, Port Arthur, Texas


April 19, 2014

Chester Moore column: Whistlers, snook and ballyhoo, oh my!

PORT ARTHUR —   Today I bring you several interesting observations on wildlife from around the states of Texas.

 Let us start with waterfowl…

 What flies like a goose, sports claws befitting a raptor and whistles a distinctive song?

 Answer: the black-bellied whistling duck.

 Formerly relegated to Mexico and the Texas Gulf Coast, the unusual species is expanding its range and turning heads in the process.

 “There definitely has been a northward push of black-bellied whistling ducks into areas where they were non-existent just a few years ago,” said DU biologist Todd Merendino.

 Now established throughout Texas and in parts of Arkansas, New Mexico, Louisiana and Florida, there have been sightings as far north as South Dakota.

 Merendino said some believe climate change has fostered the expansion and their adaptability has no doubt aided the process.

 “They can thrive in a variety of environments from coastal marshes to prairie to back yards. In fact, they are becoming quite common on many golf courses. They are a tree nesting duck and make use of wood duck nest boxes,” he said.

 In actuality, they have more in common with geese than ducks as males and females are virtually indistinguishable, they sport long legs and necks and walk instead of waddle.

 Numerous hunters have reported confusion upon first sighting and in one instance the bewilderment extended into the dog world.

 “Last year on Lake Fork my buddy and I shot a couple of whistlers. When my dog got to the first one, it stopped dead in its tracks, mouthed it for a second and then turned around and looked dead at me,” said Texas waterfowler Justin Stevens.

 “I’ll never got the look on her face. It was like, ‘Hey Dad, this bird is just too weird. I didn’t sign up for this’. At first I got mad but then busted out laughing because my dog was as confused as I was the first time I saw one.”

•    •    •

 In the aquatic world two of the most effective ambush predators are largemouth bass and snook, which is becoming a super popular gamefish on the Lower Texas Coast.

 While bass are well documented at using these techniques, less has been written about the snook’s sneaky reputation, so let’s take a look at how you can use bass strategies to land big snook.

 Bass tournament anglers know that tight channels with a lot of water movement are preferred feeding areas for their favorite prey. Snook feed in much the same way and generally hug the shoreline on the outer edge of the channel or lie inside and gorge themselves on their choice of prey items that enter.

 These locales are great spots to fish walking topwater plugs as the snook often hit bait near the surface when feeding there. Try working your plug slowly to simulate a wounded baitfish and if that does not work speed, consider switching over to a chugger. Sometimes fish acting finicky respond better to them.

•    •    •

 The first time I heard of using cut ballyhoo for speckled trout I was rather taken aback.

 While I had caught a few specks on cut bait before, the reports I was hearing were stunning. Anglers in South Texas claimed ballyhoo worked as good as the controversial croaker and even had some people wanting to ban its use because of its effectiveness on big fish.

 “Oh, ballyhoo works,” said outdoor writer and veteran Lower Laguna Madre angler Calixto Gonzalez.

 “Other than down here people use it mainly for offshore but it is killer for big trout.”

 Ballyhoo for trout is just one of several “alternative” baits anglers are embracing in Texas. For saltwater it used to be shrimp, croaker, mud minnows and mullets. For freshwater shiners and crawfish were basically it.

 Now we have baits like the black salty, scientifically created, patent-pending live bait produced in Arkansas. It is sold at some bait outlets in Texas but many anglers myself tried it because it can be delivered right to your door via FedEx.

 I started using them last year while fishing for largemouth bass on some ponds that had big fish in them that simply did not want to hit any kind of lure. They had been severely pressured.

 At first, I tried shiners and caught a few small fish but once I switched to the Salty started catching bigger ones. Rigged on a wide gapped hook placed through the lips and fished on a free line they are killer along grass lines and usually hook the bass in the corner of the mouth.

 That means you can easily release the fish to fight another day.

 (To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at You can hear him on the radio Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI or online at and watch him Saturdays on on “God’s Outdoors with Chester Moore”.)

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  • Chester Moore column: Bank fishing good approach on catfish

     Summer is one of the best times to seek catfish in Southeast Texas and thankfully, for local anglers without a boat, there are catfish in just about every canal, drainage ditch and bayou in the area.
      Fishing from the bank has its disadvantages but there is a way around it. This involves making the fish come to you.
      European catfish and carp anglers who typically fish exclusively from the bank use a system called “ground baiting,” which involves putting chum out with the bait. They attach a small cylindrical device above their swivel, which holds chum and dispenses it as the water rushes by. The problem is these rigs are not readily available in our marketplace.
      However, with a little ingenuity, taking a 35-millimeter film canister, punching a hole in the bottom and on the lid and then punching more holes along the side can make a similar device. This acts as a perfect chumming device and is very inexpensive.
      Not everyone has film canisters these days so the softer plastic aspirin bottles will also get the job done.
      Rig this above your swivel and weight, and then fill it with your favorite chum. Now you will not only be chumming the area you fish in but also bringing fish directly to your bait.
      Any kind of chum will work, but a mixture I have had some success with was menhaden oil (available through many mail order offshore supply catalogs) mixed with soured milo. The oil creates a huge chum slick and when it mixes with the milo, the smell is almost unbearable, which means catfish love it. The best part is that a little bit goes a long way.
     Something else to consider is using jack mackerel as bait.
     This oily fish is available in larger supermarkets in a can for less than $1, and I can attest it will bring in fish. While fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and tagging sharks for the Mote Marine Laboratory, my partners and I were able to chum in and catch nearly 40 sharks while using less than two cans of the stuff. It is oily and stinks to high heaven, so catfish should love it.
      For anglers interested in using film canisters to chum their bait, something else to consider is the use of a popping cork. Even if your bait is on the bottom, you can rig a popping cork above it and attach a baited film canister below. This will allow you to do some extra chumming and use the cork to “pop” the chum out whenever you want to release more.
     Another great tip for land bound anglers is to use braided line. In talking with several anglers who pursue brackish blues from the bank, I have learned that loosing striking fish can be a problem.
      I am not sure as to the reason but a definitely solution is using a braided line because they have no stretch. When making long casts with monofilament from the bank you have the potential for lots of line stretch when can make a poor hookset.
     Sixty yards of line might have five or six feet of stretch and that is plenty for a big blue to undo. When using a braid like Fireline, Gorilla Braid or Spiderwire you can forego these problems and greatly enhance your chances of putting some catfish in the frying pan.
     (To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at You can hear him on the radio Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on “Moore Outdoors” on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI or online at and watch him Saturdays on on “God’s Outdoors with Chester Moore”.)

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