaker eggs and larvae back to inshore bays estuaries and nursery grounds, where they quickly develop as bottom dwellers eating worms, crustaceans, mollusks, small fish, and insects growing to a one half/pound size within just one year. By their second year they begin taking on the bronze-like golden hues of adult croaker. As the bay waters begin to cool the adult croaker begin to swarm into massive schools to start their spawning migration back towards the Gulf.

One popular item concerning the fall run of the golden croaker is that they are easy to catch and when the run is in full swing (mid-September) anglers can fill their coolers with plenty of these great eating fish. Croaker also freeze well and can be kept for later fish fries. But add a teaspoon of Real Lemon juice to the baggie before freezing and your filets will keep flavorful and firm for the next feast.

My preference is for light tackle, such as a 6 & 1/2 ft medium/light spinning rod and open face spinning reel spooled with 8 to 12 lb test mono-line. This will give maximum excitement on the rod bending fights that these critters are known for. But a word of caution here folks, if you aren't in tune with light tackle angling go to heavier gear such as bass tackle with bait casting reels. Believe me, these feisty little critters can stress your tackle, often fighting like 5 lb redfish.

In low current to no current fishing areas use a slip-rig. Slide on a 1 oz egg or bell sinker (in medium to heavier currents use heavier weights) slip on a plastic bead and tie it off to a swivel. Tie on a 2 ft section of slightly lighter line (8 lb mainline- use 6 lb leader) to the swivel then tie on a #6 Aberdeen hook. The lighter leader line will allow break offs of the lighter line in case of bottom snags, saving you the loss of the more expense weights. The Aberdeen hook (wire-hook) will straighten out when being pulled from a snag but can be re-bent for fishing. The Aberdeen is also very sharp and will often cause the fish to hook itself when biting the bait. Prime bait is fresh dead shrimp cut into small 1inch pieces threaded over the barb of the hook. When huge schools of croaker begin moving through the passes and cuts they are in competition for the food and will often hit the bait really hard (no sissy nibbles here folks) just hard rod bending bites that can often rip your rod over and into the water within a blink of an eye. So keep your eye on your rod, in fact, when the run is on I strongly advise keeping your rod in your hands at all times.

Stronger tides require heavier rigs so tie on 2 to 3 oz dumbbell type weights with snelled leaders rigged with stainless long shank Mustad hooks tied on 8 to 10 inches above the weight. You can use double rigs here with a hook tied on at least 8 inches above the first hook. The best tide for major croaker action are incoming tides, the croaker swim against the currents. The hour before high tide is prime, giving you a two hour prime croaker window of one hour before slack tide and one hour after tide change.

Excellent eating, golden croaker are often a preferred table fish by many anglers over the more promoted game fish species such as redfish and flounder (yes flounder) with golden croaker having a very sweet and delicate flavor when deep fried or grilled and basted to a golden brown. I find the flavor of golden croaker superior to redfish.

My favorite golden croaker fishing spots are Rollover Pass (situated at Gilchrist TX, on the Bolivar Peninsula), Sea Wolf Park (located on Pelican Island in the Galveston Island shipping area), the Brazos County RV Park at San Luis Pass (situated on the Freeport side of the San Luis Pass bridge), or Texas City Dike, on the bayside of Texas City, which extends eight miles out into Galveston Bay.

This is meat-fishing at its finest with adults and children of all ages having tons of fun fishing for, and catching, a lot of fish in just a very short time. It's also a great way to get your children interested in fishing as the steady action will keep them excited and busy catching fish instead of watching TV or playing those "gawd awful" electronic games.
This duo nailed an 18inch Golden Croaker
Photo by Ed Snyder
When the croaker run is on - the crowds gang up.
Photo by Ed Snyder