Starting off with a little history, the Houston Ship Channel, all 50 miles of it, was begun in 1875 and not really completed until 1914. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s it was widened to over 500 feet, with a depth of 45. Even for Texas, it is an engineering feat!
The month of August is probably the hottest one along the upper Texas coast with the water in the shallow bays, East and West Galveston Bay and Christmas Bay, heating up to the mid 80’s causing the big trout and redfish to seek cooler water. The cooler water we were heading out to this mid August morning in 1968 was along the Houston Ship Channel. The weather forecast was good light winds with the tide coming in, scattered thunder storms, in the afternoon, but our plan was to finish up by lunch, so we didn’t anticipate any bad weather or problems.
In my 17 foot, deep vee, pictured above, we, my dad and uncle, Alvin Pyland, better known as Unkie, launched at the bait camp at San Leon and made the short run out to the ship channel. We went about 200 yards on the Smith’s Point side of the ship channel and started our drift.
Our tackle was 6-1/2 foot popping rods, red, Ambassaduer reels filled with 15 pound, mono line. We used a popping cork with a 3, foot, leader, a light weight and a small treble hook. Our bait was live shrimp. We’d cast out, pop the cork, reel up the slack, repeat the process until we either had a strike or we retrieved the rig back to the boat, then, if no hit, cast back out and repeat the process.
Unkie and Dad cast out and hadn’t made one or two “pops” when they both had big strikes, both fish were good ones, taking line and circling the boat, a sure sign of a big trout! Netting Unkies fish first, a real nice 5 pounder, my dad’s fish put on a show around the boat for us and we could see that is was a little bigger than Unkies. Finally I cast out, popped the cork once and “bam” had a big strike. A 20, yard, first run, highlighted this fight, along with two circles of the boat, with a lot of wallows on top before Dad slipped the net under the spec, a twin of his.
We were probably 15 or 20 miles up from the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel, the Galveston Jetties, and in the distance, south of us, the morning’s first big tanker was heading our way. My dad said, “Boy, you’ve never seen the wake these big ships throw up, have you?” “What wakes?” was my answer, then Unkie chimed in, “Six or 7 footers, that’s what and we’d better get everything in the boat squared away!” This got my attention quick. We quit fishing and knowing that if you’re in heavy seas, you head into them and don’t get caught broad side, I started the engine and here the came the wake.
Looking at the wake, it came toward us, obliquely, in a long line, soon it was only 50 feet from us then, here it was! The deep vee in my boat’s hull cut smoothly through the 7, foot wake, rode up and down it and it would have swamped us if we’d been broadside to.
Encouraged by our recent success at catching over a dozen large speckled trout along the Channel, we decided to try our luck at the same approximate spot the following Monday. Before sun up, with a light wind blowing out of the southeast and the tide forecast was for it to be coming in all morning, we left Unkie’s house, near Hobby Airport, maybe another “haul”? By the time we drove down to San Leon and got the boat ready for launching, the wind had shifted to the south and was blowing near 15 MPH, not the light breeze that we woke up to! Our memory of the ideal conditions of the past week faded as the bay was already showing scattered white caps as Unkie, the eternal optimist, said, “Maybe it will smooth out before too long?”
The boat handled the cross chop very well as we sped across the ship channel, slowed down and started to literally bounce across the waves. To slow our drift, I deployed a 3, foot drag sleeve that smoothed us out a lot and made it possible for us to cast and keep our balance. Baiting up we cast out and began our popping routine, pop the cork, reel up the slack, pop and repeat the process. Our corks would get behind a wave and we’d loose sight of them and have to fish by feel, no problem if we kept our lines tight.
Several casts later, Dad had a good strike and as the fish took off he said, “Whoa big fella!”, he exclaimed. “This is a good one and it’s not fighting like a spec!” Good one it was, after 2 big runs against the light tackle and several wallows around the boat, I slipped the net under a nice redfish that weighed, on the bait camp scales, over 8 pounds!
More casts, more popping and as Unkie’s cork slipped behind a wave he reared back, setting the hook in a good fish. Not the fight of a big red, but a determined pull and soon the fish started circling the boat, a sure sign of a good spec. Netting the trout, a 6 pounder, I looked up and coming up the ship channel was our first tanker of the morning, pushing out a big wake.
We got the drag sleeve in, getting wet in the process, cranked up the boat’s engine and headed towards the wake. This one looked huge, but probably was another 7 footer. It seemed to be going faster that the one last week soon it was on us and up and over the boat handled it perfectly. No other tankers were in sight so we putted back to our approximate location, deployed the drag sleeve, baited up and started casting out again.
Adding another 5 pounder, I looked up and on the horizon, could see 3 more tankers coming up the channel, probably heading up to the big refineries of Shell and Humble Oil, (in 1972 Humble’s name was changed to Exon.) We couldn’t beat the first one across the channel so we rode over its wake without a problem, safely getting to the west side of the channel. The second one presented us a much different situation we couldn’t beat it to the launch ramp so we had to turn around and head into it, slide over, then follow the wake up towards the ramp.
After filleting the fish, as we stowed everything in the boat and my dad remarked, “Not a bad day considering the heavy south wind. You know, if every time we had a meat haul like last week, this would be called catching, instead of fishing!”