Not much in this world is free, but on Saturday, the Lone Star State will offer free fishing in all public waters – no license required.

In past years, the day was marked by a number of youth fishing events aimed at sparking an interest among kids and their families, as well as anybody else who had an interest in angling. At a lot of those events, hosts offered the use of poles, tackle, bait, and other gear, so that participants didn’t even have to spend money on those items.

With the Covid-19 outbreak continuing into summer, you’re not likely to find those kinds of things this year, but a family fishing trip can still be a good way to spend a Saturday. A growing number of lake parks and day use areas are opening to the public, and there’s plenty of elbow room along river banks.

Lake Brazos is home to a wide variety of fish species, including largemouth bass, stripers, white bass, catfish, crappie, sunfish, carp, buffalo, gar, and more. If you’re not an experienced angler, a Google search or call to a sporting goods store will give you some direction on the right bait and tackle to match what you’re after.

Lake Brazos and Lake Waco are among area waters that have submerged “fish condos” – structures composed of bamboo and other materials that were bound together and sunk into the water. These can be easily located using GPS technology that’s available on most smart phones. Visit www.tpwd.texas.gov and search “fish attractor Waco” to find the geographic coordinates.

The TPWD website has plenty of instructional videos and other resources to teach the finer points of fishing, including supplies/gear, how to cast, baiting hooks and removing caught fish, cleaning and storing fish, and more.

Just because it’s a free fishing day doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. Regulations on size and number limits still apply, so it’s smart to know the restrictions and allowances for the species you’re catching. For example, largemouth and smallmouth bass have a minimum length limit of 14 inches, but striped and hybrid bass have to be at least 18 inches to legally keep. There’s a daily bag limit of five striped bass, but the limit on white bass is 25 per angler per day. Some species have no length or bag limits.

The TPWD Outdoor Annual, which is available on their website, includes everything you need to know about fishing and hunting in Texas.

Fingerlings at Whitney

TPWD Inland Fisheries Regional Director Brian Van Zee said that biologists recently stocked smallmouth bass fingerlings into Lake Whitney, as well as in the river below the Whitney Dam.

He added that smallmouth have historically done well in Whitney, which has produced a lot of quality fish, including the lake record that weighed 7.72 pounds and measured 22 inches in length.

These fish are a lot of fun to catch, especially from rivers and streams. Whitney’s first smallmouth stocking took place in 1983, and the record was set in 1988. The stockings continued on a fairly regular basis through the 1990s and early 2000s. The last stocking (until the recent ones) took place in 2011.

They can be caught on the same baits used for largemouth – spinnerbaits, soft plastics, crankbaits, etc.

Cooking tips from Todd

Some of the best fish you’ll ever eat is red snapper, and Monday kicks off the 2020 red snapper season in Texas, which is slated to last for 63 days in federal waters for private recreational anglers using their own boats.

Bag and size limits are unchanged from last year – 2 fish per person per day with a 16-inch minimum length in federal waters, and in state waters, the limit is four fish with a 15-inch minimum. Red snapper fishing is open year-round in state waters, which run nine nautical miles out to sea. After that, you’re in federal waters.

If you’re fishing from a chartered boat or headboat, you’ll be under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

My favorite way to cook snapper is to blacken it, and here’s the recipe I normally use:

Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat for at least 10 minutes so it’s extremely hot.

In a mixing bowl, add 2 teaspoons each of salt, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, dried thyme, and dried oregano. Mix in 2 tablespoons of paprika and whisk until blended. You can also shake in a little Tony C’s if you want to Cajun it up a little more.

Melt 2 cups of butter and reserve a half cup for cooking.

Dip 4 red snapper fillets (6 to 8 ounces each) in the butter, then coat them with the seasoning mix. Place the fillets into the skillet and pour a tablespoon of butter on top of each. Cook for about 4 minutes or until the underside turns black. Flip the fish, top with another tablespoon of butter, and cook for 2 more minutes until fish is flaky.

Serve with rice, raw vegetables, steamed green beans/carrots, crusty bread, and something cold to drink.

You’re welcome.

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