Texas State Park Police Celebrate 50 Years of Service

Love our December feature? Here are more stories from the officers in their own words.

When we asked Texas State Park Police Officers to share their personal stories with us earlier this year, we were surprised by the deluge of wonderful anecdotes they provided. There were too many to include in the feature we published in our December 2021 issue — read it here — so we’ve collected the rest here for your reading pleasure. 


Special thanks to State Park Police Major Doug Huggins, who spent many hours persuading his fellow officers to tell their stories, despite their reluctance to brag about what they consider their quiet duty.


Heritage, History and Family

State Park Police Chief Wes Masur


I’m super proud of my Texas Parks and Wildlife and State Park Police heritage. The clock started for me when I was born in 1971, the same year the State Park Police was created. 


Also in 1971, my father (Mike Masur) started his career as a park ranger at Lockhart State Park while my mother became a teacher for Lockhart ISD. My father performed maintenance and administrative duties for a couple of years until he was selected to attend a police certification academy in San Marcos as part of Southwest Texas University. He was commissioned in the second group of State Park Police Officers in 1973, starting my 48-year connection to a special group of law enforcement officers. 


Along with his new law enforcement role, my father also became the park superintendent, with a residence in the park. What an opportunity for our family! Two years old, I was a happy kid. Lockhart State Park had a lot to offer, like hiking, fishing, swimming, a golf course and a rodeo arena. I took advantage of those opportunities every single day. 


One of the most exciting things for me was that I got to know several of my Dad’s law enforcement friends, officers from multiple agencies. They ranged from Game Wardens, DPS Troopers, Sherriff’s Department, TABC agents, PD Officers, Texas Rangers, DEA agents and other State Park Police Officers. It was a good group to look up to; their lasting impressions on me convinced me to pursue a Criminal Justice degree at Southwest Texas State University.


Although I had decided early in life I wanted to be in law enforcement, I wasn’t enjoying the criminal justice classes in college and was considering switching to agriculture as a major. During my junior year, I had a conversation with my dad and a group of our law enforcement friends. 


“Law enforcement is looking for cops, not cowboys,” they told me. 


Something about that conversation had a great impact on me and I went on to earn my criminal justice degree in 1994. Within one month of graduation, I had my fist full-time job as a jailer for Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department. Caldwell County also sponsored me to attend the Alamo Area Council of Government, Basic Peace Officer Training Academy in San Antonio and New Braunfels. The training was intense and a rough several months, but all in all I learned a great deal before graduating. 


Immediately after graduation I was sworn in as a deputy for Caldwell County. From 1995–96, I served as a Southwest Texas State University Police Officer, Field Training Officer and Drug and Alcohol Intervention Officer.


In 1996, I began my career with TPWD at the Austin HQ and state parks like McKinney Falls, Bastrop, Lockhart, Garner and Lake Somerville.


Over my 25-year career with the department, I have served as State Park Police Officer, Headquarters Police Supervisor, Regional Law Enforcement Coordinator, State Law Enforcement Coordinator, State Park Police Program Director and now Chief of State Park Police.


My humble beginnings and my special connection to Texas State Parks have shaped me into what I am today. Turning 50 in 2021 and sharing this milestone birthday alongside the 50th anniversary of Texas State Park Police — especially while experiencing a unique law enforcement connection for 48 of those 50 years — I can’t help but think my career path was meant to be. 


Along with all my partners that are currently serving the agency, or have retired and moved on, I’m exceptionally proud of the State Park Police history and the bright future. 


No Solo Heroes

Officer Scott Green – Lake Livingston State Park


While I was patrolling Lake Livingston State Park one evening, dispatch put out a call about a man with a rope around his neck standing on the Goodrich Bridge over Highway 59. I arrived on scene within minutes; a state trooper and a sheriff’s sergeant arrived just before me. We found the man hanging from bridge with a tow strap still attached to his truck bumper. I drove the truck to other side of bridge, raising the victim while the other officers helped get him back up. The victim looked deceased; the ambulance was still 5-6 minutes away. I thought I felt a faint pulse, but the man was not breathing. I started chest compressions while another officer administered resuscitation breaths until EMS arrived. We felt a strong pulse by the time we turned him over to EMS and, before the ambulance left the scene, he was breathing on his own. Last I heard he survived; his neck was not broken. It was a full team effort with three different agencies and EMS. — no solo heroes that day. 


Extra Training Saves Lives

Sergeant David Dotter — Big Bend Ranch State Park


I was on patrol one very windy West Texas day near the entrance of Big Bend Ranch State Park when an emergency call came out over the radio about a motorcycle crash involving two passengers on Highway 170 near Fort Leaton, outside Presidio. 


Only one ambulance was available in the area due to multiple other motorcycle crashes; medical aircraft were grounded due to the windy weather conditions. 


I had to answer the call. Luckily, in addition to being a police officer, I’m a paramedic. 


A very strong gust of wind caused a man to lose control of his motorcycle. Both he and his wife suffered serious, life-threatening injuries. The wife was immediately transported by the one ambulance to Alpine; the driver was still at the scene of the crash and in critical condition. 


I began providing life-saving services to the husband. The US Border Patrol was on the scene with a back-country rescue vehicle but had no trained medical crew. They drove the husband to Marfa to meet an ambulance for transport to the Alpine hospital. He survived.


State Park Police officers have to be well rounded. Some across the state are EMTs and even wildland firefighters. In a remote area like the Big Bend country, that well rounded training saves lives.

Ring Around the HQ

Officer Carlos Rivas — Bentsen-RGV State Park


During my time working at Falcon State Park a few years ago, a park volunteer called to report a white truck operated by a young woman who was driving dangerously and crashing into bollards.


I saw the vehicle driving past the park headquarters. The driver turned around and began circling the headquarters while I circled as well, with emergency lights activated. We circled the building multiple times. 


The woman eventually stopped, and I asked her why she kept circling the headquarters. She said she was drunk and knew I was trying to stop her. She claimed she was trying to catch up to me to help me stop her. 


The situation reminded me of how a dog chases its tail. 


Honey, It’s Not What You Think

Officer David Weeks — Lake Livingston State Park


As a newly commissioned officer, at Martin Dies Jr. State Park my wife was concerned when I received my first 3 am park emergency callout. The report was about an intoxicated person trying to enter visitors’ RVs. The suspect was quickly located and placed into custody with no problems. She was a young woman in her nightgown, very intoxicated, lost and scared of the armadillos moving through the leaves. She was trying to find the showers to get ready for her job interview the next morning as an exotic dancer. 


Since the situation was under control, I thought I would call my wife and let her know that everything was okay… or so I thought. 


Never call your wife at 4 in the morning to tell her that you have an intoxicated exotic dancer handcuffed in your truck and you’ll be home late. Lesson learned. Better to let her worry!


The Early Days of State Park Police

Dennis DeWitt — Retired Law Enforcement Commander


At the same time as my initial on-campus interviews at Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M Kingsville) in 1968, the State Parks Board was merging into a new agency, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Park keepers basically operated and maintained each state park, generating all salaries, operation, maintenance and utility costs from locally collected fees and charges with little or no state-contributed funding. Many park keepers were also licensed peace officers, since they were totally responsible for all aspects of their local operation. 


An effort had begun in 1968 to recruit college graduates to begin the rebuilding and upgrading process in state park management. The first order of my employment in 1969 was to muster at Bastrop State Park for a month of extensive training for all new prospective park managers. Instructors, consisting of then current park (keepers) managers, auditors and specialists in various fields lectured all of us (approximately 40 prospective park managers). Two notable instructors/advisers were park keeper/manager at Mother Neff SP Chesley Autin (former DPS officer) and Alvis (Jake) Hoskins, park keeper/manager at Lake Corpus Christi SP and former Mathis police officer.


On weekends each student was assigned to work and stay at a state park mowing, picking up trash, repairing roads, cleaning restrooms, interacting with campers and collecting fees so we would have a genuine idea as to operations and maintenance when final assignment was made at the end of the month’s training. My Bastrop cabinmate was Bruce Hill who, after several years as a park manager, transferred to the law enforcement division as a state game warden. He was tragically killed in an on-duty nighttime boating accident many years later.


My duty assignment was assistant manager at Palo Duro Canyon SP but was moved on request to Lake Corpus Christi by an obliging agency. This gracious accommodation forged a lifelong bond between me, my spouse and TPWD. 


In July 1969 I was called to active military training; upon completion, I became assistant manager at Martin Dies Jr. SP under park manager Joe Smith. Superintendent Smith delegated most responsibilities and authority to the assistant manager, including enforcement of rules and regulations. Kozum Mott, lead ranger, was involved in park enforcement activities although there was no official authority.


“When you wear your hat, you have on your authority,” Kozum told me. We relied upon the local game warden or local deputies for assistance with serious infractions.

At Martin Dies Jr., I confronted a youngster riding his minibike through other camper’s campsites, admonished him and directed him to return to his family’s campsite. After leaving the infraction area, I realized the youngster’s dad had followed me in his pickup truck to my state-supplied residence. He appeared to have consumed a large amount of alcohol and approached me in a threating manner with arms flailing. 

My wife of less than a year was rapidly walking down the sidewalk behind me from our residence, raising a large cast iron skillet in her right hand. She shouted at the irate camper, causing him to have a startled look on his face, and he immediately ceased his rant, jumped into his vehicle and returned to his campsite. I realized I had married a “keeper” and we’ve been married 53 years now. I was 22 years old that day, and Gwen was 19. 


With no authority, we “pushed the envelope” when confronting violators for speeding, campsite infractions, etc., by keeping a gasoline issue ticket book (approximately 1 inch thick, 4 inches wide and 6 inches in length” on our pickup dashboards in plain view. When we exited the vehicle, we would make a display of retrieving the gasoline issue book and carrying it much as you would a violation ticket book when we confronted the violator. It was effective. Remember, the types of violators at that time were much different than those encountered many times today. 


Austin headquarters, recognizing State Parks needed their own enforcement authority, began a program for selecting and training state park enforcement personnel. The process was extremely selective as the enforcement genesis and idea was so tentative that the slightest slip up or officer infraction could result in loss of job of all involved, including the Austin supervisors. 


If you were one of the selected individuals, it was made clear it was voluntary and no extra pay or compensation would be issued. We believed strongly this was something we needed to do as part of our job and accepted all caveats and requirements as our duty in public service. A small number of selected individuals were quietly sent to local law enforcement academies for initial training, which at that time required 160 hours to obtain a peace officer license. I attended Lamar University in Beaumont for a month of training, driving back and forth daily; a sidearm was borrowed and utilized for firearms training as no equipment was supplied by TPWD. At the culmination of training, we were not commissioned by TPWD, and still had no official enforcement authority. 


As time progressed the training requirements were scheduled to increase. Before January 1, 1972, TPWD was forced to either commission each officer or wait then send for more training later as the training requirements were increasing in 1972. In December 1971, the decision was made to commission the select few trained officers. Bob Hauser arrived at Martin Dies Jr State Park, where several of the future State Park Police offers were summoned. Bob stood on the tailgate of a state pickup and swore us in as Park Peace Officers. I was issued blue badge 818; Chesley Autin was 800, Jake Hoskins was 801.


TPWD told each of us to not create any type of issue or situation calling attention to being a commissioned State Park Peace Officer and to use extreme discretion in all enforcement activities. The term voluntary compliance was permanently ingrained in each of us. Voluntary compliance was stressed in every training session for years. 


No equipment, except for a .357-caliber side arm pistol belt and a pair of handcuffs, was supplied nor available from the State Parks Division. We were truly fortunate to work with our game wardens and local sheriff’s departments for radios and other enforcement equipment; many times, they would repurpose an old vehicle for us to use. 


I promoted to Fairfield Lake SP as manager. At Fairfield I was issued a brand-new grey Chevrolet Vega station wagon with a large magnetic rotating red light, complete with ten-inch-tall egg-shaped red lens and a cigarette lighter plug-in cord, to affix on my vehicle as needed for law enforcement. When the light was activated and turning, the tiny station wagon swayed in unison with the rotation. At night, in enforcement activities, the Vega was placed far enough from violators so its size and personality would not be apparent and ensured the sheriff’s supplied radio was loud. 


The size of the vehicle, coupled with my size (in winter with a puffy brown goosedown nylon coat), pistol belt and hat, I resembled a large brown bear driving a tiny car. At six foot three, my left hand had to be placed on the pavement when exiting due to the proximity of the door frame to the ground. While daytime violators laughed and easily outdistanced the mighty Vega, they found they could not outrun the radio.


As we were still in the early days of the State Park law enforcement journey, and park law enforcement was still tentative, we were required to remove all enforcement identifiers prior to arriving at the Austin Headquarters.

Shadowing the Governor 

Captain Robert Enckhausen — Palo Duro Canyon State Park


In late spring of 2014, then-Governor Rick Perry and several Texas landowners gathered in Palo Duro Canyon State Park for an Old West trail ride and cowboy campout. The Texas State Park Police were deployed to provide planning, incident command, law enforcement protection and medical response. 


Working with the Governor’s protective detail, we developed response plans for a wide variety of incidents. Teams provided security overwatch in the backcountry and medical response. Due to the remote nature of the trail ride, security and medical teams were deployed on foot and on UTV. 

One team was deployed on foot to the deep backcountry to follow the trail ride and remain out of sight. This team was tasked with providing emergency response and medical care. Over the hours, the team remained vigilant and prepared. 


On the return ride, the point rider missed the correct trail. State Park Police noticed the error and presented themselves to the trail ride, offering our assistance with a minor course correction. During this quick meeting, the Governor’s party was surprised to find a team had been following them on foot for many hours. 


It's a common response from Texas State Park visitors to say they can’t believe the resources a committed team can provide in a remote location. State Park Police across Texas are patrolling parks, waterways, trails, backcountry, conducting criminal investigations and assisting local communities every day. 


Governor Perry's trail ride was a safe and successful event for all, just like most visits to Texas State Parks.


Prepared for Anything

Officer Tara Bayliss — Guadalupe River State Park/Honey Creek SNA


Born and raised in Austin, I had the unique opportunity to attend the Wildlife Expo yearly from a young age. Those Expo experiences — in addition to camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, and obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Biology — helped fuel a lifetime goal of working for TPWD. 


In 2005, I obtained my first college internship with TPWD working at LBJ State Park and Historic Site as an interpreter at the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm. I was able to transport older generations back to a (labor intensive but) much simpler way of life, in addition to educating younger generations about our past and helping to foster an appreciation of what we have today. 

In 2008 I interned at J.D. Murphree WMA, banding mottled ducks and assisting biologists with alligator surveys. I gained an expansive appreciation of all the hard work of years of research and data collection for many native and non-native plant and animal species which thrive in wetland habitats and how to better manage them. 


In 2010 I obtained a seasonal position at Possum Kingdom Fish Hatchery with the Inland Fisheries Division. Working here I assisted in caring for and rearing striped and hybrid striped bass, smallmouth bass and channel catfish that were eventually deposited in various bodies of water throughout Texas for recreational fishing for anglers to enjoy. 


Today, as a State Park Police Officer, I see how each one of my past working experiences helped prepare me. From executing interpretive and outreach programs to Boy and Girl Scouts (LBJ), to Feral Hog Management, Turkey Banding, and Public Hunts/Field Dressing Deer and Hogs within State Parks (JD Murphree WMA), to issuing citations for illegal means and methods or for taking undersized fish in the park (PK Fish Hatchery), TPWD has given me the skills to succeed as a Texas State Park Police Officer.


State Park Police Officers have evolved tremendously from 1971 to now. While the job as a whole is a lot of fun, we do deal with some exigent and adrenaline-inducing circumstances. Working vehicle fatalities, drownings, domestic violence calls, suicides, drug-related calls and search-and-rescues can be daunting. But when those efforts end with a positive and lifesaving outcome, that makes the job worthwhile. 


Moreover, SPPOs get the opportunity to work alongside our fellow Texas Game Wardens. Not only do we collectively patrol our parks, rivers, lakes, oceans and counties together, but we also occasionally work border operations, commission meetings, youth hunts and kid fishes together, and back each other up on calls as needed. 


I’ve worked at various parks across the state, including the busiest state park. Each of these parks presents extremely stressful challenges based on demographics and topography. However, all have provided me with a distinctive skill set useful for a SPPO, along with lasting lifetime relationships and favorable memories. 


At the end of the workday, whether it be a good day or a bad day, I think I can speak for all Texas State Park Police Officers when I say the one thing that we all enjoy the most is our “office.” From the Panhandle to the coast, from the desert to the Hill Country and the Piney Woods, Texas State Parks are representative of the vast diversity Mother Nature has to offer. Park Police Officers will serve and protect now and for generations to come. 


Those Aren’t Guns

Major Roger Dolle — Bastrop State Park


Late one warm summer night, while on patrol at Bastrop State Park, Officer Sartor notified me that a group of individuals with AR-15 rifles were milling around off Park Road 1A near the scenic overlook. I radioed the third officer on duty, Officer Evans, and we all began to proceed to the area.


Officer Evans was first on scene and advised of multiple individuals on the roadway and on the roadside equipment. The chaotic scene was quite confusing; the suspects had strange objects with them and stationary white lights on tripods. Given the low light conditions, reports of weapons and a large group of suspects, we responded with our patrol rifles and began to take control of the scene.


As we gathered all the suspects into the light and began to assess the scene, we heard an ATV coming out of the darkness toward our location on the roadway. Not knowing exactly what we had yet, we all were on high alert and adrenaline was pumping. 


It was only then we noticed that the individuals who climbed off the roadside equipment were nude females. The “strange objects” held by our “suspects” turned out to be cameras and tripods. 


The ATV rider was our own regional Natural Resource Specialist Creacy, who just happened to be returning from a survey of the fire ravaged forest in the park.


The look on everybody’s face was priceless as this scene unfolded. We had interrupted an unauthorized nude photo shoot in the dark of night. No weapons were found. Given the chain of events and our relief of the less-than-harmful encounter, we opted for verbal warnings. We all let out a great sigh of relief and then a half-hearted laugh. The individuals were advised to gather their equipment and get dressed; then we escorted them out of the park.

We returned to patrol and Creacy had a story for his grandchildren.


The Most Rewarding Career

New graduate Taylor Marburger — Garner State Park


When you think of a Texas State Park, what comes to mind? For me, I instantly think of families playing with their kids, beautiful views all across the state and countless people making memories to last a lifetime. Those are the things that drive me to protect our state park resources and the many great visitors that fill our parks daily. Helping families enjoy everything that Texas has to offer will make for the absolute most rewarding career. 


A Walk in the Park

New graduate Jacob Estes — Lake Brownwood SP


Since I was young, I had a deep respect for the outdoors and its importance to the community. There is no better way to bond with friends and family than to spend a day enjoying all the nature in Texas. When I got to college, I learned about a career as a State Park Police Officer. Every day on the job is quite literally a walk in the park. The ability to establish relationships with my community and protect the natural resources of Texas is what motivated me to become a cadet, and it is what keeps me excited to come to work every day. I will strive to make an impact on the lives of visitors to Texas State Parks for years to come.


Find out more about how to become a Texas State Parks Police officer here.   

If you want more content like this, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.









Texas State Railroad transforms into Polar Express during magical November-December service

 By John H. Ostdick

  • Take a sneak peek at a May 2022 Travel feature on Rusk.
  • Rusk's famous railroad transforms magically for the holidays.
  • Tickets go fast!


During a mid-October regular run of the Texas State Railroad between Palestine and Rusk in East Texas, the train passes by a mid-construction North Pole.


Train attendant Payton Harris uses the prompt to talk enthusiastically about the STR staff’s preparation for its 1920s vintage steam train’s annual The Polar Express schedule (Nov. 19 through Dec. 28 except for Christmas Day). The service is based on the children’s book Chris Van Allsburg wrote and illustrated (Houghton Mifflin, 1985), and the subsequent Warner Bros. animated movie featuring Tom Hanks providing the voice for the train’s conductor.


And, no, since its 2007 inception Mr. Hanks has yet to join the STR Polar Express ride. “We hold out hope that he will show up one year,” Harris says, smiling broadly.


“We are all learning our version of the hot chocolate dance, only we don’t dance on the tables or throw cups around [as The Polar Express animated actors do in the movie].”


The ride’s 13 cars, each decked out in Christmas finery and lights, are staffed by waiters and hot chocolate chefs. Passengers are urged to come decked out as well, in warm pajamas. (Matching family PJs make for fun Christmas pictures on the train.) 


During the one-hour roundtrip ride from the richly decorated Palestine station to the North Pole, the staff provides the hot cocoa, cookies, holiday songs, and a group reading of The Polar Express. At the North Pole, some magically conjured snow falls as elves and reindeers gather by a large Christmas tree and wave at the passengers. A jovial old fellow in a red suit then boards the train, offering merriment and a jingle bell to each child onboard during the trip back to Palestine.


If you are in the area during the next two months, don’t be surprised if you encounter families dressed in pajamas dining at local restaurants before or after their train ride, Harris says. It’s just part of the season cheer out here. 


(The various-class ticket options are in great demand and sell out quickly. For those without a copy, passengers can purchase the book as a Christmas present the same time as tickets. The train departs at various times daily from the Palestine Railroad Depot inside Rusk Palestine State Park, located at 789 Park Road 70. Click here for tickets.)


The Texas State Railroad is a historic 25-mile heritage railroad between Rusk and Palestine.

Look for additional coverage of Rusk and Cherokee County in the May 2022 issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.

Texas Flounder Fishing Takes Six-Week Pause to Help Conserve Numbers

  • Texas flounder fishing will be closed Nov. 1 – Dec. 14.
  • More flounder can now spawn and offset long-term decline. 
  • Public input helped guide the multi-year process. 


To keep more fish in the water to spawn during their annual migration to the Gulf, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will close recreational and commercial flounder fishing from Nov. 1 through Dec. 14. 


Public meetings in 2019 began the process to change flounder regulations after data indicated long-term declining populations. This is the first year for the closure after a 2020 approval by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission.


Declines in flounder populations are driven by poor recruitment as winters continue to warm. 


“We cannot regulate any factor other than harvest,” says Robin Riechers, TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division Director. “By allowing more fish to spawn, we preserve as much recruitment potential as possible and help maintain a sustainable fishery into the future.”


The flounder fishery re-opens Dec. 15; anglers may resume fishing for flounder with all approved gear types. The bag limit is 5 fish per day per angler with a 15-inch minimum.


2021 Southern Flounder FAQs


What is the status of the flounder population along the Texas coast?

TPWD resource monitoring data shows a long-term population decline for flounder. Although TPWD implemented substantial changes to flounder regulations in 2009 and 2014 to help populations recover and saw small short-term improvements, overall flounder population numbers continue to be lower than they were historically. We see similar patterns in both recreational and commercial landings, with a long-term decline over time.


Why aren’t flounder populations increasing?

Juvenile recruitment of flounder into bays and estuaries is dependent on escapement by females and spawning in the Gulf of Mexico. Cold winters result in higher juvenile recruitment. With warmer winters over the last decades, we have seen lower overall recruitment. Additionally, it appears that larval survival is also dependent on temperature. At the same time, we are seeing increases in fishing pressure.


What conditions are required for survival of flounder larvae?

Research done at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute reported 18° C (64.4° F) as the optimal temperature for survival of larval flounder. Flounder larvae require a very narrow range of 16° C - 20° C (60.8° F – 68.0° F) for the first 3 weeks after hatching for optimal survival.


I’m seen great flounder fishing recently. Why do we need to change the regulations?

TPWD bag seine data showed good recruitment in early 2015 and a small increase in 2018. We also saw a 12.5% reduction in fishing pressure in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey. The combination of the stronger year classes and the reduction in fishing pressure has created a small increase in flounder populations this year. Since flounder recruitment is dependent on cooler winter temperatures, good future recruitment is not guaranteed. TPWD is obligated to prevent depletion and to maintain sustainable flounder populations. While TPWD recognizes and agrees that environmental factors substantially impact flounder populations, we cannot regulate any factor other than harvest.


Are flounder overfished? If not, why change the regulations?

Flounder are one of the top four most-sought-after species by anglers in Texas inshore waters. TPWD resource monitoring data has shown a long-term downward trend in the overall population, which is concerning. A reduction in landings would increase the number of older and larger fish in the population, and any reduction may also increase the number of females that escape to the Gulf of Mexico to spawn. 


If TPWD doesn’t conduct creel surveys at night, how do you know there is a problem with flounder?

Our commercial landings data includes all reported landings, including fish landed at night. Our resource monitoring program has collected fishery independent data for more than 40 years and gives us a picture of the population that exists in the water at any given time, not just the fish being landed by anglers. These data show a large, long-term decline in flounder populations. While TPWD does not regularly conduct creel samples at night, previous TPWD studies in 1991 and 2007 showed that nighttime recreational gigging is a significant part of the flounder fishing effort and landings. The 1991 study showed that nighttime landings could account for up to 90% of all flounder landings in some regions during the spring and fall months.


Do commercial fishermen catch most of the flounder?

Daytime recreational landings exceed the number of pounds currently being reported as commercial landings. Nighttime recreational gigging also adds to the recreational take. Based on previous TPWD studies conducted in 1991 and 2007, nighttime recreational gig fishing effort is approximately 5 times greater than that of nighttime commercial gig fishing effort and nighttime recreational gig flounder landings are slighter greater than those of commercial landings, especially during the fall flounder run. 


Where are most flounder landed?

TPWD creel data show that around 77% of the recreational flounder harvested come from Sabine Lake and Galveston Bay, with the other bays accounting for less than 6% each. For the commercial fishery, Matagorda Bay accounts for 24% of landings with Corpus Christi Bay at 23%, Aransas Bay at 20%, and Galveston Bay at 17%. 


When are most flounder landed?

Peak landings vary between the recreational and commercial fisheries. For the recreational fishery, the highest landings occur in November, with 39.4% of annual landings occurring during this month. In the commercial fishery, the highest landings take place in April and May, with 33.7% of annual landings occurring during these months.


Will closing bays to gigging during other months help?

Reducing flounder harvest prior to and during the fall migration will increase escapement of adults to the Gulf and can increase the potential spawning population and increase recruitment.


Is changing the bag limit/season expected to be permanent?

Not necessarily. Regulation changes are applied to address specific issues within a fishery; realizing the full benefit of the change generally takes one generation of the managed species. TPWD continuously monitors the changing populations and landings of marine species and makes recommendations for appropriate regulation changes. Typically, regulations result in positive impacts on the overall population of a species. It can be harder to develop support for liberalizing regulations even if the populations at some point can support the increases in landings. In 2001, the daily bag limit for Spanish mackerel was increased from 7 to 15. In 2018, the daily bag limit for king mackerel was increased from 2 to 3.

What has TPWD done in the past to help flounder populations?

Limits: In 2006, the possession limit was made equal to the bag limit. This prevented fisherman who were out past midnight from retaining 2 bag limits, both recreational and commercial. In 2009, TPWD lowered the bag limit for flounder for recreational fishermen to 5 fish (with a 2-fish bag limit) during November. The commercial bag limit was lowered to 30 fish with a 2-fish bag limit during November. Gigging was also banned during the month of November. In 2014, the 2-fish bag limit period for both recreational and commercial fishermen was extended to the period from November 1 through December 14.

Stock Enhancement: With new buildings for TPWD hatcheries (Sea Center Texas and the Marine Development Center), Coastal Fisheries biologists hope to triple our capacity to raise flounder larvae. 


What options are being considered to manage flounder populations? 

TPWD is considering a wide variety of tools for helping manage flounder populations. These tools include a decrease in the bag limit, an increase in the minimum size limit, area closures, time closures and gear restrictions.


How many anglers currently keep their full bag limit?

During the part of the year with a 5-fish bag limit, almost 90% of anglers keep only 1 fish. Less than 2% of anglers keep their full 5-fish bag limit. During the part of the year with a 2-fish bag limit, 51% of anglers keep 1 fish, while almost 42% keep their full 2-fish bag limit. 


When was this closure announced? 

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission approved a 2021 flounder fishery closure in 2020 during the statewide regulatory process. The public was given two opportunities to comment on the proposed regulation changes to flounder that included lowering the size limits and closing the fishery during the fall. This included scoping meetings on the coast in 2019 and a public comment period in March 2020. The Commission adopted these rule changes in May 2020 for the 2020–21 license year but delayed the closure until 2021. This is the first license year that includes a closing of the flounder fishery. 


State Aquarium Addition Will Save More Wildlife During Disasters

By David Sikes

Long before the big Texas freeze in February, planners at the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi were well on their way to more than doubling the facility’s wildlife rescue-and-rehabilitation capacity.

Completion of the 27,000-square-foot Port of Corpus Christi Center for Wildlife Rescue is expected in late 2022. 

The idea began after Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, says Jesse Gilbert, the aquarium’s senior vice president and chief operating officer. Since then, wildlife along the South Texas Gulf coast have endured challenges that demonstrate a growing need to enhance the aquarium’s operations.

The actual planning for this facility began in 2019, but much of the design work was accomplished during the COVID 19 pandemic — mostly through ZOOM meetings. 

During the summer of 2019, the Coastal Bend faced a period of unusually high tides and strong winds, which battered the sea-turtle population around area jetties. Many turtles became stranded on the rocks. All were rescued by several organized efforts and later released. 

“We had a 100 percent survival rate,” Gilbert says. 

Since Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Gilbert says wildlife die-offs and stranding events have become more common along the Texas Gulf Coast. Aquarium officials realized that space for rescued animals would be inadequate if this trend continued. The February freeze dramatically punctuated this point, with thousands of cold-stunned sea turtles.

The aquarium currently has 5,000 square feet of indoor space for treating and housing sick or injured animals, plus another 7,000 square feet of outdoor enclosures. It’s the only Texas facility permitted to care for birds, sea turtles and marine mammals.

While visitors already can view some of the aquarium’s permanent rescue animals, such as sea turtles and raptors, there is no public space for viewing medical and rehab operations.

This will change with the non-profit’s new $15 million facility, including an interactive theater where visitors can watch rescue and rehab efforts in action. The facility also will provide a real-time viewing area of medical procedures behind glass, as well as a view into the wildlife rehabilitation process.

This interpretive center, with no entry fees, was underwritten by the ExxonMobil Foundation.

This space will be dynamic, mainly because of rescue dramas like the one that unfolded in February. 

“I don’t think anyone fully appreciated how the sea turtle population has grown,” Gilbert says. “With the new center, if you were to visit a week after a freeze, you would really get to see a full-scale rescue-medical operation at work.”

Biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service headquarters in Florida helped designed flexible ways to expand capacity for large rescue events, with a 95 percent survival/release rate for as many as 3,000 turtles during an emergency. 

“The February freeze was as big a challenge as (Hurricane) Harvey was for us,” Gilbert says. Natural gas to power the generators now makes the center self-sufficient for seven to 10 days.

“The key is to rescue them quickly so they can recover in clean, filtered water, all run on auxiliary power (which we have now mainly for hurricanes),” Gilbert said. “Soon we’ll have these safeguards in place to offset freeze events.”

Gilbert also considers the new facility an educational institution, capable of recruiting wildlife conservationists and promoting a sustainable conservation ethic for generations to come. 

“I view this center as a one-stop facility that will showcase the wildlife- conservation network throughout South Texas,” he says. “Hopefully, this will further the public’s stake in conservation by helping them understand their part in rescuing, reporting and preventing wildlife harm from natural events or from man-made causes.” 

TSA Annual Average Rescue/Rehab Activity 
Marine mammals: about one    
Sea turtles: 30-50 (spiked to 1,700 in 2020)
Birds: 300-350.
Rescue/Rehab Partners and Their Roles
  • Texas Parks and Wildlife Department: transport injured wildlife to the center, help release birds, take sea turtles offshore 
  • National Park Service: formalized partnership, the Aquarium/Park Partnership for America's Keystone Species, outlines the Rescue Center's ability to rehabilitate birds and sea turtles found within the park
  • National Marine Fisheries: administer both the marine mammal and sea turtle stranding networks
  • Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network: joint operations to recover stranded marine mammals and rehabilitate them
  • Texas SeaLife Center on North Padre Island and Amos Rehabilitation Keep (ARK) in Port Aransas: assist with large-scale events
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: permitting agency, helps with large events
  • City of Corpus Christi: logistical help during turtle cold-stunning events

 If you want more content like this, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Two Fantastic Fall Venison Recipes

Read all about writer Brandon Weaver’s first deer hunt in the November issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine, then try out these incredible recipes yourself.


Ground Venison Mediterranean Bowl


“Herbs and game go so nice together,” says Chef Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due in Austin. He likes bright green herbs like mint, cilantro, parsley and dill.


Inspired by Griffiths’ recommendation, I combined the great flavor of ground venison with tabouli, a classic Mediterranean salad. It’s the perfect pairing. 


I take the traditional tabouli recipe and add a little gluten-free twist. I replace the bulgur wheat, traditionally found in the dish, with riced cauliflower. The version has a really nice crunch and is hearty enough for a cold day. 


Serves two hungry people or four folks saving room for dessert. 


Tabouli Salad


4 cups finely chopped baby kale or baby arugula 


3 cups finely chopped parsley


1 yellow bell pepper, diced


14 sweet grape tomatoes, cut into halves (any small tomato will do)


1 bunch green onions, sliced from white to green 


1 cup chopped fresh mint


4 to 6 cloves pressed garlic


1 lemon


1 - 14 oz. bag of riced cauliflower (I like the H-E-B Caulibits)


2-3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


½ cup crumbled feta


Set oven on warm. Combine veggies (except cauliflower) in an oven-safe bowl or dish. Add two tablespoons of olive oil and squeeze the lemon over the top. Toss the ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Pour a thin layer of olive oil in a skillet and sauté the riced cauliflower and garlic over medium heat until cauliflower is crisp and garlic is slightly browned. Add fresh ground salt and pepper to taste; pour over veggie mixture and toss. Place the bowl in the warm oven. 


Ground Venison


1 pound of ground venison


Processors, both commercial and home, add beef fat to ground venison. When you cook it, there’ll be a lot of excess fat. Sauté venison in a skillet with just enough avocado oil to keep it from sticking. I pour off about ¾ of the excess fat and set it aside. Add fresh ground salt, pepper and cumin to taste. When you add the seasoning, it’ll start to dry out so add back some fat to keep everything moist. 




Use a shallow bowl or a plate with a lip for this dish, so you can mix everything up evenly. Take the warmed tabouli salad out of oven and fill your plate or bowl. It’s all veggies, so don’t be stingy! Add some ground venison and top with feta. I like to spice it up with Yellowbird Habanero sauce or El Yucateco Green Chile Habanero Sauce. Enjoy!



Peppercorn Crusted Venison Backstrap with Kale and Beet Salad


Keep the game-cooking process very simple, so the venison is the star of the show. Coat a six-inch piece of backstrap with avocado oil, coarsely cracked peppercorns and a little salt, and sear it on a hot grill. Per Chef Tre Wilcox’s recommendations, I let the meat rest for the same amount of time as it is cooked. 


The following is my recipe for peppercorn crusted backstrap with pan-fried potatoes and a beet and kale salad. Since the venison is local, I try to source most of my veggies from my local farmer’s market, too. Eat fresh! Eat like a locavore, a person who eats food grown or produced locally. 


Serves two hungry carnivores.


6- to 8-inch piece of backstrap cut lengthwise. I like a 2-inch thick steak so the meat cooks fast without drying out.


8 medium red potatoes, cut into quarters, boiled


8 oz. bag of baby kale. Use half of the bag and save the rest for the Ground Venison Mediterranean Bowl. 


1 large beet, either oven-roasted or boiled. Cut the cooked beet in half and then slice the halves.


1 red bell pepper, diced


1 jalapeño pepper, sliced (optional)


1 bunch green onions, sliced from white to the green 


½ cup crumbled feta cheese


4 to 8 cloves pressed garlic


¼ cup avocado oil


¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil



I set the meat and veggies out as I cook the potatoes, so everything comes to room temperature. 


I’ve had myriad fancy pepper grinders and they all break. The H-E-B Peppercorn Medley Grinder is my go-to seasoning apparatus. You can even unscrew the top and refill it. I generously coat the entire backstrap filets with peppercorn. I’ll salt it after it comes off the grill.  


Preheat the grill on high. You want it hot!


Pan-Fried Red Potatoes


Heat ¼ cup of avocado oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Drain cooked potatoes and smash with a spatula, then add to the skillet. If the oil starts to smoke, turn down the heat. Cook four to six minutes until a golden crust develops. Season with salt, pepper and pressed garlic; add olive oil as needed to keep a light fry going. Flip to brown the other side. Once they’re crisp, add a little more salt and pepper to taste and keep warm in the oven.


Kale Salad


Chop the baby kale, making several crosscuts so the leaves are bite-size. I plate it to the side of the dish and add red bell pepper and green onion. I’m looking for color here, so the beets and jalapenos go on last to complete the rainbow. 




Drop the backstrap on the hot grill and cook 60 to 90 seconds per side (err on the side of less). It’ll cook fast. Pull it off and add just a touch of fresh ground sea salt or my favorite pink Himalayan salt. Let it rest in a warm part of your kitchen so you get a nice medium-rare, warm center. 


Final Presentation


Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a skillet over low heat. Plate the potatoes on the other side of your dish. Warm the sliced beets in the pan, then place them on the greens with some sliced jalapeños. Pour warm olive oil over the salad and finish with feta on top. Slice the backstrap and place down the middle to bridge your greens and potatoes. Enjoy!

 If you want more content like this, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.