Gone For Softball

Today, Thursday, June 10, weather permitting since our fine State is under a flash flood warning, Stumpy and his Texans return to Dallas for a try at a three-peat for our State’s, Senior Softball, Championship. State championships in any sport are a big deal in Texas! Winning “State” would qualify The Texans for “bragging Rights” and their third go at The Tournament Of Champions in Florida, next February.

Our main competition will be the Texas Greyhounds, who we have handled very well this year. But, you never know what will happen when you play on a square field, with a round ball and a round bat!

But, Stumpy says, “We’ll bring home the bacon this year too!”

A Cicero In Our Midst

We always tried not to take ciceros, beginners, out offshore fishing with us. Several times we relented and each of these times we were burned. This trip was one of those.

The summer of 1982 was one for the books. Very nice weather, so nice you could plan an offshore trip for the next weekend and, sure enough, the weather would turn out to be nice! Early Monday in mid June, we’d planned to take off from work on Friday afternoon and fish around the oil rigs east of Galveston. These rigs, near the Heald Banks, had been consistent fish producers for us for several weeks.

The fishermen, Dewey Stringer, Max, Clem and I, reported for duty at Dewey’s boat sling at the Galveston Yacht Basin. Clem, a business associate of ours, was a cicero and had never been offshore fishing before. We figured that the three of us could help (control) him and make this baptism successful.

Passing the first rig, seven miles out from the end of the North Jetty, we circled the rig but the water didn’t look right, we didn’t see any signs of bait or fish activity, so we motored on. The next rig, over ten miles out, we pulled up close to it on the down current side and let out three lines. We were using six and a half foot, popping rods, black Ambassaduer reels packed with fifteen pound, monofilament, along with a three foot, steel leader and two hooks with the eye on one threaded through the other, a fish getter! Attached to the hooks was a six inch, frozen, cigar minnow that we’d purchased at the Yacht Basin. The frozen bait gave us the weight needed for short casts, they quickly thawed out and became excellent baits for king mackerel (kingfish) or cobia.

Drifting away from the rig, we had two solid strikes. Clem picked up one rod and was welcomed to catching a kingfish. His fish ran and took out line for a good fifty yards, made another shorter run, and with more instruction, Clem brought the fish up to be gaffed. We gaffed it, flopped it into the cooler and his only remark was, “It sure pulled hard!”

Max boated the other king, a nice one over thirty pounds, we rebaited, resumed our drift and soon had another strike. Clem grabbed this rod too and held on! Another long run, two shorter ones, gaffing the king and flopping it in the box, Clem, under his breath said, “This could be like work!”

Here’s Max’s big king and the rigging we were using.

No more strikes so we headed on out. After about twenty miles we pulled up to a working rig and tied up to it. Soon, the cook came out, started up a conversation with us and told of some nice tarpon and cobia that he’d seen lolling around the rig. This got our attention and we put out four lines.

Strike, strike, and thinking that it might be a tarpon, Dewey and I picked up the rods, but the long runs identified the fish as kings. Another strike and Clem picked up the rod, the line started out and a six foot, tarpon cleared the water. Dewey and I were working our fish toward the boat. Clem yelled, “How do I fight this thing?” Max was up talking with the cook as the tarpon cleared the water again and headed south. One more jump and it was all over as the hook came sailing back toward us.

Prior to the late 1990’s tarpon were extremely rare in the northern Gulf, but we told Clem not to worry; we’d all lost tarpon, that they’re very hard to hook, have tough mouths and their aerobatics make them difficult to land. We didn’t tell him that the first thing he should have done when one hits a bait was to really sock the hook to it, then give the fish some slack when it jumped and then hold on!

We were very slow learners about taking ciceros out with us!

Don’t Be Cruel

All the way down to our wade fishing spot in Trinity bay, the radio had been blaring with the strains of Elvis’ new song, “Don’t Be Cruel”. This latest release, of the very talented newcomer from Mississippi, seemed to be on every station and was and destined to be one of his hallmarks.

Somehow, through all the music, we, my Dad and I, finally arrived at our spot beside Crawley’s Bait Camp. Going down to the water, we walked through the yard of the bay house beside Crawley’s. In this same house, fourteen years earlier, my Brother, Harvey, told us that he was going into the Navy and I first experienced the tug of a speckled trout, in “[Trinity Bay – A Bigger Pull]”.

We walked out beside the, now, rickety, old pier, past its end and finally reaching the edge of Beazley’s Reef began casting out. Our rigs were pretty much standard, six foot, fiber glass, popping rods, direct drive reels and fifteen pound braided line. At the end of the line we attached popping corks, a three foot, leader and a small treble hook on the end of the leader. For bait we were using live shrimp, just purchased at Crawley’s. This is a proven rig that I have used successfully for over fifty years, catching all types of salt water, fish!

The tide was coming in, the water for mid June was cool and not five minutes after our first cast, both of our corks went under and for the next three hours, we were into some memorable trout fishing! The specs were all between one and two pounds, good eatin’ size and, after throwing the small ones back, we counted up our stringers, thirty fish. A good number to quit on since, this afternoon, my girl friend of three years, was flying home from vacationing with her relatives in Pass Christianne, Mississippi. I wanted to get back to our home in West University and get ready for my big date. We stopped fishing and set to the filleting of our catch.

Time for the big date and the minute I picked her up, I knew there was a problem. Talking it out, I found out that during her stay, Elvis and his entourage, body guards included, checked into the same motel and she had a couple of dates with him. She added that she thought it would be a good time to break up anyway.

End of story, no, but two years later, at ROTC camp at Ft. Hood, Elvis was there in Basic Training, in one of my friends Training Company. Elvis was a model trooper and I saw him many times from a distance, but we never met. To this day, hearing “Don’t Be Cruel” brings back memories and still ticks me off!

The Last Click

After, as it turned out, a very eventful trip off shore (visit the Honey Hole) with Bobby Baldwin, his brother and father-in-law, I was to meet Bobby and one of his friends from Beaumont at their boat shed on Bolivar peninsula and head back out with them for another go at some kingfish. To top it all off, my ex-wife and I were to spend the weekend at their family’s beach house.

When I arrived at the boat shed, no Bobby. His friend, Joe, was waiting for me and said, “Bobby was purty sick, but he told me to tell you to take the boat on out and catch some fish.” What a surprise to me because I’d never taken a big, boat out anywhere, let alone, offshore. Well, there has to be a first time for everything!

Joe and I cranked it up, it started and purred as we backed out of the shed and putted out into the Intercoastal Waterway. Trying to remember everything Tom had said coming in from my last trip with them, I opened up the big engine and we cruised on out into Galveston Channel and around the South Jetty. We agreed that we’d stop at the special place and try for some speckled trout. Fiddling around there for an hour, we caught two, two pounders, then pulled up the anchor and headed south, out toward the twelve mile, oil rig.

Really being ciceros and having no experience with a big boat or offshore fishing, just as we left the spot on the jetty, we put out two lines for trolling, one with a green feather jig and another with a blue. Unknown to me at the time, there’s a small hump on the Gulf’s bottom, probably an old wreck or some other type of structure, six miles of the end of the jetty. Trolling over the hump, both lines were hit and two kings took off. We did our best and finally gaffed both fish. We had caught two, by our estimate, fifteen pound, kingfish.

Not even knowing to turn around and troll back across the hump, that we didn’t even know was there, we doggedly kept trolling south, toward the rig, now visible just over the horizon. We trolled around the rig for an hour with no luck and since it was past lunch time, I told Joe that we were heading back in.

We must have trolled back across the hump, because one of lines was smashed by something big! Putting the engine in neutral, I grabbed the rod, this big fish took line out like there was no drag on the reel! The fish continued the battle, but stayed deep, taking more line. Finally I started gaining on it, and as it wallowed on the surface, we both gawked at the biggest red snapper we’d ever seen! Gaffing it, hauling it aboard, it was huge and we guessed it weighed at least twenty pounds.

We iced the snapper in our cooler and headed in, past the end of the South Jetty, up the Galveston Channel and turned into the Intercoastal Waterway. The engine had been running for almost six hours and, when we left this morning, we’d never thought to fill the gas tank. Luckily for us we didn’t run out! But misfortune reared its ugly head as I was putting the boat into the slip, I turned off the engine and our drift, that I thought would take us on into the slip, stopped cold. The tide was going out. I didn’t even know about tides then!

Trying to start the engine, all I got was one click. The engine that had been running for almost six hours wouldn’t start. The starter chose this time to quit working. Luckily, a man outside of the shed threw us a line and we tugged the big twenty-three foot boat back into the stall. What if we’d gotten the click when we were offshore? I didn’t even know how to use the ship to shore radio!

On meat market scales the snapper weighed twenty-two pounds!

More On My Book, June 2, 2010

On Friday, May 7, in [More About My Book], I posted remarks from two people who had read “[The End Of The Line]”. This past week I’ve run into three more folks that have read it. Listing them and their remarks out, it seems that they liked the book and the stories.

Rocky Gonzales, former Marine, retired missionary and currently a master plumber, said, “Jon, I didn’t know you were an officer until I read the book and there were a lot of good stories in it!”

Steve Bridges, owner and editor of The Goldthwaite Eagle, our weekly, local newspaper said, “I liked the book, especially all the parts about fishing with your family. I’m a big family guy too!”

Dayton House, a Preacher and youth worker said, “If you love fishing, you’ll like this book!”

Now I know that I’m getting to be a liberal because all of these comments make me feel good.