Memorial Day

Today we take time to honor and recognize our troops who have died while defending our way of life. In the North, tradition was that Decoration Day began in New York in 1868, but, in reality, it really started in Virginia soon after the end of the Civil War. The
following, is one of my favorite stories!

Now, enter my Grandmother, Linnie Ross Sanders Wallace, born in 1866, who I wrote about on May, 27, 2007, in “A True Texan”. She was a Civil War baby boomer, and a rebel’s daughter. Her Father, Levi Sanders, had spent four years fighting with the 6th Texas Cavalry across Indian Territory, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. She made sure that I knew what “Decoration Day”, now known as our Memorial Day, was and just what it meant.

Within a month after the end of the Civil War, May 1865, ladies in Winchester, Virginia, formed a Ladies Memorial Association, (LMA), with the single purpose to gather fallen Confederate soldiers within a fifteen mile radius of their town and provide them burial in a single graveyard. Once that task had been done they hoped to establish an annual tradition of placing flowers and evergreens on the graves. There were Federal troops buried along with the Confederates and they received the decorations also. Within a year, ladies across the South had established over 70, LMA’s.

In the first year, these LMA’s had assisted in the recovery of over 70,000 Confederate dead! The ladies of Lynchburg chose May 10 as their Decoration Day. This was the day that Lt. General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson had succumbed to wounds. The Richmond LMA had chosen May 31 because that was the day the populace of that town had first heard the guns of war in 1861.

Vicious Reconstruction laws not withstanding, by 1867, Decoration Day flourished across the South and it was a day that southern spirit and pride surfaced. Alabama, Florida and Mississippi celebrated it on April 30; North and South Carolina on May 10 and Virginia finally compromised on May 27.

Then in 1868, in the North, May 5 was officially designated Memorial Day. This was later changed to May 30, because no significant battle was fought on that day. In May 1968, at Waterloo, New York, Pres. Lyndon Johnson “officially” recognized Waterloo as the birthplace of Memorial Day. Still later, our government intruded and made the last the last Monday in May, Memorial Day, a Federal holiday.

LBJ should have studied his history better! He began his career as a history teacher at San Jacinto High School in Houston, and taught Linnie Ross’s youngest, daughter, Hazel. He soon switched to teaching civics, government studies. Maybe he was deficient in American history?

The Gravel Pits

In 1954, May was a good time to drive up to the gravel pits outside of Romayer, Texas, north of Houston. If we left before sun up the drive, in non-air conditioned, cars, would be pleasant, if we fished ‘till dark, likewise for the drive home. For the record, our first car with A/C was a 1956 Chevy, Bel Air that my dad purchased in 1958.

This particular spring day, my dad and I left our house well before sun up and at first light we had already picked out the gravel pit that we would assault. This one was elongated with an irregular shape that reminded us of a hand with four fingers extended.

Enough esoterics, anyway, we started off with yellow Piggy Boats, during the first thirty minutes we only picked up a couple of small bass, but threw them back. For some reason, then Dad changed lures and attached a white one. His first cast, slipped under a low hanging willow tree, was met with a strike, not the solid head shaking hit of a good bass, but just firm pressure. The fish tugged and made one short run, but soon yielded to the pressure of the rod and drag, laid on its side and Dad then slid a nice two pound, white perch, crappie, (sac-au-lait for my Cajun friends), on to the bank!

We never took pictures of the white perch we caught and I had to get this one from Wikipedia.

That got my attention and, quickly changing lures, I hurried over beside him. He had already strung the first one and had cast back out and was into another that turned out to be a mirror image of the first. My cast was met with a strike and I reeled another white perch in. This was repeated until we had strung ten of the beauties, beauties to catch and beauties to eat!

The white perch stopped hitting so my dad walked around to the next finger of the pit and I moved to the one past him. More small bass, no keepers, but I heard Daddy yell, “Son of a gun!” and as I ran around to him, my first thought was snake, but as I cleared the point I saw him locked in a struggle with a good sized, alligator gar.

The gar, at least a three-footer, was jump, jump, jumping, frothing the water. It then tried to spool him, made one last jump and the white, Piggy Boat pulled free, (thank goodness). Daddy said that the gar hit right as he was taking the lure out of the water, it scared him sufficiently to cause him to yell out and then the fight was on!

It took ten years for us to encounter another alligator gar! Thank goodness, we had long nose pliers!

Fixin’ The Barn

This post sets the stage for all of the ghostlike occurrences we had at Rob Haney’s ranch, some were terrifying, some were comical and all were interesting, very interesting! It all began in the spring and went on for 8 or 10 years, then the entire house burned down during the summer, when there were a bunch of fires around Abilene, Texas..

Just before Brad joined the Army, he and I went up to help Rob repair his barn and, since it was very comfortable for the springtime, both nights we slept out on the porch. The screened in porch was on 2 sides of Rob’s old ranch house. I noticed that Rob was sleeping with his AC roaring, but said nothing to him about it. Maybe it covered up our snoring!

The next morning, sunrise found us along a creek, in a makeshift blind, making hen turkey sounds. Brad leaned over to me and whispered, “Dad, did you hear those animals bumping around under Rob’s house last night?” Whispering back, “Yes, Son. It sounded like someone walking around the porch, or a herd of ‘dillos!” I continued, “To me it sounded like they were walking right around my bed.”

Staying out for over an hour we didn’t have a turkey come in close and as Brad was sitting in the grassy blind he exclaimed, “Dad, I think a snake, or something, just bit me. Something just hit my left ankle!” “What”, I exploded! As Brad was taking off his boot, I looked around in our hastily made blind and didn’t see anything. Boot off, Brad showed me 2 red marks on his lower ankle, but closer inspection showed that his skin wasn’t broken. Sure must not have been a big one because a big one’s fangs would have gone right through his boot! Hastily we excused ourselves from the blind and decided that work on the barn was the best thing to do.

The second night there was more bumping around, but barely waking, we both slept right through it. As we were leaving for Houston, I mentioned to Rob, “You need to trap those animals under your house and close up where they are getting in.” His short reply was, “I’m going to.” Little did we know that he slept out at his ranch 3 or 4 nights a week and his roaring A/C was not all he used to protect himself from the “Ghosts”, but I get ahead of myself, more ghosts stories will follow in the fall.

Against The Clock

On a spring morning, just at first light, I lowered the 22 footer into the canal behind our Bayou Vista home, headed down the canal and chugged, speed limit 5 MPH in the canals, into Highlands Bayou. Cranking up the big, outboard I finally skimmed the back way into the Intercoastal Waterway.

Having a 11:00 AM meeting with customers, this would be a short trip, but hopefully a productive one. My destination, with the tide coming in all morning, was the sand flats that ran from Green’s Cut up to South Deer Island. The target was to find sea gulls working over feeding specs, the specs driving shrimp toward the surface and the birds gobbling up the shrimp the fish missed. Classic food chain stuff!

Armed with a 7-1/2 foot, popping, rod, 12 pound line spooled on a green reel, rigged with a popping cork over a live shrimp hooked through its horn with a small, treble hook, I was ready for action. The action wasn’t long in coming. Of all things, I noticed several shrimp hopping out of the water and casting right in front of them, bam, a big strike.

The fish took off peeling line from the reel, not the circling fight of a 3 or 4 pound trout, not the head shaking, weight of a big red, then the fish, a skipjack or ladyfish, (Bodianus rufus) cleared the water. They’re real hard fighters, jump a lot, but aren’t good table fare. Many times they will be feeding on shrimp, driving them to the surface where the ever hungry, birds will congregate over them. No birds this time, so I landed the skipjack, guessing its weight at 3 pounds and tossed it back into the bay.

Two hundred yards away there was another good sign, several birds were sitting on the water, probably marking one or more good sized, fish, maybe even a school that was just getting together! Lowering the trolling motor, I slipped silently to within 40 yards of the birds, quickly baited up and let fly a cast toward the center of the area among the birds. The splash of the bait and cork hitting the water caused the birds to take flight just as my cork disappeared and I felt a big tug! Another run, more jumps, finally the rod and drag beat the fish, another skipjack, identical to the first that I landed, I unhooked it and tossed back in. Thinking to myself, This spot is full of skipjacks so I’ll just move down about a mile and try my luck.

Moving the mile down toward South Deer Island, just ahead, several birds, one hovering over the water, looked very interested toward the depths, cutting the motor I drifted up and let fly a cast beside the bird. When casting with the wind a little slack will undoubtedly get in your line and the gull took this slack line opportunity to quickly grab my shrimp. As it grabbed the shrimp, it immediately took off, wrapping the line around one wing and unceremoniously plopping back into the water. Reeling in the squawking sea gull, before lifting it into the boat, I grabbed a towel, swung the bird into the boat and, in almost 1 motion, covered its head and eyes.

Thank goodness, the gull wasn’t hooked just squawking, so I unwrapped the line from its wing, uncovered its head and flipped it back over the side, where it caught the wind and sped away. Looking at my watch, 8:30 so I’d better get back in.

No luck today, no fish to clean, just some throwbacks, but some good memories!

Birdin’ Season

Sounds like ‘Birdin Season refers to quail or doves, but this time it refers to speckled trout. My dad and I made a real haul, way back when, and this refers to that (?).

Getting a fast start on the birdin’ season on West Galveston Bay, in mid May, Dad and I arrived at the foot of the Galveston Causeway and drove on to Pleasure Island Bait Camp, bought us some live shrimp, launched the boat, sped over to around Virginia Point and started looking for birds. With a good tide coming in all morning, both of us knew, or so we thought, that the fish and shrimp schools would collide along the Intercoastal Waterway, between Pelican Island and the causeway.

Just what is birdin’ season you may ask? Along the Texas coast, sometime during May, depending on the water temperature, brown shrimp migrate back into the bays. Game fish, namely speckled trout attack these schools of shrimp, the feeding activity pushes the shrimp to the surface and the ever vigilant, sea gulls, always looking for an easy meal, congregate in mass to gorge on the feast, hence birdin’ season. Back in the ‘60’s, the trout in these early schools would be anywhere from 2 to 6, pounds, a 6-1/2 is my personal best.

For this foray we armed ourselves with 6-1/2 foot, popping rods, with red reels, loaded with 15 pound line and under the popping cork had a 3/8 ounce weight, a 2-3 foot leader with a number 8, treble hook knotted on, real trout poison. We slowly, cruised the bay in a big circle for over 2 hours and were quickly loosing interest, we hadn’t even baited up yet, then near a channel marker we spied a group of birds hovering over the water and no other fishing boats were in sight!

With the slight wind behind us, we carefully putted in position to drift close to the birds and when about 100 foot upwind, baited up and unleashed our casts that were met by 2 big strikes, nice fish! The fish circled the boat forcing us into “The West Bay Shuffle”, around the boat once, the drag and rod pressure finally tired the specs, nice 4 pounders that we netted and slid into the cooler.

More casts into the milling horde of gulls, it’s a wonder we didn’t foul hook one and my dad was into another nice trout, but my cast was met with a big strike, never getting the hook set, I reeled in and helped him with his fish, a mirror image of the first 2. We stayed with this school of trout/shrimp/birds for 45 or more minutes, the birds broke up once, but 10 minutes later, got back on the fish/shrimp and the action picked up once again. We ended this trip with 17 nice, speckled trout, 2-4 pounds, a good haul!

For years, whenever I passed by this channel marker, I remembered my birdin’ season kickoff and looked closely to see if any birds were hovering over the water, waiting for the shrimp to pop up!

The Last Click

When you read the title you’d think that I’d gotten my line stripped by a big fish, since this is a fishing story (kinda’), but read on and you’ll be surprised.

After, as it turned out, a very eventful trip off shore 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, long since dispatched by Hurricane Ike!

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 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!