Wednesday

Bird City Texas Certifies Four Inaugural Communities

Communities Rise to the Challenge of Conservation



Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Audubon Texas, partners in the Bird City Texas Initiative, are proud to announce that four communities have received certification during the inaugural application cycle. BastropDallasHouston and Port Aransas have been recognized as the leaders in community action and bird conservation. These certified communities took action in three categories: community engagement, habitat management, and threat reduction for birds. The Bird City Texas certification lasts through 2022.
“We’re excited to join Audubon Texas in recognizing these four communities for the incredible work that they’ve done for birds, wildlife habitat, and connecting people with nature,” said TPWD Urban Wildlife Program Leader Richard Heilbrun. “It’s not easy to become a Bird City Texas community; it takes dedication and vision. We are confident that their accomplishments will lead to stronger, more resilient communities for people and birds.”
After the Bastrop County Complex Fire of 2011, Bastrop has been committed to restoring their rare Lost Pines ecosystem for birds and other wildlife that dependent on it. They have also chosen to address light pollution by being a Dark Sky Community, specifically choosing not to light a prominent bridge in town for the benefit of migratory birds.
Dallas has restored hundreds of acres of native prairies throughout their city, benefitting many grassland bird species. They have worked to reduce to the amount of pesticides used to remove invasive plants during these restoration projects. They’ve also created an innovative outreach program that provides birding backpacks for urban youth.
Houston has done a fantastic job of creating nature centers throughout their entire community, providing outreach and bird-friendly resources for a wide range of demographics. This includes providing substantial resources about bird-friendly buildings. They have also promised to increase the number of prairies that are restored within their city limits.
After Hurricane Harvey, Port Aransas committed significant resources to restore coastal ecosystems and fix damages to birding amenities caused by the storm. They clearly understand the link between bird habitat and eco-tourism, and have a brilliant nature preserve system that is managed to provide excellent bird habitat for coastal and migratory birds. They are continuing to acquire surrounding land to buffer these preserves.
By undertaking these actions, these newly certified communities help their residents and their birdlife. Bird City Texas communities can use their bird-friendly designation to attract more of Texas’ 2.2 million birdwatchers who are major drivers in the state’s $1.8 billion wildlife-viewing industry.
In the coming months, certified communities will host a variety of events to continue promoting the importance of birds and healthy habitats. We encourage interested participants to visit each community’s Chamber of Commerce website, as well as TPWD and Audubon Texas’ websites for updates.
For communities interested in applying for certification, the 2020 Bird City Texas application cycle begins in early summer. Please visit www.birdcitytexas.org for more information on how to apply for certification.
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Tuesday

Be Our Valentine!

Celebrate Valentine’s Day at a Texas State Park



With Valentine’s Day around the corner, Texans are making plans with the special people in their lives. Bring your best two- or four-legged pal to a Texas State Park and experience Valentine’s Day in the outdoors.
Texas State Parks are an ideal place to spend the day with the people closest to you. A few ideas for anyone looking for Valentine’s Day unique plans are:
  • Paddle Date: Many Texas State Parks have pedal boats, one- and two-person kayaks, and canoes available for rent so visitors can have a romantic date on the water. Exploring the park on the water offers a different perspective on even the most popular parks. A list of parks with rentable equipment is available on the boating and paddling page on Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s website. 
  • Peak Proposal Goals: Pop the question overlooking some of the most idyllic landscapes in Texas. Parks like Davis Mountains State ParkOld Tunnel State ParkFranklin Mountains State ParkLake Mineral Wells State Park and South Llano River State Park offer unique scenic overlooks, ideal settings for proposals with an outdoorsy twist. 
  • Fall in Love at a Waterfall: Take your valentine on a short walk to a waterfall at a Texas State Park. At Pedernales Falls State Park, visitors can venture on a short half-mile trail through the hill country to Twin Falls or take a separate trail to see the park’s namesake falls up close. For a more adventurous experience, the trek to the 70-foot spring-fed Gorman Falls at Colorado Bend State Park offers a 3-mile round trip hike over rocky terrain. 
  • Hook, Line and Sinker:  Grab a tackle box instead of a chocolate box and go fishing at a state park this Valentine’s Day. Park visitors don’t need a fishing license at a Texas State Park and some parks will even loan you equipment so you can learn to fish without making the investment. End your fishing date by preparing a romantic fish filet dinner by candlelight at a picnic area. Learn how to fillet a fish and choose a recipe you can prepare together. Find a list of parks where you can fish on the TPWD website. 
  • Sunset Walks with Your Sweetie: Walk hand-in-hand with your valentine on a sunset hike. With miles of trails available at parks around Texas, there are different types of paths for people of all skill levels. Some parks are also hosting guided evening hikes including the Valentine’s sunset hike at Dinosaur Valley State Park and a twilight hike at Inks Lake State Park.
  • Attend a Valentine’s Day Event: Parks around Texas are hosting a variety of Valentine’s events including a Galentine’s Day hike at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, a pine cone bird feeder making class at Goliad State Park and a Taco’bout Love taco-making event at Cooper Lake State Park- Doctor’s Creek Unit.
Find a full list of park events on the calendar page on the TPWD website.
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Monday

Ocelots Using Wildlife Crossing

Threatened cat spotted crossing under Laguna Atascosa road




You may recall our October 2018 article on wildlife crossings, which featured the plight of ocelots in South Texas. In a 10-month span, seven ocelots were killed by cars there, a statistic made even more significant when you discover there are only 80-100 ocelots left in Texas.

In response, the Texas Department of Transportation agreed to build 15 wildlife underpasses around Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. The crossings on Texas Highway 100 were completed in 2017; construction on several others around the refuge wrapped up last July. The crossings look like basic concrete culverts under the road. 

TxDOT also installed fencing, a key component of effective wildlife crossings, along Highway 100 to funnel animals toward the crossings.

The question remained: Would ocelots use them?

And now we hear that there’s success, as proved by photo evidence on Jan. 25, when an ocelot using one of those crossings was caught on camera.

According to a press release, the 5-year-old male, known as OM 331, used the crossing under FM 106 to cross from north to south.

Other animals, such as armadillos, javelinas, bobcats, long-tailed weasels, alligators and tortoises have used the underpass, however, officials said in the release this is the first documented use of an ocelot using an underpass crossing in the United States.

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Friday

Saltwater Fishing on the Fly

There's an art to tying flies, but the thrill's in the hunt




Every sport has its experts, but you don’t need much expertise to experience and appreciate the breathtaking pull of an angry redfish on a pulsating 8-weight.

Fly-fishing is an ancient art, imported from Europe and practiced on high-country streams for centuries before the first enterprising long-rodder attempted the presentation of an oversized fly to a saltwater gamefish. 

These days, coastal fly casters regularly catch everything from 15-inch school trout to 150-pound tarpon. They achieve this feat by drawing on the expertise of numerous authorities as well as countless texts and videos.

Over time, the quality of tackle in relation to its price has consistently improved. Many entry-level outfits are now actually superior to “state-of-the-art” rigs marketed in years past. 

Technology, materials and manufacturing techniques have brought high-end fly-fishing gear within easy reach of the angler who’s willing to make a modest investment.

Accomplished saltwater fly casters often use 6- or 7-weight rods. It’s great fun to fight even modestly sized redfish and trout on lighter-weight blanks. However, for easier learning, without sacrificing the authority to counter constantly present coastal winds, most beginners fare best with 8-weight rods.

Most saltwater fly casters express a general preference for weight-forward floating line. After all, it’s the line being cast, not the lure. Sinking line is appropriate for surf-casting, jetty fishing or plumbing deep bay troughs and reefs, but for the classic drill of stalking tailing redfish in calf-deep water, floating line rules.

Unlike lures and baits on conventional tackle, flies are retrieved via “stripping” the line by hand, not cranking a reel handle. Once there’s a strike, the hook is set with a firm tug of the line, not a swoosh of the rod.

Fly line embodies two materials, the core and the coating. Most fly lines are approximately 30 yards long. Attaching the line to the backing is arguably a job best left, at least the first time or two, to a pro shop. In fact, pro shops are a beginning fly caster’s go-to source for everything from proper tackle setup to knot-tying to effective fly presentation.

Many Texas casters, both saltwater and freshwater, benefit from membership in the Federation of Fly Fishers, a group of avid longrodders with chapters nationwide. They’re generous with their time and knowledge, sharing fly patterns and techniques.

It’s been my experience that fly casters are more willing to share their expertise than any other faction of the angling community. After all, fly fishermen possess a common passion, one that transcends the catching of fish.

A good fly caster does not always a good fisherman make. You can, after all, be an excellent mechanic and still not know how to drive a car.

Just as effective archery requires highly refined hunting skills, fly-fishing increases the challenge of saltwater angling and calls on new skills. Occasionally, it can actually give the angler an edge.

When conventional lures spook skittish gamefish, it’s possible that a gently presented streamer can be just the enticement that draws a savage response from an unsuspecting predator. Even more impressive is the sense of control an angler feels when a blind cast is rewarded with the unanticipated sighting of a tailing redfish in the opposite direction.

Faced with that exciting but frustrating quandary, the hapless baitcaster can only crank the reel handle as quickly as possible and hope for a last-second shot at a fish that’s very likely to flee in response to the hurried impact of the cast.

A cool-headed fly caster needs only lift the line from the water, firmly pull it behind, load up the rod, aim and — given reasonable competence and a small bit of luck — quickly “shoot” an irresistible offering directly in the path of the unsuspecting fish.

When a tailing redfish lifts its head and turns, slicing through an accelerated wake with a defiantly raised dorsal fin, and only seconds later lunges atop a saltwater fly like a bulldog on a rat, the feeling you get is like hitting a bull’s-eye or a hole-in-one.

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Wednesday

ShareLunker 2020 Season Open

Looking back at the biggest fish caught in Texas in 2019




Ryan Waguespack wins the 2019 Sharelunker $5,000 drawing 


In 2019, anglers entered 327 lunker bass over 8 pounds in the Toyota ShareLunker program from 88 lakes across the state. In addition to helping produce bigger, better bass for Texas lakes, anglers who enter their big bass catches in the program receive special recognition and prizes, including an entry into a year-end drawing to win a $5,000 Bass Pro Shops shopping spree and an annual fishing license.

“We are excited to announce that after wrapping up another great year of participation in the Toyota ShareLunker program, angler Ryan Waguespack of McQueeney was randomly selected from the 2019 entries to win the coveted year-end $5,000 shopping spree to Bass Pro Shops,” said Kyle Brookshear, Toyota ShareLunker program coordinator. “We want to remind anglers that every certified ShareLunker entry will earn you a chance of winning this drawing along with many other great prizes in 2020, so be sure to download the Toyota ShareLunker mobile app and get fishing.”

Waguespack said although he’s thrilled to be the winner of the prize drawing, he’s also excited about the opportunity to help make bass fishing in Texas bigger and better. Even though he hasn’t caught his goal 13 pound Legacy Class fish yet, entering five other big bass into the other weight categories in the expanded program has provided the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with important data that fisheries biologists and hatcheries staff can use to help produce more lunker bass in Texas lakes.

“I’m very excited, I put a lot of effort and passion into my fishing and I’m always trying to catch a bigger bass,” Waguespack said. “It’s also good to be on a list of recognition – especially as a fishing guide, it’s a selling point and it shows we’re doing something right.”

The year-round Toyota ShareLunker program offers four levels of participation for bass over 8 pounds caught in Texas. In 2019, anglers entered five Legacy Class bass over 13 pounds and loaned them to TPWD for the selective breeding and stocking program during the spawning window Jan. 1 through March 31. Additionally, anglers entered four Legend Class bass over 13 pounds that were caught outside the spawning window or not loaned for spawning, 76 Elite Class bass weighing 10 to 12.99 pounds, and 242 Lunker Class bass weighing between 8 and 9.99 pounds or at least 24 inches.

The top five ShareLunker producing lakes in 2019 included Lake Fork near Quitman with 112 entries, Lake Conroe near Houston with 69 entries, Lake Athens in Athens with 48 entries, Sam Rayburn Reservoir near Jasper with 32 entries, and O.H. Ivie Lake near San Angelo with 21 entries.

Lakes producing 13 pound or larger Legacy Class bass entries in 2019 included Lake Leon with 13.00 pound ShareLunker 581 caught March 29; Lake Conroe with 13.36 pound ShareLunker 580 caught March 9; Lake Fork with 13.73 pound ShareLunker 579 caught March 8; a private research lake with 13.79 pound ShareLunker 578 caught Feb. 8; and Marine Creek Lake with 14.57 pound ShareLunker 577 caught Jan. 26. Three of the Legacy Class fish spawned successfully at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, producing 55,000 offspring that were stocked in Texas public lakes and another 30,000 pure Florida largemouth bass offspring that were retained as hatchery broodstock so that TPWD can stock these big bass by the millions statewide in coming years.

In return for loaning their Legacy Class fish to TPWD for selective breeding and stocking, anglers receive a catch kit, a 13lb+ Legacy decal, VIP access to awards programming at the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest and a replica of their fish. Additionally, these anglers receive entries into both the year-end drawing to win a $5,000 Bass Pro Shops shopping spree and an annual fishing license and a special Legacy Class drawing to win a $5,000 Bass Pro Shops shopping spree, won by angler Barry Prince of Lindale in 2019.

Anglers who enter a Toyota ShareLunker in every other category through Dec. 31 also receive great prizes, including a catch kit filled with merchandise and a drawing entry for the year-end $5,000 Bass Pro Shops shopping spree and annual fishing license. 

With the 2020 season underway as of Jan. 1, anglers can enter their big bass catches in all categories on the Toyota ShareLunker app – available for free download from the Apple App Store and Google Play – or on the Toyota ShareLunker website. The mobile app and website entry forms also include simple instructions for anglers who would like to provide a sample of fish scales from their lunker bass to TPWD researchers for genetic analysis.

Anglers who catch a 13 pound or larger “Legacy Class” bass through March 31 can enter by calling the program directly – any time of day – at (903) 681-0550.
The Toyota ShareLunker Program is made possible in part by the generous sponsorship of Toyota. Toyota is a longtime supporter of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, providing major funding for a wide variety of education, fish, parks and wildlife projects.

Prize donors Bass Pro Shops, Lake Fork Taxidermy, American Fishing Tackle Co. and Stanley Jigs also provide additional support for this program.

For updates on the Toyota ShareLunker Program, visit https://www.facebook.com/ShareLunkerprogram or https://texassharelunker.com/


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Tuesday

Catching Record Fish in Texas

Anglers set water body records in 2019


Brayden Rogers at Lake Tawakoni

Gavin Mikeska at Oak Creek Lake
“With 47 new state fishing records and 434 new waterbody records set at lakes, rivers and bays across the state, it’s clear that 2019 was a great year for fishing in Texas,” said Ron Smith, TPWD Angler Recognition Program director. “In addition to providing bragging rights and a lifetime of memories for anglers, these achievements showcase the world-class fishing opportunities that can be found in every part of Texas.”
Junior anglers under 17 set 14 state records and 108 water body records in 2019. A few notable junior records include the junior state freshwater rod and reel record largemouth bass caught by Gavin Mikeska at Oak Creek Lake Apr. 20; the junior state freshwater rod and reel record blue catfish caught by Brayden Rogers at Lake Tawakoni March 16; and the junior state saltwater rod and reel record bull shark caught by Johnny Garner in the Gulf of Mexico Jan. 25.
All-ages anglers set 33 state records and 326 water body records in 2019.

Even though not every fish qualifies as a waterbody or state record, anglers can still submit and receive special recognition for their catches. In 2019, 48 anglers submitted their first catch to the program for the First Fish Award; 57 received the Outstanding Angler Award for their special catch; and 261 received a Big Fish Award for catching a fish that met the minimum length requirement for the species.
“Most anglers that turn in an application get something – whether that’s an award or an outstanding angler certificate,” Smith said. “We are happy to recognize great catches even when they may not have set a new record.”
To participate in the program, anglers should become familiar with the rules to ensure they submit a complete application. In addition to locating a certified scale, anglers should learn to properly measure a fish and take a camera along to snap the required photos. Anglers should also keep in mind that all fish need to be legally caught in Texas waters and only one person may catch the fish (except for netting or gaffing the fish to bring it into the boat or onto shore).
To search current records, review the types of awards available and learn how to submit your catch, visit the Angler Recognition Program online at www.tpwd.texas.gov/fishawards.


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