The big boat pulled up to a wreck in 250-feet of water off of Freeport several weeks ago.
“This is a great spot if the dolphins aren’t here,” yelled Capt. Kenneth Doxey from the tuna tower. “If they show up, we might as well throw them all of our bait. It will be time to move.”
As if on cue, on the second fish pulled from the wreck — a nice red snapper that had to be thrown back — a dolphin surfaced off the bow, raced under the boat and snatched the snapper on its way back down to the wreck.
One more grouper was pulled from the wreck, and then pulled off the line, before the group packed up and headed for another wreck.
Dolphins trailing boats looking for an easy meal is nothing new. Offshore anglers know battling sharks and barracudas for their catch is part of the game. But when “flipper” shows up, it is game over for the angler.
“Yes, they are a big problem,” said Capt. Dan Hilburn of Capt. Kelly’s Deep Sea Headquarters in Port Aransas. “Sometimes, after we have had a fish on and are reeling it in, they are literally hanging onto the kingfish or snapper.
“We end up a lot of times with half a fish.”
However, Hilburn said the presence of dolphins will occasionally signal the bite is on for other targeted species.
“It’s funny,” he said. “If dolphins are there, a lot of the time the bite will be on. The baitfish are very active of the dolphins wouldn’t be there. But a lot of people do think it is a bad omen.
“Sometimes they will shut the bite down completely.”
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Galveston Bay Ecosystem Leader Bill Balboa said he hears regularly from anglers about dolphins snatching fish from lines.
“I hear it with some frequency,” he said. “We had an intern here recently that was collecting samples from party boats, and she witnessed this a lot. They would vent and throw back an undersized snapper and the dolphins would eat it on the way to the bottom.
“There isn’t a lot you can do.”
Balboa said it is against the law to harass dolphins in any way.
“We are working with biologists to see if there is anything we can do to minimize encounters,” Balboa said, “but that is honestly more for the dolphin than the angler.
“If they are all over the place and the fishing is good, I’m not sure what to tell people except maybe move.”
Lance Robinson, TPWD’s regional director for the Upper Coast, said the problem isn’t confined to Texas waters.
“We hear about this all over the Gulf,” he said. “In fact, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) does figure predator mortality during their stocking assessments when determining limits for fish.”