I have to admit — I made a pig of myself this Thanksgiving.
But pigs like me don’t pose nearly the threat that the looming and intensifying feral hog problem does in Texas. I’m not some aluminum foil hat-wearing conspiracy nut predicting the end of the world. This is a true and present issue that could rival and surpass the fire ant menace.
I remember the first time I stepped into a fire ant mound. I was fishing at one of my Uncle Sonny’s ranches, and as I worked my way along the dam of a stock tank, I suddenly found a spongy, cushioned, comfortable bit of ground beneath my feet. As I stood there reeling in a crankbait, I suddenly got two bites at once.
The first bite (the bass) prompted me to set the hook and start cranking the reel. The second bite (the fire ant) made me pause from my fishing, drop the pole, begin slapping at my ankles, and eventually caused me to strip down to my skivvies while continuing to swat my ant-covered self while jumping around like somebody who had been magically healed by a televangelist.
Since then, fire ants have become a mainstay in Texas, and one of the first things I taught my daughter, Haley, when she began walking was what an ant mound looks like.
Unlike fire ants, feral hogs aren’t small, but they do have some other things in common, like the predilection for destruction, and like fire ants, which showed up and propagated over the course of years, wild hogs are thriving and on their way to a neighborhood near you. As a Dallas-area biologist recently said, “If you’re not already dealing with pigs, you’re going to.”
There are an estimated 4 million feral pigs in the U.S., and upwards of 3 million of those can be found in Texas. It’s hard to estimate population numbers, since these animals are such prolific breeders and cunning survivors, but imagine you’ve got a 5 gallon bucket with a small hole in the bottom and a wide open spigot flooding into it. That’s the issue Texas is facing.
A feral sow can have two litters per year, with up to 8 piglets per litter, and there aren’t enough natural predators and human interventions to keep the population under control. If you remember your high school math, this is where your teacher talked about exponential growth. According to number crunchers, two-thirds of the wild hog population would have to be eliminated each year to keep the population at a stable level, but currently, that number is only at 30 percent.
Feral pigs cause more than $50 million per year in damages in Texas, and not just farmland. Golf courses, parklands, suburban (and increasingly urban) neighborhood lawns, and other areas can be devastated overnight by a gang of swine, and the increasing number of traffic-related incidents on roads and highways bumps the ante to an issue of imminent safety.
Wild hogs are generally a lot smarter than most of our politicians – they’re quick to learn about traps, baits, and other methods of control, such as the sound of a helicopter, which is a legal means of hunting them (hogs, I mean). They likely won’t be fooled more than once, and those that elude capture or death tend to assume leadership roles and influence others in the herd.
Despite the advantages hog hunters have (no closed season and all methods legal), a lot of landowners who are being overrun with wild hogs continue to try and make a buck instead of clear the problem, which inhibits one of the clearest remedies to the overpopulation problem.
I can’t say I have a lot of hope in our politicians crafting a workable plan – heck, Texas politicians are still debating liquor sales – an issue decided by the U.S. Supreme Court nearly a century ago.
Most people don’t take action until after they’re punched in the nose by a problem, but maybe our leaders will listen to the science that says threats like feral hogs and zebra mussels are real threats to both our economy and ecology.
Toys for Tots tourney
It’s Christmastime, and if not for the efforts and generosity of people and organizations in our area, it would be a sad and disappointing time for a lot of Central Texas kids whose families who are doing all they can to keep the lights on and water running.
Toys for Tots has been a mainstay for helping out those in need since well beyond the time I started writing this column, and this year, a new group is pitching in to help with the cause.
Fish On! is hosting a Toys for Tots fishing tourney on Dec. 9 at Lake Waco, with the support of the U.S. Marine Corps and KWTX Television, among others.
Bank, boat, and kids divisions are open for competitors, and participants will bring an unwrapped toy (worth at least $10) to donate. Boat entry is an additional $15, bank fishermen will toss in another $10, and kids will pay $5 more to compete – each cost is per person). Blue, channel, and yellow catfish are all qualifying fish.
The tournament is headquartered at Lacy Point boat ramp and will run from 6 a.m. – 3 p.m., and the Marines will have a truck on hand to collect toys. There will be plenty of prize giveaways for participants and spectators alike, and organizers welcome the public to come out and bring along a toy or two while watching the weigh-in.
Late night bass
Lake Waco angler Keith Rodriguez says there’s a lot of hybrid and white bass action in the late evening hours, adding that whites are already making their way upstream to spots where they’ll spawn in the early spring. “It’s crazy,” he said. “I’m finding fish stacked on top of each other that you can catch with a slab or ghost minnow off the bottom in 15 feet of water, and the females are already building eggs. Just bounce the bait off the bottom and hang on.”
Further up the road, Lake Whitney striper guide Clay Yadon (Reel Deal Striper Guide Service on Facebook) says the same goes for stripers, with huge schools of fish building eggs being on the prowl, taking in massive amounts of calories, and racing each other to be the first to eat your bait. “It’s what fishing dreams are made of,” he said.
A guided fishing trip makes a great Christmas present. I hope my friends and family are reading this.