The Sunken Shrimp Boat

During the spring of 1981, by accident, Dana Sawyer and I “found” a boat, probably a shrimper, that was sunk right off of the Galveston Ship Channel in fifteen feet of water, two hundred yards north of the old concrete ship. For some reason, whenever we caught the tide coming in and the wind and currents not too strong, we consistently caught fish, Speckled Trout and Red Fish, at this spot.

We had been drifting the flats north of the old Quarantine Station, on the west side of the ship Channel, with the depth recorder on, and noticed we had drifted out too far toward the Ship Channel and into deep water, when a “hump” appeared on our chart paper. This got our interest so we criss-crossed the hump several times and determined it was a wrecked boat about the size of a shrimp boat. This was before the days of GPS’, and Dana didn’t have a Loran, so we had no way of marking the spot other than triangulating on the old concrete ship, a channel marker and an oil rig.

We anchored over the wreck, baited up and let our rigs down to the bottom. Dana was right into a nice fish, but I was hung up on something. I had caught the wreck and in loosening up my hook brought up a small piece of wood. I netted Dana’s fish, a nice Red, got my rig baited up and preceded to land a two pound trout.

We were on to something and for the next two years “The Wreck” was a fish producer for us and only a twenty minute boat ride from Dana’s Camp! One memorable trip to “The Wreck” was during the summer of 1982. Alvin Pyland, my Uncle Gus, Dave Miller, a close friend, and I had spent the morning fishing the Gulf side of the South Jetty. As usual we had an enjoyable trip and a large Igloo Cooler over half full of fish.

The tide had been going out pushing baitfish around the end of the jetty and back toward the beachfront and we had caught Trout, Reds, Spanish Mackerel and even a Cobia. When the tide changed and started going in I suggested we try “The Wreck”. Neither of my companions had ever fished it and didn’t even know it was there. They had good success during the fall fishing for Reds almost directly across from “The Wreck” in ten feet of water on a shelf on the east side of the Ship Channel.

We pulled up my twenty foot Cobia, deep vee, in the vicinity of “The Wreck”, and with the depth finder began our triangulating. Soon we were anchored over it and had our baits in the water, when “Wham”, Uncle Gus has a big hit from, obviously, a Red, a real nice one judging from the bend in his rod, and another, “Wham” Dave has a big strike on his spinning outfit, and “Whamo” I have a big hit from something. Wham, Wham, Wham, three almost simultaneous heavy strikes!

The fight is on! My fish, a three pound Trout, comes to the boat first, and Uncle Gus nets it while still fighting his. Dave is locked in a line loosing struggle with something big and asks me “Jon, start us up and get our anchor up. I can’t stop this thing.”

I have a dilemma, Dave’s fish shows no signs of tiring and is heading north with the tide and Uncle Gus’s fish is heading east toward the deep water of the ship channel. I split the difference and head at a forty-five degree angle between the fish.

Soon Uncle Gus’s fish, an over thirty inch Red is alongside the boat and we net it, get the hook out and release it. Reds now had a twenty to twenty-eight inch slot and this one was too big. Dave is still struggling with his fish, which he thinks is either a record Red or maybe a large, Black Drum. I follow the fish and get the boat up beside it and we see it is a large, over twenty pound, Jackfish. “Record Red, huh, haw, haw, haw,” we both laugh as I get the net ready. One more short run and the Jack is ours.

We get the hook out and release it. Jackfish are great fighters, more like sluggers, but have no food value. We find ourselves over three hundred yards from “The Wreck” and both of my guests say “Why don’t we go back and anchor up?” I comply.

Fishing “The Wreck” was a nice interlude, but a short one. Hurricane Alicia hit Galveston Island during the summer of 1983, the strong currents washing our favorite spot away forever!

We Ate The State Record

In January of 1971, I was transferred to Phoenix, Arizona to be Sales Manager in charge of all new business. The first months were spent missing the Gulf Coast, then a one month bout of Aisian Flu and then, whatever else time I had getting into my new job. Shortly after the Asian Flu, we met the Schlindler family, and Jack Schlindler became my hunting and fishing companion for the next fifteen years.

Jack was from East Texas, and grew up hunting and fishing in Texas’ great piney woods. He was also a Mechanical Engineering graduate from Texas A & M College (now University). In 1971 Jack was VP of a large grocery chain, one of several local chains trying to gain control of the Phoenix market. Jack hung the dubious nickname of Beechnut”, or “Beech”, on me because I chewed Beechnut Chewing Tobacco.

We had many adventures, some spine tingling, like when I slipped and fell/slid fifty feet down a two hundred foot canyon wall at the Black River. As I was sliding down, something inside told me to flatten out and spread my arms and legs to slow my fall. This saved my life! By lying flat and “scroochin” up inches at a time I finally got to where Jack could reach me and pull me up and out of my fix.

Some were funny, like the time when we were chasing a large covey of Gambel quail in the Tonto Basin and I climbed over a six-foot, barbed wire fence and “caught “myself and was hanging upside down for what seemed like an eternity until Jack came up and said, “Beech”, you hung up.” After we had a good laugh, he got me down OK.

Or the thrill of training my own Brittany Spaniel pup, Beechnut’s Rooster Cogburn, or “Rooster”, as he was affectionately known, and watching him get his first point on a covey of wild Gambel Quail and shooting two out of the covey for him. And overall, some of the best White wing and Morning Dove shooting, and some of the best Gambel and Mearns Quail hunting on this planet!

Since we were both fishermen, our first adventures were several trips to Lake Pleasant, at the time a twenty-minute trip up Interstate Seventeen, north of Phoenix. Now the town has almost surrounded the lake.

At that particular time, the spring of 1972, Jack had an original Skeeter Bass Boat with a fifty-five horsepower Johnson, three cylinder outboard engine. It was an early model of the Skeeter with a flat bottom and, of all things, stick steering, not a steering wheel. If I remember right you pushed the stick forward to go to the port (left) side and pulled back to go to the starboard (right) side. But, it served our purposes.

We would put in at the State launch ramp at the lake and head straight for the dam and try to fish inside the restraining cables. The dam had a watchman, or “Troll” as we called him. We never met him but ALMOST became friends with him, because he ran us off from inside the restraining cables so many times. He must not have been a fisherman. Until the “Troll” would run us off, we would cast up on the dam and bounce our special multiple jigs back down its side, awaiting a strike from a White Bass

White Bass in Arizona you say? Yes, years before, Texas had traded millions of White Bass fingerlings to Arizona for a large number of Rio Grande turkeys. Texas repopulated the state with the turkeys and Arizona created a great fishery for White Bass at Lake Pleasant.

This particular trip was on a beautiful desert morning, clear, no wind, and for a while we were the only ones fishing around the dam. I asked, “Do you see the ‘Troll’,” “No Troll’ in sight,” Jack replied, so under the restraining cable we went. After several casts I had a strike with some “weight” behind it. Must be a catfish I thought. It made a nice run, more like a Red Fish, then swirled the top of the water and took off again. Soon we lipped it and swung into the boat, the biggest White Bass ever, maybe. We estimated it was seven pounds or more. What a fish. Onto the stringer it went, and back to casting.

Catching one more fish, much smaller, out comes the “Troll”. “You boys get behind the restraining line, OK.” His first warning was always nice. We waved to him and kept fishing. “Behind the restraining line!” More firm. We waved and kept fishing. He was beginning to annoy us. “Move that “blankety, blank” boat or I’m going to give you a “blankety blank” ticket”. It was time to leave, so we started up and headed out into the lake and noticed a fisherman in a boat right up to the restraining line laughing at our encounter with the “Troll”. He says, “I saw you caught a nice one, let me see it.” We showed him and said we thought it would weigh seven pounds or more. “Real nice,” he said as we motored off. We took both White Bass home and ate them.

Several months later I get a call from Jack and he says, “You remember that big White Bass you caught out at ‘Unpleasant’,” our new name for the lake. I said’ “Sure do, it ate real good!” He went on to tell me that the fisherman we showed the fish to was a local outdoor writer for the Arizona Republic, and of all things, he wrote and was published in “Sports Afield” and article about the White Bass fishing in Lake Pleasant, and most embarrassing, about two Texas boys who caught a monster White Bass, easily a new state record, didn’t register it with the state, but like all good “meat” fishermen, took it home ate it.

If records interest you, most times the state will keep the fish, and you can’t eat it

Surprise – That White Stuff Is Snow

Getting up at 5:00 AM and slipping on my workout clothes, I opened the side door of my house, in the Texas Hill Country, southwest of Goldthwaite, Texas, and was preparing to go outside and get into my truck for the ten-minute drive to the gym, when the “glare” hit me. Not so much the glare but the complete whiteness of the early morning. The TV weather had reported a Winter Storm Warning, but so many of their warnings fizzle out I had not mentally prepared myself for snow on the ground and snow piling out of the sky. Flipping on the TV, sure enough, they reported it was snowing in their north and northwest viewing area. So much for a workout.

It kept snowing for well into the morning and everything was white! I did notice that my newly planted Garlic was bravely sticking barely above the snow. Wow! We must have at least four inches and counting. The field behind our house looked like a bowl of whipped egg whites, and a crazy thought popped into my mind, if we get two or three more inches I could get out my skis and ski down the county road or take a leisurely swing down my field. That would make a good picture.

Growing up in Houston, and living most of my life there, we would see snow, maybe once every ten or fifteen years. We have hunted Quail in the snow in Arizona, sledded down the hills in Georgia and pounded the slopes, skiing, in New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, but having all of this snow on the ground and falling out of the sky on my place was more than exciting.

After breakfast we, my wife and our wonder dog, Spike, headed out to my truck, cleaned the snow off of the windshield, put it in four-wheel high and “plowed” out onto our place.

The first stop was a water trough, frozen (I broke up the ice), framed by snow and on down the road, where we both noticed how pretty the snow was on the prickly pear cactus. We couldn’t resist a picture.

Spike was bouncing up and down wanting to get out into the snow. Being a miniature Dachshund, he only has three or four inches of ground clearance, but out he went, nose to the ground. No game was moving but he was hunting. My wife was worried, that with his short hair, he would get cold, poor baby.

We checked on a deer feeder and there were signs of activity early in the morning, but the tracks were almost snowed out. Driving on, we noticed deer tracks crossing the road. Stopping and letting Spike out, he quickly found the trail and the “hunt” was on. He hunted for several hundred yards, me following. Spike is short, no more that ten inches tall. I am six feet tall. Spike runs under the brush and trees while I plow through the snow and brush covered with snow. Not even having a gun and having enough of this fun, I call off the “hunt”, pick Spike up and head back toward the truck. The little dog had been in “hog heaven” hunting in the snow.

The snow had stopped by the time we got back to the house and we shed our wet jackets. Looking out over our place and thinking how great this moisture would be for the land, how sloppy it would be for a couple of days and how dirty our vehicles would be, helped us to appreciate the warm, cozy house and the fire glowing in the cast iron heater.

Spike wanted to get back to hunting!

The Katy Prairie

In the 1950’s the Katy Prairie stretched from Farm Road 1960 west to the Brazos River and from the pine tree line northwest of Houston, south to the farm country around Richmond/Rosenberg, an area of over 400 square miles. The corner of Texas Highway 6 and F.M. 529 was known throughout the area as “Wolf Corner” (today a shopping center) because the trappers and hunters would string the carcasas of red wolves, coyotes, bobcats and foxes from the barbwire fences. “Wolf Corner”, that is F.M. 529 was one of the entry points to the Prairie.

Rice, cattle, oil and gas were the main products of the Prairie, but the sub-product of rice farming was geese and ducks, at one time, hundreds of thousands of them, and the hunters flocked to it. I have hunted with and without permission, as a guest and used my own lease, but finally the urban sprawl of Houston closed down this wonderful enclave. Most of the Prairie now is sub-divisions, schools and shopping centers and the geese and ducks have moved away.

In 1952 I shot three times and missed at the largest Canadian goose I have ever seen, later finding out it was a Canadensis Maxima, thought to be extinct since 1922, however some sightings are still reported. In 1980 I saw an “extinct” red wolf cross a road that ran through my hunting lease. And to top that story, in 1988, while quail hunting near Waller, on the Katy Prairie, I came upon, and my Brittany Spaniel, Gus, pointed two “extinct” red wolves. Gus, me, and the wolves, all froze. Gus and I both held our points, while the wolves trotted away into the thick grass and brush. This ended our quail hunt!

Years ago the State tried to plant pheasants on the Prairie and apparently into the 1980’s people were still running across some. The birds couldn’t cope with all of the winged and fur bearing predators. In 1989, I was quail hunting south of Hockley, on the Prairie, and shot a cock pheasant, pointed by Gus. Maybe that was the last one?

My youngest son, Randy, actively pursued the geese and ducks on the Prairie. Later I came to believe, his main interest was seeing how much mud it took to stick his Blazer. One night I was having dinner with an important client and Randy called and told me he was stuck just off of Barker-Cypress Road, then a narrow two lane track, now a major four lane boulevard.

The client and I stopped eating and headed out, a 20 minute drive, to save Randy. He was stuck in the ditch beside the paved road and says he was forced off of the hard top. Forced, yes, when he turned the wheel into the ditch.

One good thing came out of this, the client and I began a 25 year business and personal relationship that night that lasts to this day!

Walking Wounded

Jack Shindler and I had narrowed down the best place in Arizona to hunt Gambel Quail and it was in the Tonto National Forest on the south side of the Tonto Basin, along the west side of the Salt River Canyon. This was our “Place” and it was an “easy” drive from our Paradise Valley homes.

This particular hunt Jack and I were taking a good friend, Tommy Walker, who was in Phoenix for a business meeting which ended the coming Friday. Tommy was excited at the prospect of some real good Quail hunting!

Our “place” was off of the main road from Payson to Roosevelt Dam and on to Globe, Arizona. Once on the Payson, Globe road, heading east, we would take a dirt road south for eight miles before it turned into a four wheel drive only road for four more harrowing miles, following the west rim of the Salt River Canyon. When the four wheel drive road ended, we were at our “Place. We probably made six or seven trips to the “Place” and never saw another soul there.

The “Place” began as a wash feeding into the Salt River and continued west up into the hills for several miles, turning into a mini canyon almost two hundred feet deep, with nicely terraced sides along the north rim. We, our dogs and hunters, would spread across the wash and head up it until the coveys of birds were found. The coveys were enormous, at the time, one hundred to two hundred birds and needed to be seen to be believed.

Back to our story, Tommy, Jack and I, along with our four Brittany Spaniels, arrived at the entry point to the “place” just at sun up, checked our gear, made sure we each had canteens of water for us and the dogs, trekked a quarter mile in, spread out and began the hunt

Once the birds were found, we pursued them up the wash into the small canyon, splitting the coveys into more manageable groups, then the shooting really began, up the canyon, up the terraces, back down the terraces, up the terraces, not for the faint hearted! The dog work was excellent, the shooting bordered on fantastic and the Arizona desert hills made for a perfect setting.

We hunted two dogs for two hours then circled back, took a break and got two fresh ones, then, around noon we broke for a quick sandwich, sat a spell enjoying the scenery, counted our half limits of birds and headed back up the north rim of our little canyon. We saw the birds running on the ground ahead of us, before seeing them flush wildly over the rim to the bottom of the canyon. These were a group of birds that flew up here when we broke up their covey earlier this morning.

Jack said, “I’ll take the dogs and go down into the canyon and try to drive them up on the terraces.” I said, “I’ll take the middle terrace,” knowing that I could come under fire from Jack if the birds flew straight up the canyon wall. Me better than Tommy being there. He wasn’t used to the rough hunting terrain, and especially to the erratic behavior of Gambel Quail when being pursued by dogs and hunters. It was safer for him to be up on the top sixty yards or more from Jack. He was to walk slowly and mark the birds that flew up and out of the canyon, and I had already told him that I would not shoot at a bird flying up the canyon wall toward him.

The dogs pointed a group of twelve to fifteen birds, Jack, in the bottom of the canyon, letting me know of the point (Tommy hearing the exchange), walked in on the birds and they went everywhere. bam, bam, two shots from Jack’s, twenty gauge, over and under, which whizzed over my head as I ducked down and then heard Tommy yell in pain, “I’m hit!”

Scrambling up the thirty yards to where he was, down on his knees, holding his eyes. Oh no, not his eyes, I thought! Up comes Jack, “What happened to Tommy?” He exclaims. “Looks like he got some shot in his eyes,” I answer. Tommy says, “I heard you and Jack say a few words and I got curious and walked to the edge of the canyon and looked down just as Jack shot, and I think I’ve got some shot in one of my eyes!”

I checked his pulse, it was normal, his skin felt normal, one eye definitely had one or more shot in it, the other was normal. No apparent signs of shock, for now. We had him lay down and elevated his feet, while we figured what to do and how to get him out the two plus miles back to the truck.

We figured if we bandaged his eye we could lead him out OK. The only problem, no bandages, some in the first aid kit in the truck, but none with us, so we improvise. We take the back of my tee shirt and Jack’s clean hankie, tie them together, and oops, to cover his injured eye, we have to cover his good eye too. We don’t have any tape with us. It is in the truck, too. Covering both eyes, we tie the “bandage” off in the back of Tommy’s head.

We start back to the truck and it is hard to guide Tommy, so Jack and I take turns, one carrying all three guns, the other guiding Tommy, by having him lean on and put an arm around our neck. He told of being wounded in WW II and didn’t feel like he was anywhere near to going into shock, our main worry.

The dogs, bless their hearts, hunted all the way back. Tommy couldn’t see with both of his eyes bandaged, but he could hear us talking. “Hey, Jack look, point up here.” “Jon, here’s a point.” Whirrrrrrr! quail takes to a hurried flight. Tommy said, “Guys, set me down here and you all hunt these birds. You can come back and get me.” “Not a chance, Tommy,” we both echo.

Tommy was a load, weighing about two hundred pounds, and carrying the shotguns for two miles sounds easy, but remember there are no handles, or slings, on them and no easy way to carry three guns at once for any distance. Our two mile jaunt took us almost two hours, but our first goal, the truck and the four wheel drive road, was reached.

We still had four, hard, four wheel drive miles, at least two hours, to cover before we got to the dirt road. Jack drove and I sat with Tommy in the back of the SUV. The dogs were packed into two kennels behind the second seat. We were all tired, and Tommy’s eye was beginning to throb, as we bumped the four miles to the dirt road. Our second goal was reached. We could make this eight mile leg in about thirty minutes. It had been over four hours since the accident.

The sun was setting as we reached the hard top road to Payson and it had been almost five hours since the accident. Jack and I knew there was a small hospital in Payson, twenty-five miles ahead, and we hurried on into town.

No cell phones then, so we stopped at the first convenience store we came across in Payson and called the hospital, alerting them of the accident and getting directions. We found the emergency room and checked Tommy in. There was a short wait for the local eye specialist. An hour later the doctor comes out and tells us that he had removed the shot from Tommy’s eye, but he was concerned that the vitreous fluid could leak out, causing Tommy to loose his vision in that eye.

The doctor would end up keeping Tommy in the hospital for a week. His eye healed and he returned to shooting and hunting almost as soon as he got back home. I hunted and shot skeet with Tommy for the next ten years and all of us started wearing shooting glasses!


Why it is called “HUNTING”

Years ago, after a dove hunting trip that was hard and yielded very poor results, my Dad passed on some sage advice to me, saying, “Boy, don’t worry about today’s bad hunt. Just remember, if it was easy each time out, it would be called “shooting” instead of “hunting”.

Being retired and having a ranch five miles southwest of Goldthwaite, Texas, gives me ample time and sufficient opportunity to be in the field hunting and I had planned an afternoon hunt in a tree stand, in very thick cover, on the south side of my property and to try and “rattle” up a nice buck.

Leaving my house, the phone rang and a very close friend was calling from Houston just to check up on me. Talking for a while I finally told him that I was on my way out to shoot “Bambi”, he laughed and said “Good luck.” Hanging up, the phone rang again and it was one of my daughters, Suzanne, calling from Paris, Texas, looking for Layla. I couldn’t just brush her off, so we talked for a few minutes and finally I told her that I was on my way to hunt. She said,  “Isn’t it kinda late, but good luck anyway.”

Yes it was late, almost 5:00 PM, so I decided to hunt a special “hide” of mine, ten yards off from a well used deer trail and reluctantly decided not to take my Deer horns with me. No “rattling” this trip. My “hide” was cut into a cedar tree and some buck brush, a very concealed spot and sneaking into it and pulling on my camo face cover, quietly chambering a round into my Ruger Lightweight .270 and slipping my “grunt” caller over my head, I’m ready for the deer. I thought.

Not a minute later, looking down the trail, a Doe is running, about half speed, toward me followed by a beautiful ten point buck, with tall horns at least six inches past his ears, a twenty inch spread for sure! Boy, am I ready for him, I thought. The Doe flashes by and I can hear her hooves pounding (or is that my heart) as I raise my rifle with my left hand and try to slide my “grunt” caller under my face mask. When I “grunt” he will stop in his tracks, but, the caller is tangled in the mask and as I try to blow into it, nothing happens and the Buck, nostrils flared and mouth half open, as if in a mocking smile, flashes past me, and both Deer turn into the brush.

Wow! What a sight. Not to be outsmarted by the Deer and finally untangling my caller from my face mask (I am very frustrated now), I blow a defiant challenge call to the apparently, long gone Buck, “Grunt, Grunt, Grnt, grnt, grnt, grnt.” Barely a minute later, looking down the trail, here comes the Buck trotting back looking for this unseen challenger. He is more interested in fighting. I’ve got him now I thought.

Facing me, a large cedar tree blocks out a portion of the trail, and my mind, in overdrive, quickly calculates he will clear the right side of the tree, and I shoulder my rifle and prepare for the killing shot. Waiting, for what seems like an hour, no Buck. I cut my eyes away from the scope and look to the left of the tree and there stands the Buck, not fifteen yards from me, behind a knarly, dead mesquite.

Moving my rifle slowly, ever so slowly, from the right side to the left side of the cedar tree and moving the safety to “fire”, I see there is no killing shot available. Maybe a head shot, but I choose not to as the Buck wheels and moves off, masking me with the cedar tree. I don’t even know where my “grunt” caller is, I guess still around my neck, so instead of fumbling with it again, and my “store” teeth prohibiting me a whistle, I yell “HEY!” The Buck doesn’t even acknowledge me, no stride breaking, no tail flashing me, just trotting back into the thick stuff.

Thinking to myself, well Jon, you really blew this one. The Buck has “marked” me at this spot, so I ease out of my “hide” and begin slipping toward a new spot about three hundred yards away. After slowly moving about fifty yards and rounding a curve in the trail, all the while looking “through” the heavy cover, I spot my adversary again, watching me from behind a mesquite that hasn’t shed its leaves. The Buck is approximately seventy-five yards away and slowly moving my rifle to my shoulder and sliding off the safety, he is in the cross hairs, along with several mesquite limbs. My mind racing, can this 115 grain bullet traveling at over 3,100 FPS, break through the brush and score a killing hit, or will it be deflected. Should I shoot? Not taking the chance of wounding and loosing this fine Buck, I lower my rifle and he turns and walks back into the thick stuff.

Walking back to my Jeep, my thoughts are a “jumble”. I really screwed up a good opportunity to bag a trophy, and, on the other hand, I choose to pass on a marginal shot. There will be another time for both of us. In spite of my earlier well wishers, my luck wasn’t “good” this hunt.

Like my Dad said, “If it was easy, it would be called shooting, instead of hunting.”