The Spring Run 1978

Winter was loosening its grip on the mid Georgia area, the dogwood trees were blooming, a sure sign of spring, and farther south, along the Florida coast, the fishing was warming up too! Stories of some fantastic catches had reached us all the way up in Atlanta and one of my friends, Jerry O’Neil, owned a condo in Destin, Florida and he invited me to bring my boat, and my ex-wife, down and we’d try and get in on the early run of king mackerel.

We, my ex and I, left Atlanta early in the morning and driving south we ran into spring just before we crossed under I-10 and everything really greened up the closer we got to Destin.  We arrived, unloaded the truck at the condo and then drove to the launch ramp.  There we launched the boat, bought some bait, cigar minnows, and cruised out under the bridge, into the Gulf of Mexico.  After about 2 miles, we put out 3 lines.  Our baits were colored jigs, because these fish had teeth they were attached to wire leaders with good sized, hooks, with a cigar minnow threaded on to the hook.  Our tackle was medium weight, rods, heavy duty red reels, reels, loaded with 20, pound line.

Trolling at 1,000 RPM’s, not over 30 minutes after we had started, simultaneously we had strikes.   Each of us grabbed a rod, set to enjoy the kings first blazing run, but as the king struck my exe’s bait, before it took off, it arced up out of the water.  Kings jump like this occasionally, their eyes being above their mid line, they lay in wait for prey, looking up, many feet below the surface, then attack the bait with force on an upward angle and their momentum carries them above the surface in spectacular leaps, but once they have the bait, off they go!

Both fish, 12 pounders, quickly succumbed to the rods pressure, we gaffed and boxed them, rebaited and resumed trolling.  Another strike, this time, no acrobatics, just a long run, then a couple of short ones, then into the box.  We caught 2 more kings all were smokers, not over 15 pounds and as the sun was going down, the wind, now cooler, started blowing a little harder.  Our jackets felt good as we picked up the lines and headed back in.

Not a bad haul for just under, 3 hours of fishing and once ashore, I cleaned the kings, filleting one and taking care to completely cut out the bloodline.  We cooked the fillets that night with crab boil and surprisingly they tasted like lobster.

We went to bed thinking that according to tomorrow’s weather forecast, Saturday would be a great day to fish, but, as usually happens, when we got up the next morning, we were greeted by winds howling over 20 and white caps stretching out to the horizon.  Unfavorable conditions for an 18, foot boat, our fishing day was cut short, so we headed back north, but, at least, we caught some fish.

Growing Up – First Trip Offshore 1952

During the summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school, 1952, one of my friends, Walter, invited me on a two day, one night fishing trip out into the Gulf of Mexico.  His dad was taking his boat out and I was asked to come along.  This was a “huge deal” for me, my dad thought it was a great idea, my mom worried that I’d be lost at sea, but my dad prevailed and off we went the following Friday morning to meet Walter and his dad at the Houston Yacht Club.

Formalities behind us, we loaded their forty-five foot Mathews, cruiser with provisions for the trip and chugged out into Galveston Bay.  The plan was to motor down the bay in the Houston Ship Channel and just past Texas City turn right at the Intercoastal Waterway, then head west to Freeport and anchor for the night in New River.  The next morning we’d head out into the Gulf, troll back to Galveston, then head up the Ship Channel and arrive back at the Yacht Club.  This was over a hundred mile trip, would take us two full days and for the time, 1952, a real adventure!

A little history about the New River, in 1929 New River was completed and is a channelized mouth for the Brazos River.  Over the years, commerce in the Freeport/Velasco area was damaged almost yearly by floods raging down the river, then the summer hurricanes would bring their flooding rain, so by 1929 the river was diverted to a new channel – New River, and the Port of Freeport has flourished since then, rising to sixteenth in tonnage for the U.S.

Just before nightfall, we pulled into the New River, anchored and prepared supper.  Walter and I put our lines out, baited with dead shrimp and began catching, hard heads, salt water catfish.  Not our main targets for the trip but these were big ones, two pounders and kept us busy ‘till bedtime.

Up with the sun, we headed down New River and entered the Gulf for our trip back.  As soon as we entered the Gulf we put out two lines, one with a red jig and one with a green one.  We were just out of sight of land, trolling along and I was sitting up on a cooler, dozing and ZZZZZ, the clicker on my reel let out a squawk as the fish pulled line off.  Grabbing my rod all I could do was hold on as the fish made its first run.  Soon the pressure of the rod and reel’s drag allowed me to get the fish up to the boat and Walter identified it as a kingfish, the first of the hundreds that I caught in my fishing life.

Before we iced the king, I admired it and stroked the shiny sides and Walter told me they were good to eat, especially when grilled.  We plowed on through the Gulf, more nodding and dozing, then another ZZZZZ, another reel let out a squawk, mine again.  Another long run and an unyielding fight all the way to the gaff, my second king, that proved to be the last one of the trip.

We continued eastward, soon on the horizon we saw the old light house at the end of Galveston’s South Jetty, shortly we turned into the Ship Channel and headed north back to the Yacht Club.  What I didn’t know then; what good navigation without Loran or no GPS, what dependable equipment, what a trip, what an exposure to offshore fishing, wow! And, me being only 15, wow!

When I got back home, my mom and dad admired the fish and with no freezer we really didn’t have a way to keep the second one, so we gave it to our neighbor, Dub.  The next night we had a small party in our back yard, steaks and the feature of the night, grilled kingfish.  Not knowing how to prepare kings, we filleted both sides of the fish, but we didn’t skin it, nor did we cut out the bloodline.  The fish was tasty, but when we touched the bloodline, whew, it was uneatable.  We correctly figured, that cleaning kings you should take off the skin, remove the bloodline, then grill the strips.  You live and learn!

Decoration 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?

Whatever Floats Your Boat

During the spring of 1994, Carl Parkinson and I had been out to the Galveston Jetties trying to catch some gulf trout, white trout or sand trout, Cynoscion arenarius, and after filling up our 88, quart cooler with the early arrivals, were cruising back in. We headed back through Galveston harbor, under the bridge to Pelican Island and followed the channel out to the Intercoastal Waterway, when we thought we’d see if any speckled trout were around Swan Lake.

Cutting across the bay, as we approached Swan Lake, we saw, what appeared to be a boat up close to the bank.  The closer we came to the boat, we saw a woman sitting in it and we saw that a man was pulling it with a rope.  Pulling up to the boat, we saw that the man was a friend of ours, Danny Bourgeois, not only a friend but he was one of my employees and one of Carl’s coworkers!

Speaking to Danny’s wife and almost shouting over the motor’s idling, I asked, “Danny, what in the world are you doing pulling the boat?”  His response was what we expected from someone from south Louisiana, “It broke down back along the Intercoastal, the float stuck closed, I couldn’t fix it and was pulling it back to the launch ramp,” and he’d already pulled the boat almost two miles!  This particular ramp was between the railroad bridge and the Galveston Causeway, over a mile away, as the crow pulled!

Offering Danny a motorized pull back to the ramp, he declined our offer and said, “It’s no problem me pulling the boat back because the water’s shallow, not over 3 feet deep and we don’t have anything else to do this afternoon.”  “Danny, do you want us to go on to the ramp and wait and help you load the boat,” I asked and “No thanks I can handle it,” he replied?

This story really happened, but you had to know Danny, if he couldn’t fix it, he wasn’t going to let the motor beat him, he’d just pull it back in, then fix it!  Pulling away, we weren’t surprised at his refusal of aid, anyway, one time a real smart guy said, “Whatever floats your boat!”