Outdoors For 2/14

I always love for Valentine’s Day to arrive. Not just because thoughts of love are in the air. I breathe out a silent sigh of relief knowing that there has never historically been a major fish kill in our coastal bays after Valentine’s Day.

Freezes and fish kills are part of the continual cycle of fish populations on our coast. Normally we are on about a 15-20 year schedule for a freeze that results in a major fish kill. Less severe fish-killing freezes occur interspersed among those major freezes. Our last major kill was in 1989. So we are overdue. The question is not if but when.

The 1983 and 1989 killer freezes were devastating to our game fish populations.
I was living in Pensacola during the 1983 freeze.

The same Arctic December front that dropped temperatures from the 80’s to the low teens and killed more than 30-million fish in Texas reached Florida the next day. The temperature in Pensacola dropped to six degrees.

We lived on Perdido Bay and the icy wind howled out of the north at 40-miles per hour. Much of the water blew out of the bay and the brackish water froze out to 200 feet from the shore. Our kids used a cardboard box and ice scooted on the shallow frozen water. We lost all power in the house and slept by the fireplace for several days. It was so cold. The toilet bowl in our back bathroom froze.

That 1983 fish kill was so massive due to two factors. The speed in which the temperature dropped. The weather, and bay waters, had been warm. Suddenly, the temperatures were in the low teens. Then the temperatures stayed below freezing for a record 77 hours. Prolonged temperatures below 32 degrees are worst. A snap freeze that’s over quickly, with temperatures rapidly climbing doesn’t do much damage.

In 1989, we experienced two cold periods (February and December) that resulted in major fish kills.

Brownsville recorded 16 degree temperatures. A total of over 17 million fish died in those two freezes. Recreational fishing, especially for spotted sea trout, was adversely affected for several years. I bought a cabin in Port Aransas in 1990 and fished often. Catching a keeper trout that year took real effort.

The first report of cold-induced fish kills in Texas bays was by Cabeza de Vaca, a Spanish explorer shipwrecked on the lower coast in 1527. He spent eight months with a coastal Indian tribe and noted that they “know and understand the differences of the seasons, when the fruits come to ripen, the fish die.”

Most believe this is a reference to the numbing of fish in Texas bays during cold spells.

Jane Long, a wife of a U.S. Army General stationed at Fort Bolivar, tells of the bitterly cold winter of 1820-21. While her husband was posted to Mexico she tells of Galveston Bay (or at least as far as she could see) freezing over. The only way she, her child and her servants survived was by breaking ice and picking up dead fish underneath.

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