One More Cast

In 1970, the spring and early summer fishing for speckled trout had been as good as it gets. I had set a new personal record with a 7-1/4, pounder, caught just out from Greens Cut.  The big speck is pictured below.

We had not had a damaging freeze on the coast for 16 years and game fish and baitfish stocks were at record highs.  Weather permitting, the Galveston Jetties were loaded with keepers, the weather had cooperated and our freezers were already full of filets.

Having received another promotion with the large computer company and with that had purchased a beach house at Jamaica Beach, ten miles west from the end of the Galveston Sea Wall.  Launching at Jamaica Beach I was now five to ten minutes from some great bay fishing spots; Green’s Cut, the Wreck, Confederate Reef and North and South Deer Islands.  My favorite South Jetty spot was only thirty minutes by boat.

My son Brad was nine years old and had been fishing with me for the past two years.  He was fun to take along, could bait his own hook and never grumbled about getting up early or cleaning up the boat and tackle.  My uncle, and his great uncle, Alvin Pyland, Unkie, and I had planned a trip on a Friday morning to sample some of the great trout action, under the birds, on the east side of the Galveston causeway.  Below is Unkie with 2 nice specks!

This area, ten or twelve square miles, bounded on the east by the Texas City dike and Pelican Island, on the south by Galveston Island, on the north by the mainland and west by the causeway, had been a consistent producer all spring.  Telling Unkie to be at The Pleasure Island Bait Camp, our bay fishing headquarters, at 7:30 AM and be ready to fish.  Brad and I had the boat in the water at the Jamaica Beach launch ramp by 7:00 AM and started our 15 minute trip to the Pleasure Island Bait Camp.  Noticing storm clouds in the Gulf south of Galveston Island, rain was coming, what’s so different about that?

After picking Unkie up at the bait camp, buying a quart of shrimp, we headed out to find the birds.  Trout feeding on shrimp push the shrimp to the surface, where sea gulls see the disturbance, and always looking for a free meal, the gulls literally swarm over the shrimp and feeding trout.  This is fast and furious action, trout are “jerked” into the boat without using a net, and many times we would use artificial baits rather than taking time to re-bait the hook.

Seeing several groups of birds in the distance, we sped toward the nearest ones and began a morning of catching specs as fast as we could, and a morning of, we did not know then, high adventure.  We noticed the storms I had seen earlier had moved almost to the Island and storm clouds were gathering north of us over Hitchcock and Texas City.  Being in the bay, in a 17, foot, deep vee, boat, we felt secure since we were but a short run back to the Pleasure Island Bait Camp.  Then the southern storm moved onto the Island, and we found out later that it dropped ten inches of rain there, and shortly, most of that fell on us.

We kept fishing and catching specks, the northern storms getting closer.  We paused to look at the storms and noticed they both seemed to stop right at the edge of the bay.  Storms north and south of us, and birds working, we started back fishing. I have since learned to not tempt Mother Nature.

All of a sudden a large electrical storm, lightning popping all along its front edge, filled the gap between our northern and southern storms, barreling east, right down the bay and right toward us.  We were one mile east of the Causeway and the new storm was about two miles west of it.  Plenty of time left, keep fishing!

Craak!  Boom! Lightning hit the channel marker not 300 yards from us and Unkie uttered his infamous remark, “Looks like I’ve got time for one more cast.”

He casts out and hooked a nice one, which we took valuable time to land.  During the fight with the fish, I got Brad’s life jacket on him and donned one myself.  Craak!  Boom! Another bolt hit a channel marker not 150 yards from us.  “Let’s get going,” I yelled as the rain started to batter us

Really getting pounded by the storm, we noticed we couldn’t head back to the bait camp. There was almost a solid wall of lightning between us and the camp, and the storm was still heading our way.  Full speed ahead to the northeast, our only partially open choice.  Northeast of us lied the Texas City Dike, a nine mile, red granite wall built out into Galveston Bay (this was some of the last granite mined at Marble Falls, Texas).  Its purpose was to smooth the bay waters for the Texas City harbor and channel, however, and I repeat, however, we were heading in on the rough side!  The wind hit us now, the waves building up, all working to slow our speed.  We barely kept ahead of the lightning, and the rain was awful!

We keep heading northeast and kept getting pounded by the storm, wind, rain and four- foot waves, which are huge for the bay and the distance between the wave crests was probably only ten feet.  Very rough!  Wave tops in the Gulf in four-foot seas are 24 to 27 feet apart, but lots of up and down for us, and luckily the drain plugs in the boat did their job.  At least we didn’t swamp.  Looking down, I thought Brad likes this and glancing over at Unkie, he doesn’t have a care in the world, however I was scared to death!

Plowing on through the rough water, we finally spotted the dike and could make out a bait camp on our side and headed straight for it.  Closing in on the dike, I anchored the boat with the bow pointing into the storm, which has slacked off some.  We got out of the boat and waded to the dike and some smart aleck on the dike said, “Kinda rough, wasn’t it?”  If not for my nine, year old son, there would have been fisticuffs!

No cell phones then, so I went into the bait camp and called my ex-wife in Jamica Beach to tell her of our ordeal and ask to bring my car and boat trailer so we could get back to Unkies car.  It had rained ten inches in Galveston and everything was flooded, she’s stranded out on the Island and couldn’t get into town.  We’re stranded on the Texas City Dike and can’t get out and the storm was now picking up in intensity!

All I could do is call a cab, leave Brad and Unkie to watch the boat and go slowly through the water, back through Galveston (city of) to Jamaica Beach, pick up my car and trailer and drive them back over here and get the boat. At least the fish had ice on them.

Sometimes I am a slow learner!


Some Special Guns

While in Phoenix, during the late summer of 1971, while we were out of town, my trusty Winchester, Model 12, twelve gauge pump with a modified barrel, that I had shot for over twenty years, along with all of my other guns, a new Sony TV that I won in a sales manager’s contest and my brand new Buick Electra 225, were stolen. What really upset me was that the thieves took my Dad’s Fox, sixteen, gauge, side by side. Many times I have wished that I had that old one back!

The car was found undamaged the next week, but nothing else was ever recovered. The police told me that my guns went to Mexico and that someone in Arizona (probably) got a real good Sony TV!

My insurance settlement, received in early fall, was quite generous and I headed to Oshman’s in Scottsdale to restock my weapons. Having become interested in trap shooting, my first purchase was a Remington 870, twelve gauge, with a trap barrel and ventilated rib. This shotgun served me very well over the five years that I shot competitive trap and it was also a deadly weapon on ducks and geese! But, if I had been real smart I would have invested in a Perotzzi trap gun! Laughingly, I say that, but I was never a good shot with a trap gun. The stocks high comb, and me being blessed with a short neck and arms, precluded me from getting my head satisfactorily down on the stock. A simple lengthening of my 870’s stock was all it took to give me the correct sight picture for trap shooting.

As soon as we moved to Arizona, we started seeing Gambel quail and our roamings in the foothills and the deserts only showed us more of these remarkable, little runners. This led to my second purchase, a Remington 870, twenty gauge, pump with a ventilated rib and skeet barrel that I shot for over thirty-five years. However, not planning to shoot skeet, this shotgun, shooting “heavy” one ounce, reloads of seven and a halfs or eights, chalked up amazing numbers of quail and doves. One afternoon in Mexico, using the twenty, gauge, pump, I shot one hundred white wings with one hundred twenty-nine shells! On the skeet field it was equally impressive, helping me to shoot many twenty-fives European style. My Son, Randy, has this gun now.

I don’t think that I was a “natural” shooter although in the Army I shot Expert with the M-1 Garand and M-2 Carbine. Probably friendly pasters! But I did learn early on that if you’re going to be a good, competitive shooter, you had to practice regularly. This practice carries over into the field, helps in judging shot distances and reinforces the proper shooting techniques – see the proper sight picture whether you track, lead or swing on the target, keep your head down on the stock, keep swinging after you shoot and pretty soon the hits will really start to add up whether you’re shooting clay or real birds.

In 1975 returning to Arizona on a business trip, I found out what befell the thieves that broke into my house and stole my stuff and how they were finally apprehended. Their “business” was so good they had opened a used furniture store on Indian School Road in east Phoenix and of course much of the stock was stolen goods. They had just committed another home robbery taking a TV and some guns. Of all things, the latest victim showed up in their used furniture store looking for a TV to replace the one these guys had just stolen. Spotting one just like his, he looked a little closer and saw his Social Security number that he had engraved on the back. He left the store without a purchase, went to the police and thus ended the careers of a vicious gang of thieves.

Their store closed too, but I heard they had a get your stuff sale, not a going out of business sale!


Jim Buck and I were fishing in lower West Galveston Bay, having good luck on specks, with some five or six pound, gafftopsail catfish, (gafftops), thrown in. Gafftops are slimy, slimy, but offer an excellent fight, and when fried, offer excellent table fare. After each gafftop that we caught, we had to clean the slime off of our line and leader and if we kept one to eat, we ended up with a major chore cleaning our cooler.

We noticed a storm forming west of us but, as usual, thought nothing of it and continued to catch fish. Soon, common sense overtook our desire to catch fish, and we headed back to the east and the safe harbor, at Jamaica Beach. We were making thirty-five in my boat, but it seemed, that the faster we went, the storm went faster.

Running along the shore from Snake Island and taking the sharp turn into the Jamaica Beach, channel, I cut the engines and coasted up to the dock. One boat was loading and we were next. The wind was blowing at least sixty, slamming things around, but thank goodness, the loading ramp, at water level, offered about 4 feet of protection. If we raised our heads, the blowing sand and spray was like needles.

Peeping over the edge of my boat’s deck, looking north toward the mainland, I saw a small boat, fighting the storm and heading our way. Nothing unusual, a small boat heading in, but as I looked closer, I saw a waterspout right behind it. He was going about twenty-five and the waterspout was keeping up with him, not catching him, but staying about a hundred yards to his rear.

The small boat cleared the north end of Karankawa Reef and at full speed, made a hard right, across the bay, toward the Jamaica Beach channel. Lucky for him the waterspout continued east towards Green’s Cut. Soon the back edge of the storm passed over us and we successfully loaded our boat on the trailer.

We then helped the lone fisherman in the small boat that the waterspout chased. He was wet, scared and glad to be ashore and away from the waterspout. He said, “I thought it had me and I was afraid to turn because I thought it would follow me.”

We never saw him again. I bet he took up a safer hobby!

A Family Sport

During the summer of 1971, after I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, it was time to get ready for the opening of dove Season on September 1. At the time, way out north on Scottsdale Road, there was a trap shooting facility, The Shot Yard, and I carted my shooting age family out to hone our skills for the upcoming bird season.

The proprietor of The Shot Yard happened to be from Houston, and when he was in Houston had been a salesman for another large computer company. We had shared several accounts competitively and I had scored some significant wins against him. He changed professions.

We were a motley crew lining up to shoot with the “pros”, but as we prepared for the upcoming season, it soon became clear to me, my, 12 year old, son, Brad, and my former wife that we had stumbled upon a family sport. We were smoking the clay birds with regularity and the misses, became few and far between.

Our first dove season in Arizona was a resounding success, helped along by our trap shooting practice. Randy, age 8 and Suzanne, age 4, served as “fetchers”, but Suzanne could never learn to pull off the downed dove’s head.

Soon after dove season ended, quail season started, and my love affair with Quail hunting reached passionate heights. The first Gambel quail that I shot is mounted and displayed on the gun cabinet on our old ranch house. It has held up remarkedly well with 2, cross country, and 5 in state moves.

I well remember the shot on the first quail, a long one, in the Salt River bottom, west of Phoenix. One feather came fluttering down, the bird kept flying, and plop, fell to the ground with one shot pellet having entered under its right wing and pierced its heart.

Too soon, quail season ended but in early 1972, The Shot Yard’s proprietor, talked us into entering a competitive trap shoot he was holding. For the family’s first go at trap shooting, we did well and quickly became “hooked”.

My first win at a trap tournament was in May of 1972 in Show Low, Arizona where, to determine the winner, I was involved in a four person, “shoot-off”. Feeling nerves, but taking my station on the line, and turning up my concentration, I was able to hit five straight clay pigeons while my opponents fell out, one by one. One added bonus, my mother, Ruth Bryan, was visiting my family in Arizona and she was able to watch this shoot and watch my win in the “shoot-off”.

Being the last man standing meant victory and as a trophy a very nice Nambe Ware salad bowl set, a winner’s check for $200.00 and over $200.00 more for winning the Calcuttta. Since none of the experienced shooters knew me I “bought” myself for $2.00. As the years went by it became extremely difficult for me to purchase myself in the Calcuttas. If another shooter or spectator bought me he would win eighty percent of the pot and me, the shooter, would only get twenty.

By the fall on 1973, Brad and my ex were state champions in their respective classes and I had moved to the number 2 spot in the statewide rankings of handicap shooters. In handicap shooting, the shooters are classed by yardage from 18 to 27 yards, depending on individual skill and past wins. Small purses were paid for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishes, but the “big money” was won in the Calcuttas!

What started as a “tune-up” for dove season, had now become an avocation for my family, but again, my day job interfered with it.

Sometimes a good day job can really interfere with your avocation

It Was Nothing

A turkey gobbler stopped by the corner blind several days ago and happened to stop in front of the cactus patch, prickly pears, to be exact.  What was unusual was that the gobbler stopped right in front of the prickly pears and behind it, it looked like a monster or something, maybe a chupacabra, (they almost caught one in south Texas several months ago).

But, it wasn’t a monster or anything, just the prickly pears, but it does look like a chupacabra!  However, it was nothing.

He’ll Have To Wait

As the sun just peaked over the horizon we spied a huge school of birds swarming over the water between us and the Pelican Island Bridge. This early in the morning, it was unusual for birds to be working and in twenty minutes we were supposed to meet Dewey Stringer at the end of the South Jetty for a trip out to the Buccaneer Rigs, what to do?

We, Norman Shelter, Jim Buck and I had bought bait and launched the boat at Pleasure Island Bait Camp and were heading out to meet Dewey for a day of offshore angling, but seeing the birds working, he’ll have to wait, as we cut the motors back and idled up to towards the big swarm. For our offshore trip we would be using standard trout gear with a wire leader, but without a popping cork. Our rods were six and half feet long, with red reels loaded with fifteen, pound line and as we eased up to the birds, we quickly removed the wire leaders and slipped on our trout rigs.

A lot of birds working shrimp in deeper water, ten to twelve feet, could mean one of two things, good size speckled trout or small bluefish. Our first casts toward the birds resulted in two good strikes and the fish fighting on the top of the water and circling the boat, confirmed that these were big, trout!

Not having baited up, I netted both fish for Jim and Norman, two nice four pounders! As they were removing the hooks and boxing their fish, I quickly baited up, cast out and as the bait hit the water, it was hit immediately, jerking the rod almost out of my hand. Big trout are fun, these summer fish will smash a lure or a shrimp with reckless abandon, fight all the way to the boat and are excellent table fare! My fish, another 4 pounder, circled and as I reeled it in, beat the water around the boat to a froth. Jim netted it and as I slipped it into the cooler looked down at my watch, we were late to meet Dewey.

Trying to call him on the CB radio, with the distance and Galveston’s buildings blocking everything out, was useless, so we kept on fishing. Over an hour later, we had boxed twenty-five real nice specs, two to four pounds, so much for meeting Dewey.

Calling him that night, they had caught several nice kingfish, some small dolphin (dorado) out of a weed line and tied up to an oilrig, loaded up on spadefish, so much for meeting him, but we both had good days! This wasn’t a showstopper because Dewey and I were friends besides, catching fish was what we were meant to do!