A Cooler Full

On the outskirts of Freeport, Texas, before sun up, we stopped at the only open convenience store we could find and bought some ham, bread and snacks for our offshore trip that morning.  Bob Baugh and I had been planning this mid week trip for almost 2 weeks and finally caught some nice, calm weather; seas 1 to 2, with winds calm to 5 MPH all day.  It would be hot, but what’s new for summer along the Texas Gulf coast?

Bob had just bought a new 20, foot, deep vee, aluminum boat with a 60 horse engine and we were going to christen it for offshore.  It would scream in our bays, but we didn’t know how well it would handle in the Gulf’s swells.

We launched the boat, bought some cigar minnows and headed out of the channel, between the rock jetties and on into the Gulf of Mexico.  Our plan was to fish the near oil, rigs, 12 to 15 miles southwest out of Freeport and, hopefully, load up on some kingfish and maybe, catch a good size ling.

We were the only boat out that morning and the first rig we tied up to was covered up with 10 to 15 pound kings and, in short order, we had 5 in the over size, cooler.  Using speckled trout rigs; 7 foot, popping rods, with 15, pound line spooled on our wide, black reels, when we hooked a king, we would get a sizzling 50 to 75, yard, screaming run. The fights were fun, but Bob wanted to find a rig that held some big ling.

Unhooking from the rig, I asked Bob, “How about a sandwich, a ham, roll over sounds good to me?”  As Bob idled the boat away from the rig, I laid out the bread on top of the big cooler and opened the ham’s container.  Ugh!  What a rancid smell and I quickly threw the spoiled meat overboard!  However, the damage was done and within 5 minutes – mal de mere!  Bob jerked the boat up on top and sped toward the next rig as I held on and tried to concentrate on a rig along the horizon.  Some times this helps, but not this time as I held up a 5, gallon bucket and up came breakfast, I felt bad, as only one can when seasick!

Because I didn’t feel like moving or fishing, Bob hooked us up to the next rig and as I was checking out the horizon, he cast out, and right away, hooked into a nice king.  He subdued the 25, pounder and to get it into the boat, I had to move-move around and gaff it.  Performing my job to Bob’s minimum satisfaction, we iced the king and he said,  “We don’t need anymore of these, let’s go find a ling!”  Wanting to find the shore quickly, I could only reply a green, “OK.”

We pulled up to a nearby rig and Bob did something I’d never seen before, he raised the motor up and gunned it, the propeller made a huge splash and up popped 2 big, ling, probably 80 pounders, the biggest either of us had ever seen!  These fish are extremely curious and the noise and splashing of the motor will sometimes draw them up from within the rig.  When I saw these 2 big guys, lazily coming to the surface, I experienced a miraculous recovery, grabbed a rod and slipped a cigar minnow into the water.

A bruiser moved slowly over to the bait and promptly sucked it in, I set the hook and straight down the fish plowed, the 15 pound line was no match for this giant, and pop, the line snapped.  Bob also snapped, “I told you that light stuff is no match for these big fish!”   My only weak excuse was a claim of seasickness.

Going back to my seasickness, I watched the same splashing tactic at the next rig and sure enough, up floated another big, ling.  Bob said, “Watch this,” as he cast out a cigar minnow on a stout boat rod with, 80, pound line.  The ling slowly swam up to the bait and just hovered there.  Bob jerked the cigar minnow as the ling moved over and inhaled it.

Down, down, down, the line tearing off the heavy reel, the ling was trying to get into the rig and cut him off.  Tightening the drag, he stopped the ling cold and began pumping the rod, getting some line back.  The ling came up much easier than it went down and finished this fight churning the water around the boat.  Miraculously healed, I gaffed the big fish, Bob whacked it on the head and we lifted it up into the cooler.  It was quitting time so we headed on in, loaded up the boat that, by the way, handled very nicely out there and drove on over to Bayou Vista where we cleaned our cooler full of fish.

Not too far out in the Gulf of Mexico, Bob used an old trick to nail this 45 pounder.  The line cut on the fish’s back shows plainly.

We filleted the fish and made sure we gave some to my neighbor.  She was a WW II war bride from France and always made us the best fish soup anywhere!  She and her husband rode out Hurricane Alicia as it passed right over Bayou Vista.  They looked out during the fury of the storm and counted 5 tornados and her husband told me, “That was enough for me!  Right then, we decided that we’d move.”  A month later they moved to Alabama and we never got a chance to get her fish soup recipe.