August 1945 saw the end of WW II, and by the summer of 1946, military surplus stores were thriving. Eliminating the middleman, one of my industrious uncles, Austin Bryan, U. S. Navy Sea Bee, had come across a two man, inflatable life raft that had been “lost” from a Catalina flying boat. It was unused so Uncle Austin made a plywood box for it and shipped it back to the ‘States, to his brother, my Dad. We now had a “fishing boat” and me, being young, thought pumping it up was neat.
Our first trip was with our neighbor, Dave Miller, another WW II veteran and former student at Texas A & M College (now University) and his son Benny, to an oxbow lake off of the Brazos River, south of Richmond, Texas. This was a very “private” lake being on a large State Prison Farm.
Another uncle of mine, A. C. Turner, Uncle Ace, had returned from the war and was back working for the Texas Prison System and had arranged for us to fish on this lake. He was Rehabilitation Director and, at that time, the Texas Prison System was self sufficient and profitable. Drugs, illegal immigration and our Federal Courts have that! Uncle Ace went on to become Warden of The Walls unit in Huntsville, then to the State Parole Board, rising to its President.
We drove to the lake, inflated the boat and then “took turns” fishing out of the life raft. Benny and I went first and learned quickly the art of paddling a life raft. Our first attempt resulted in an inglorious circle! Our fishing results were better, several small bass, which we put on a communal stringer and then headed to shore and turned the raft over to our Dads.
Left on the bank while our Dads were working on the bass, Benny and I caught some grasshoppers and went to bait fishing for bream and perch. Not much wind, a real nice afternoon and we noticed a snag drifting near our spot. It drifted up and stopped and quit drifting. Being 9 and 11 years old we thought nothing about it and kept fishing.
Our Dads were headed back our way with a couple of more bass on the communal stringer and Dave yelled to us, “What’s that in the water out from you?” Being young we answered, “Where?” My Dad said, “Boys, watch where I cast,” as he cast a wooden, Lucky 13 plug, toward us and across our “snag”.
He twitched his rod tip and reeled one turn at a time, “walking the dog” back over the “snag”. The water exploded and a big, it seemed five or six foot long, alligator, our “snag”, cleared the water in a twisting, mouth open, teeth showing jump, made a great splash as it returned and then took off, at top speed, pulling the life raft behind it.
My dad’s Calcutta rod was dangerously bent. He was yelling to high heaven because the “gator was stripping the line from his reel and his only means of trying to stop the ‘gator’s run, was to apply thumb pressure to the reel’s spool. Hence a blistered thumb!
The ‘gator jumped again, the plug pulled loose and came flying back toward my Dad and, a ducking Dave and settled on the water behind them. “Whoopee” exclaimed Dave, followed by a “damn” from my Dad, as both anglers paddled back toward us.
Laughingly, my Dad told us “ ‘gators like to eat little boys if they can catch one and this one was sizing both you all up for a dinner.” Silently we packed up the raft in its plywood box and we did not enjoy his attempt at humor!
In a picture box display, in the main hall of my ranch house, are all of my Dad’s old fishing plugs, including the tooth scarred, wooden, Lucky 13 that he “walked” over the ‘gator.