Specs Along The Channel

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 causing the big trout 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 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 five hundred feet, with a depth of forty-five.

The weather forecast was a good one, light winds, tide 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.

In my seventeen foot, deep vee pictured, 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 two hundred yards on the Smith’s Point side of the ship channel and started our drift.

Our tackle was six and a half foot popping rods, red reels filled with fifteen pound, mono line.  We used a popping cork with a three-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 my 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 five 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 my dad slipped the net under the spec, 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. 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 foot from us, then, here it was!  The deep vee in my boat’s hull cut smoothly through the seven foot, wake and rode up and down it.  It would have swamped us if we’d been broadside to it!

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

The Storm NOAA Missed

The summer of 1987 was the calmest weather I can remember.  Back then, we could plan an offshore trip a week ahead, and the weather would cooperate so Bob Baugh and I planned a trip one week ahead, and sure enough, ended up sixty miles out of Freeport, Texas, in his Formula, the “Bill Collector”, at a rig in one hundred and ten feet of water.

We cruised around the rig checking for bait- fish and noticed not five feet under the surface some small amberjack, so I cast out a cigar minnow and a bigger amberjack quickly darted in and snatched the bait, and the fight was on.  I finally subdued the fish and we netted and released it, a 20 pounder.

After we tied up to the rig, we really got a workout from several sixty to eighty-pound amberjacks, members of the tuna family, and pound for pound, they are the hardest fighting fish in the Gulf.  We were using eighty-pound class tackle and after each bout with a big ‘jack we would take a five or ten minute break.

During one of these breaks I got out a new bay rod that I wanted to try out and baited up with a cigar minnow and cast it out behind the boat and let the bait drift with the current. We noticed a squall line looming to our east but didn’t worry about it since NOAA was predicting calm, storm free, weather.

For every five big, amberjack we hooked, we may have landed one.  If, they get their head pointing down, you’re done for and he’d cut you off in the rig.  After loosing another one, I was re-rigging and I happened to look up and noticed the squall line getting closer.  “Bob, should we worry about the weather?” I asked.  He replied, “Naw, don’t look like a problem.”  We laughed later, over his reply.

Just then, my new rod bent nearly double and the line was peeling off at a rapid rate.  Bob says, “I told you that new rod was too light for these big fish out here!”  As I set the hook I was rewarded by a big, bull dolphin clearing the water by about ten feet and took off for Mexico in passing gear!

What a fight this bruiser put on!

Jump, jump, jump, while running away from the boat, the dolphin was “turned on”, each jump silhouetting the neon, green/blue/gold fish against the approaching dark blue squall line.  If I had been an artist, it would have made a beautiful picture.  Captain Bly (Bob) spoiled it saying, “We better git, that storm looks like a good one.”

“Horsing” the fish in wasn’t an option.  I would get him near the boat and jump, jump, run!  We finally got the bull subdued and into the boat and the wind changed from south and hot to northeast and cool.  Oh, oh, I’ve been down this road before.  We quickly whacked the dolphin on the head, put him into the big cooler, un-looped the rope from the rig and Bob backed away.

Then Bob did something funny. He reached into the boat storage area, got out a motorcycle helmet and slipped it on.  He wore very heavy glasses (this was before he had corrective laser eye surgery) and he used the helmet and visor to keep the rain out.  He wiped the clear visor with a towel and told me, “We’re going to get wet, so find you a place and hold on.”

We headed directly into the storm and broached each wave crest, probably eight footers, the rain, worse than when I was caught in a severe storm in 1982, and like then, this storm was between us, and the shore.  Wind was about forty miles per hour and no lightning, but the rain almost obscured the bow of the boat, ten feet in front of us.

All we could do was trust the LORAN, (this was before GPS), and keep going for forty miles. The easy one hour run took us two and a half hours.  The last twenty miles were in relative calm seas and the last five miles were spent in a race with a twenty-four foot Proline.  Our speed on the LORAN was fifty-two miles per hour and we won this joust by half a boat length!

The Bull Dolphin weighed thirty-one pounds. NOAA never said anything about the storm that never was!

Gig ‘Em Aggies

All day long I had been trying to get a hold of my son, Randy, to help me with a sticky problem on my blog.  Finally, in the evening he called me, very frustrated.  He had “snuck” off and gone fishing, a noble achievement!

He was frustrated and had lost several nice bass, because he had made a mistake of epic proportions. He forgot to put the hook on the, new H&H spinner bait, better known as Piggy Boat, That he had just purchased at a large sporting goods store.  This particular product comes from the manufacturer in a plastic bag and the fisherman must add the hook to the spinner bait before using it.  In Randy’s excitement and impatience to get to the fishing at hand, he had neglected to attach the hook.

As I laughed at his omission, my thoughts went back, years ago to a hastily planned fishing trip that I went on with my Uncle Gus, George Alvin Pyland.  He like my Dad was from Marlin, Texas.  That particular summer I was working on another of my Uncle’s, Shelton Gafford’s ranch outside of Marlin.  My chores were finished early and I went into town to make a purchase at the local sporting goods store, which happened to be owned by Sam Pyland, Uncle Gus’ brother.

When I walked into the store, surprise, there was Uncle Gus talking with his brother.  We hugged and shook hands and exchanged some small talk, and one of our favorite subjects, fishing, came up.  Mentioning that Uncle Shelton had gotten me permission to fish in a stock tank, not fished by it’s owner, and planted with bass by the state five years ago and that I was on my way out there as soon as I picked me up a couple of yellow Piggy Boats. Uncle Gus volunteered to go with me.  He was in town for a short visit and would be happy to “help” me thin out the bass in this tank.

I don’t know who made Piggy Boat spinner baits, I guess the Piggy Boat Company, but I do know that the company that made Piggy Boats was sold to H and H, the current manufacturer and H and H now has been sold to a large retailer.  But, whoever the owner, this particular spinner bait remains one of the best baits for stock tank, small lake and stream fishing for bass.  In saltwater I have even caught red fish and speckled trout with them.  Then, like now, they were sold in a small plastic bag with the hook not attached. You can see from the picture below that the hook is not attached, also notice the price of $1.10, I bought this plug about 15 years ago and it clearly shows inflation!

Uncle Gus had no tackle, but I had an extra rod and reel with me, and he purchased two Piggy Boats with yellow skirts, told his brother good bye and we headed out to catch some bass.  Arriving at the stock tank that was in the middle of a one hundred acre field covered with red buffalo grass, I got out of my truck, walked to the edge of the water and made a cast and was into a nice bass immediately.  Uncle Gus said, “Wait for me Jon Howard” as he hurriedly attached the Piggy Boat to his line.

Uncle Gus looped a cast along the bank near us and had a strike that almost jerked the rod from his hands, the bass ran toward the center of the tank, jumped, mouth open and the Piggy Boat came flying back towards us.  Uncle Gus was a salt water, fisherman of great skill and perseverance, but muttered, “Dang, that’s funny, the hook didn’t get set good even with that hard strike.” as he prepared for another cast.

Another cast, another jolting strike, another lost fish caused him to mutter, “Jon Howard, these bass are harder to hook than specs.”  He was a great Uncle to me, and a good Christian man, but when he lost his third bass I was afraid my rod and reel were going into the water.  Before that happened I asked him, “Why don’t you bring your rig over and let me check the hooks?”  “What hooks?” he replied.  I tried hard not to laugh, but in his haste and excitement he had forgotten to attach the hooks to his spinner bait.

Slipping the hooks on his lure, he cast out and, whamo, another hard hit, but this one was hooked good, soon landed and put on a stringer.  We both got to the business of catching bass, along with a couple of goggle eye perch, and ended up with a nice mess of fish.
The story ended well, but after Randy’s “hook” problem, it got me to thinking, you  know, both Randy and Uncle Gus are former students at Texas A & M!

The Outlaw

The following is the first chapter in my second book about my hunting exploits, some good, some bad, and some scary, but I’ve left a few of the stories out, maybe the book would be too long!

The Outlaw

Most of my extended family came to this country, that we now call the United States, in the early 1600’s. In the old world they were soldiers, teachers, poets, clergy, royalty and landowners, but they were also educated men and women. By necessity, they were hunters and workers of the land and this story also tells a little about how one of my great grandfathers, in the 1840’s, came to America.

The Royal hare was 50 feet upwind of the hunter and was feeding on the tender shoots of new spring grass, never noticing the threat approaching him. Boom! The shotgun belched out a cloud of foul smelling smoke, blowing right back in Shaw Wallace’s face and, as it cleared, he saw the hare flopping on the ground.

Hunting on his father’s land in County Derry, Ireland, it never occurred to Shaw that the large rabbit would be anything but a fine dinner for the family. His father, Jesse, was a well to do farmer and head of Clan Wallace in Ireland, a post Shaw would some day hold.

What Shaw did know, but paid little attention to, was that he had just committed a crime against the King of England. He was only 19 years old and enjoying an afternoon hunt, but in 1842, the King owned all of the wild game in Ireland and it was a crime, punishable by death, to kill a Royal hare!

The Wallace family was originally Orangemen who came over from Scotland in 1608 to conquer and repopulate England’s, Plantation, Ireland. The battle had been going on for over 200 years and a practical stalemate had finally emerged, with the Protestants dominating Ulster, a northern Province, and the Catholics the southern 3. At the time, the British Government’s first attempt at apartheid was well underway!

Shaw hefted the Hare over his shoulder, loosely carrying the shotgun in his other hand, and began his walk back home. The next thing he knew was, “Hold it right there, you poacher, you’re under arrest. You red headed scum, you think you can kill the King’s game and get away with it”, the Royal Game Warden barked at him! Startled, Shaw backed up, but the Warden said, “Hold it right there! I’m taking you in and within a week you’ll get a taste of the King’s justice, a noose around that thick neck of yours.”

Shaw knew he was in trouble and without thinking, dropped the hare, distracting the Warden, raised the shotgun to hip level and cocked the left barrel in one motion, fired, boom, and knocked the Warden back and down. The smoke cleared and the warden was dead! Not reloading the gun, he picked up the hare and began running home.

His mother, Molly’s, sobs and wailing almost drowned out his father’s calm analysis of the situation. “Boy, we have to get you out of the country fast or else you’ll surely hang” and before Shaw could reply, his father continued, “Up quick, kiss your mother, brothers and sisters goodbye. We’re saddling the horses and heading to Lee Wallace’s warehouse in Derry and going try and get you out of Ireland!”

Lee, Shaw’s uncle, had an import, export business in Derry and was familiar with swift British justice. He recommended putting Shaw in a barrel, marked pickles, and shipping him to the United States, besides he had a Captain friend that was sailing for New Orleans in 2 days, giving Shaw time to get “comfortable” in his barrel. Shaw knew he would likely never see his father, uncle or family again. With teary eyes he hugged each man, told them goodbye and prepared for, what he knew would be a long ordeal.

Two days later, Uncle Lee, with a straight face, paid his friend for shipping the pickles to New Orleans. The hoist groaned lifting the heavy pickle barrel, it was stowed in the forward hold and Shaw was on his way to the “New World”. The ship left on the afternoon tide and by the following afternoon the headlands at Ballygorman were behind them and Shaw could tell from the roll and pitch of the schooner, that now, they were on the open sea and turning around and handing him over to the authorities was out of the question.

The First Mate found him making his escape from his barrel and roughly grabbed him hissing, “A stowaway! I’m a good mind to pitch you over the side.” The man’s strange accent, obviously from the United States, startled him, but Shaw gathered up his courage and said in as strong a voice as he could, “Take me to the Captain!”

The Captain, Captain Allen, proved to be another rough customer with a strange accent and barked at him, “Pickles? You smell like horse droppings. Lee Wallace paid for a barrel of pickles to New Orleans, and what do I get, but a thick necked, red headed, kid.” He added, “You must have killed somebody for them to go to all this trouble sneaking you out?”

Shaw answered, “Yes Sir, Captain Sir, I killed an English Game Warden. It was him or the gallows for me!” Shaw continued, “Uncle Lee paid for shipping pickles, but I’m strong and can work my way across.” “Very well”, Captain Allen closed the discussion, telling the First Mate, “Get him cleaned up and set him to scrubbing the decks.

Turning back, Captain Allen asked, “Boy what’s your name and what will you do in my country?” Shaw stood up straight and said, “Sir, my name is Shaw Wallace, and Uncle Lee said that I should get to The Republic of Texas as soon as I could!” Captain Allen turned and walked away, hiding his smile.

Shaw safely arrived in New Orleans and came on to Texas.

“South Of The Border, Down Mexico Way”

By the spring of 1972, I had found a new salt water fishing paradise, “South of the Border, Down Mexico Way”. The upper end of El Golfo, the Gulf of California, is the final destination of the western Colorado River. The same river that roars through the Grand Canyon meekly trickles into the top end of El Golfo at San Felipe, Mexico. Sixty miles southeast of San Felipe is Puerto Penasco (a tilde should be over the “N”), or Rocky Point as the local Arizonans called it.

Yes, local Arizonans. At the time, around 200 families had established an American colony there centered around, fishing and relaxing. The beach houses were minimum standard, but sufficient for occasional use by their lessors. At the time, Gringos couldn’t own property in Mexico. The two best facilities at Rocky Point were the boat storage area, patrolled by the local police and fenced with concertina wire around the top, and the boat launching equipment.

My boat, at the time, was an eighteen, foot, Falcon Skip Jack, tri hull, with two, sixty horsepower outboards and two internal, twenty four gallon gas tanks. Loaded out it would cruise at twenty-five miles per hour and had a range of a hundred miles. We caught some very nice fish, sea bass, grouper, corvina, snook, bonefish and queen trigger fish. I won a category of a tournament there in 1973, with a ten, pound trigger fish. On top of that, we once saw and came within twenty feet of a fifty, foot whale!

An unusual feature of Rocky Point was the extreme tidal fluctuations caused by its location at the top of El Golfo, which is several hundred miles long and for a large body of water, very narrow, fifty to a hundred miles wide. Tidal pressure going in and out causes wide fluctuations at Rocky Point. I was told the Bay of Fundy, in Nova Scotia, is the only spot in the world with greater tidal fluctuation.

In early March of 1971, after the move to Phoenix, Arizona, I found out what was to be my new saltwater fishing spot. Rocky Point, Mexico, no drugs, no shootings back then, just good ol’ saltwater fishing!