Jumpin’ The Gun

This buck, the one I’ve been “following” for 3 years, has finally reached his mature years.  He’s 4-1/2 now and quite a nice buck, in fact I told Mickey Donahoo yesterday that I didn’t know if this buck was a 9, 10 or 11 pointer.  Notice how small points have formed below his antlers, the one on the right is definitely over an inch in height, our State, the great State of Texas, says that anything over one inch is to be counted, maybe by the time he sheds his velvet the one on the left will be an incher too!

Now that the status of the buck is established, he’s already started making a scrape, the following “shot” shows him worrying on an overhanging branch of a cedar tree.  To define his territory a dominant buck, and this one thinks he’s dominant, will worry an overhanging branch and rub the glands below the horns all over it, then urinate over his tarsal glands on the spot below, this is called “scenting” and it clearly defines his territory.

Fall’s decreasing sunlight triggers the amount of testosterone in a buck’s body. The increase in testosterone influences the buck into becoming more territorial, beginning the scrape activity.  Many believe that the scent left around deer scrapes is meant for subordinate bucks to learn if a dominant buck is using this area, it’s quite likely that the sexual intensity of the lesser buck is suppressed.

The buck will worry this branch until the leaves are worn off.  Notice how the cedar leaves are almost worn off of this branch, this is from the spot that the buck is worrying in the “shot” above.

It rained a half an inch yesterday, so the scrape got washed out, but the general outline is visible in the “shot” below.                                                                                                                                                      Several day later the buck revisited the scrape.  Who knows if he went through his full routine on this trip by?                                                                                                                                                                             If bucks are beginning their scrape activity now, tomorrow it will be September 1st maybe the rut will start early this year?  It sure seems like the November 2nd opening day is way off, maybe 2 or 3 weeks, however, we’ll see what it turns out to be.

Catching, Instead Of Fishing

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, 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. We were using our standard trout gear, 6-1/2 foot popping rods, red reels, 15 pound line, 3 foot leaders and live shrimp. 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!”

Big Wakes

Going out this morning in August of 1968, we knew that we’d be sweaty when we came in. Hoping we’d be sweaty from catching speckled trout, but August is probably the hottest month 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 eighties this caused the big trout to seek cooler water.

The cooler water we were heading out to this morning was along the Houston Ship Channel. The channel 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. The weather forecast was a good one, light winds, tides coming in, with scattered thunder storms, in the afternoon. Our plan was to finish up by lunch, so we didn’t anticipate any bad weather or problems.

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 were in my 17, foot deep vee, a really good big bay boat. Crossing over the Ship Channel we went about two hundred feet past it, then started our drift.

Our tackle was 6-1/2 foot popping rods, red, reels filled with 15 pound, mono line. We used a popping cork with a three-foot, leader, enough weight to keep the cork upright 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 repeated the process.

Unkie and Dad cast out and hadn’t made one or two “pops” when they 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 twenty-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 speck, a twin of his.

We were probably fifteen miles up from the Galveston Jetties, the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel 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. Unkie chimed in, “Six or seven 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 fifty feet from us then, here it was! The deep vee in my boat’s hull cut smoothly through the 7, foot wake, then rode up and down it. It would have swamped us if we’d been broadside to it!

Going back to catching specks, before the tide changed we put a dozen more 5 to 6 pounders into the cooler. We experienced three more big wakes, but got back to the launch ramp before noon and missed the forecasted thunderstorms.

Senior Softball In Columbus, Ohio

Early Sunday morning, Layla and I will be catching a plane in Killeen and heading to Columbus, Ohio for the National Senior Softball Championships. Layla will be running the tournament and my team, the Texans, will be playing 3 games on Monday, (no special favors for us either), then double elimination.

We, the Texans haven’t got it all together this year, but maybe in Columbus? Five years ago we won it all, but age tells. We’ll be way up for this one, but, alas, our opponents will be way up too!


My dad had grown up outside of Marlin, Texas and my mom, a Dr’s daughter, grew up outside of Abilene, but as we looked for a house far outside the city limits of Houston, far at the time was over 5 miles, we finally settled on a 3 bedroom bungalow 6 miles from the western city limits. Moving in to the new house in October of 1939, everything was fine until August of 1941.

We had moved in without any problems, the “new” wasn’t even off the house and we had moved into a brand new, incorporated, subdivision. Being west of Rice Institute (now University), the subdivision was aptly named West University. “West U” as we called it had, and still has, its own fire, police and water departments.

Houston’s urban sprawl now has encircled “West U” and driven prices sky-high! Our 3, bed room, frame, house and lot, had cost $3,900. Today lots are over $200K and homes over $500K. Back then, the streets were paved with oyster shell, drainage ditches lined the streets, but on calm and still days, when new shell was applied to the streets, the smell was overpowering! Now “West U” is a model, pricey, yuppie haven, not the almost country place of my youth.

The radio had alerted us of a storm thrashing around in the Gulf of Mexico and apparently headed for landfall on the upper Texas coast, back then storms weren’t named. It hit between Galveston and Freeport and unknown to us, was headed our way. Now, with satellites and radar we can tell within miles of where one of these monsters will hit, but back then it was just an educated guess. To me, not yet 6 years old, it sounded like a lot of fun, but looking back, I just don’t know how we survived without the TV weather folks, with their foul weather gear on, telling us what to do, how to pack our survival items and not to drive our cars into the deep water!

The storm made landfall and bored inland. “West U” is about 60 miles as the “crow flies” from the coast and we received almost the full fury of the storm! The rain was first, beginning in mid morning, then the wind, strengthening and making noises that I had never heard before. By early evening the lights went out, the telephone was dead and we had lost all power. Lightning flashed, thunder roared, the rain came down in sheets, but our new house held together! Then everything stopped!

The hurricane’s eye was passing right over us my mom and dad explained to my sister, H.R., and me, as they took us outside for a quick look around. It was dark but we could tell that there were no clouds above us, the stars were out and there was no storm, wind, rain or lightning. Our parents hurried us back inside and we waited for the onslaught to begin again, and it did with a vengeance! More wind and heavy, rain, not as much thunder and lightning, but the storm pounded us until morning.

The hurricane had moved away and following my dad outside, we both heard a tiny “Mew” and looked under the edge of our house (it was built on a block foundation and raised about 18” above ground level) and found that the source of the “mew” was a tiny, yellow kitten. Picking it up, I discovered later that it was a male, and as I ran back inside, yelled, “Mother, can we keep it?” She replied, “If your Dad says so.” He was easy on this one and “Tom” lived with us for the next 14 years.

Not knowing it then, but we had a much bigger and deadlier “storm” coming our way on December 7, 1941!