September 06, 2017
As one of the most destructive hurricanes to ever strike Texas, Hurricane Harvey's impacts to Texas hunting and fishing activities aren't fully known at this point in time
In most years, there is plenty of excitement in Texas in September as the state's annual dove hunting season arrives.
Add in early teal season in the middle of the month — and some great early fall coastal fishing — and outdoors enthusiasts across the Lone Star State are usually all smiles around the Labor Day holiday weekend.
Not this year, however, as duck boats, flats fishing boats, bass boats, canoes, and kayaks have all been pressed into emergency service over the past several days to rescue thousands of people impacted by the wrath of Hurricane Harvey.
Hurricane Harvey, the first Category Four hurricane to impact Texas since Carla in 1961, has devastated communities from the coastal bend near Rockport and Port Aransas up through the Houston metro area and on into the Golden Triangle region around Port Arthur and Beaumont.
As the nation watched the horrific damage unfold thanks to 130 mph sustained winds in the coastal bend and Biblical rains along the upper Texas coast, there has been little thought about the impact of Harvey on the Lone Star State's great outdoors.
Primarily because the human toll of Harvey's wrath is still unfolding — the death toll had passed 60 souls as of this writing — in what will prove to be one of the nation's most damaging and costly natural disasters.
Take a friend of mine, one of the leaders in the state's duck hunting industry. Less than a month ago, he was excitedly telling me about flocks of blue-winged teal already beginning to arrive along the upper coast, harbingers of what we thought would be a fantastic season.
Post-Harvey, my friend is taking care of his wife and children along with dealing with a home and businesses that have been severely damaged by several feet of nasty floodwaters born out of a nearly 50-inch rainfall.
As I've texted him to see what his family needs, he continues to simply reply back "Pray for us."
And he's hardly alone. Further down the coast in Houston, friends in the nation's fourth largest city are emptying flooded homes of carpet, drywall, lumber, household goods, keepsakes, and valuables soaked by smelly floodwaters that ranged from a couple of inches to several feet in depth.
What's more, those friends are joined in their misery by tens of thousands of other Houstonians doing the same thing after Harvey left Harris County more than 70-percent inundated by floodwaters of 1.5-feet or higher at the height of the storm.
Despite more than 1,300-square miles of Harris County being flooded, a number of the area's outdoors-related businesses actually fared pretty well and are open for business again.
Social media reports indicate that the city's three well-known Fishing Tackle Unlimited store locations are up and running. So too are the city's various Bass Pro Shops stores. Houston's Orvis store location is said to be ok, as is the new wingshooting and fly fishing store, Gordy & Sons Outfitters.
Be Aware of Displaced Wildlife
As flood waters from Harvey recede and those affected begin to sort through the damage left in the wake of the storm, biologists with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department say encounters with various wildlife are to be expected.
"People should be aware that snakes and other wildlife, including skunks and raccoons, may approach or enter yards and houses seeking cover or higher ground," said John Davis, TPWD Wildlife Diversity program director. "Over time, displaced wildlife will return to their usual habitats."
Common sense precautions should be practiced; be aware that snakes and other animals may seek shelter in debris piles and caution should be used during cleanup efforts. Houston is home to diverse wildlife that go into people's homes and yards 365 days a year regardless of rain, wind, and flood, so displaced alligators, snakes, bats, deer, and snapping turtles are something that Houstonians are used to seeing
"A snake in the yard is not a cause for panic," he says. "They don't want to be there, either, and if left alone will usually leave on their own. You're more likely to come upon a skunk, a mound of fire ants or a wasp nest in a brush pile than a venomous snake."
During floods, alligators may disperse into areas where they aren't normally observed, according to Jonathan Warner, TPWD Alligator Program Leader. He offers the following advice for encounters with alligators:
"Alligators are wary of people but keep your distance," said Warner. "Never approach, harass or feed an alligator. When water levels recede, the alligator will likely disappear as well."
Davis said it may be some time before short term and long term impacts to wildlife as a result of the storm can be assessed, but stress that wildlife populations are fairly resilient. "These species evolved with hurricanes and floods, so they will recover."
Tips and precautions about encounters with wildlife are available online at http://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/rehab/orphan/.
— From Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Further down the Texas coast towards Corpus Christi, Harvey's powerful winds and storm surge caused plenty of destruction.
In some cases, the damage is described as "fixable," a term used by a fishing guide friend to describe the harm to Rockport's Swan Point Landing Orvis fly fishing store. Similar stories are told about several hunting and fishing camps and commercial lodges scattered across the same region.
But in other instances — like the Rockport house owned by the father of a writer friend of mine — the devastation is complete and only a few scattered valuables were salvageable.
In Port Aransas, just to the southwest of Rockport, similar tales of destruction are being described - some buildings are gone, some are salvageable, and a few got off with only minor damage.
If that's the effect of Harvey on citizens and outdoor businesses, then what is the unwelcome storm's legacy on hunting and fishing activities this fall in southern Texas?
In many instances, that remains unknown. For starters, it's likely that hunter and angler participation will decline a good bit over the next few weeks and months. Personal trips will be postponed and guide trips may be cancelled as the region tries to recover and rebuild its damaged infrastructure.
And then there's the effect of so much wind and water on habitat and food resources in the region. Already, anecdotal evidence suggests a scrambling of mourning dove and white-winged dove numbers in places as the game birds seek drier venues and easier to find waste grain and native seeds to feed upon.
It's also likely that early arriving teal will be scrambled. Deep floodwaters are likely to be unappealing to teal — they need food that shallow water zones provide — but insect-rich temporary sheet water could prove to be attractive to the buzzing bluewings.
Some observers have also opined that it's even possible that teal will stay further north in the state, meaning hunters in central Texas and the Red River Valley north of Dallas/Fort Worth could see teal sticking around longer than usual.
What of the region's fabled inshore fishing for redfish, speckled sea trout and flounder? That should recover pretty quickly although many pieces of hurricane debris now sit in the water, creating potential boating hazards for many months to come.
The bottom line is that someday, Harvey will be a distant memory as Texans get out again and enjoy the ample natural bounty that the southern portions of the state provide to hunters and anglers each year.
But probably not this fall with the wounds of Harvey still far too fresh on the landscape, not to mention on the hearts and souls of the Lone Star State's weary coastal residents.