The period of my life from 1960 to 1964 was spent finishing up my Army Reserve duty, working three jobs and welcoming my first child, Brad. All of this left precious little time for any outdoor activities. However, several times during this period I did have the opportunity to spend a Saturday hunting or fishing in the Trinity River bottoms, between Dayton and Liberty, Texas.
We would enter “The Bottoms”, as we called it, at a remote place near Dayton, at the Kennefic Fire Tower then proceed down seven miles of probably the worst road in the United States. This road was always flooded, mud axel deep on a jeep, deceiving ruts that covered bogs and the home of the largest mosquitoes on the Gulf Coast.
In March of 1964, my dad and I, along with our redneck, friend from Philadelphia, Mississippi, John Henley, braved the bad road with John’s Jeep and hauled a twelve foot aluminum boat into the oxbow lake. Surprisingly, going into “The Bottoms” we only got stuck twice, no problem with a big winch and a lot of cable!
John took out for an afternoon of squirrel hunting, while my dad and I hefted the boat into the lake for a go at some bass. We would meet at twilight to head back to civilization. This oxbow lake was, in reality, an old river channel that always had water in it but the depth varied according to rain and subsequent flooding of the Trinity River. The river hadn’t flooded this year so the lake was down a little.
We both were “armed” with six foot, bait casting rods and red, casting reels loaded with fifteen, pound line. My bait of choice was a yellow, Piggy Boat spinner and my dad was using one of his favorites, a Pico Perch, a swimming bait with a tantalizing wiggling action. The action was hot and heavy and during our afternoons fishing, I don’t believe we changed our lures one time!
After we launched the boat, for silences sake before casting, we paddled up the lake for a hundred yards. My first cast was met with a solid strike and the fish, a two-pound, bass, took to the air, spending more time jumping than in the water. Dad’s second cast was a duplicate of mine, so within five minutes, we had already boated two bass! The bass kept hitting and within an hour we had a good mess for supper and started culling the fish, only keeping the good ones. Several times during the afternoon we heard John’s .22 crack, so we knew that he too was scoring on some squirrels.
Casting into a likely spot, just as the spinner hit the surface, I had a savage strike, but didn’t get the hooks set. My Dad sped up his retrieve so he could cast into the likely spot, but with the change of pace of his retrieve, he had a big strike too. Feeling the hooks, the fish, a three- foot, alligator gar, went airborne immediately! Several short runs and five or six jumps later the gar tired and as my Dad kept the pressure on, I was able to grab it behind the head. Long nose pliers made getting the Pico Perch out of the gars mouth easy, but looking at the teeth, I couldn’t do it fast enough!
As the afternoon wore down, we started rowing back to the Jeep, casting to fishey looking spots. Dad had a heavy strike and unlike the bass and gar, the fish didn’t take to the air. It made a long run down the middle of the channel, we both wondered, what kind of fish was this? My Dad said, “This ones fighting like a red or a big drum!” Another long run and a wallow at the boat only told us that it was a big fish. Neither one of us could identify it. As the fish tired, Daddy grabbed it by the lower jaw, or lip, and held on, we still couldn’t identify the fish, so we guessed a fresh water drum. The long noses pliers helped to retrieve his lure, we slipped a stringer through both lips and then tied it down.
Back at the Jeep, John correctly identified it as a buffalo, Ictiobus bubalus and said that they were quite bony, so we threw it back. (No, he didn’t know the scientific name.) Before we released the buffalo, we weighed it and it pulled the hand scales down to the max, twelve pounds. The fish must have weighed fifteen or better?
We had a good mess of bass, good memories of the gar and buffalo, and John had a bag full of “tree rats”, so this afternoon’s fishing/hunting trip could be called a success, however, the drive out still awaited us! It was “a piece of cake”, we only got stuck three times and winching out in the dark wasn’t so bad after all!