In 1970, the spring and early summer fishing for speckled trout had been as good as it gets. I had set a new personal record with a 7-1/4, pounder, caught just out from Greens Cut. The big speck is pictured below.
We had not had a damaging freeze on the coast for 16 years and game fish and baitfish stocks were at record highs. Weather permitting, the Galveston Jetties were loaded with keepers, the weather had cooperated and our freezers were already full of filets.
Having received another promotion with the large computer company and with that had purchased a beach house at Jamaica Beach, ten miles west from the end of the Galveston Sea Wall. Launching at Jamaica Beach I was now five to ten minutes from some great bay fishing spots; Green’s Cut, the Wreck, Confederate Reef and North and South Deer Islands. My favorite South Jetty spot was only thirty minutes by boat.
My son Brad was nine years old and had been fishing with me for the past two years. He was fun to take along, could bait his own hook and never grumbled about getting up early or cleaning up the boat and tackle. My uncle, and his great uncle, Alvin Pyland, Unkie, and I had planned a trip on a Friday morning to sample some of the great trout action, under the birds, on the east side of the Galveston causeway. Below is Unkie with 2 nice specks!
This area, ten or twelve square miles, bounded on the east by the Texas City dike and Pelican Island, on the south by Galveston Island, on the north by the mainland and west by the causeway, had been a consistent producer all spring. Telling Unkie to be at The Pleasure Island Bait Camp, our bay fishing headquarters, at 7:30 AM and be ready to fish. Brad and I had the boat in the water at the Jamaica Beach launch ramp by 7:00 AM and started our 15 minute trip to the Pleasure Island Bait Camp. Noticing storm clouds in the Gulf south of Galveston Island, rain was coming, what’s so different about that?
After picking Unkie up at the bait camp, buying a quart of shrimp, we headed out to find the birds. Trout feeding on shrimp push the shrimp to the surface, where sea gulls see the disturbance, and always looking for a free meal, the gulls literally swarm over the shrimp and feeding trout. This is fast and furious action, trout are “jerked” into the boat without using a net, and many times we would use artificial baits rather than taking time to re-bait the hook.
Seeing several groups of birds in the distance, we sped toward the nearest ones and began a morning of catching specs as fast as we could, and a morning of, we did not know then, high adventure. We noticed the storms I had seen earlier had moved almost to the Island and storm clouds were gathering north of us over Hitchcock and Texas City. Being in the bay, in a 17, foot, deep vee, boat, we felt secure since we were but a short run back to the Pleasure Island Bait Camp. Then the southern storm moved onto the Island, and we found out later that it dropped ten inches of rain there, and shortly, most of that fell on us.
We kept fishing and catching specks, the northern storms getting closer. We paused to look at the storms and noticed they both seemed to stop right at the edge of the bay. Storms north and south of us, and birds working, we started back fishing. I have since learned to not tempt Mother Nature.
All of a sudden a large electrical storm, lightning popping all along its front edge, filled the gap between our northern and southern storms, barreling east, right down the bay and right toward us. We were one mile east of the Causeway and the new storm was about two miles west of it. Plenty of time left, keep fishing!
Craak! Boom! Lightning hit the channel marker not 300 yards from us and Unkie uttered his infamous remark, “Looks like I’ve got time for one more cast.”
He casts out and hooked a nice one, which we took valuable time to land. During the fight with the fish, I got Brad’s life jacket on him and donned one myself. Craak! Boom! Another bolt hit a channel marker not 150 yards from us. “Let’s get going,” I yelled as the rain started to batter us
Really getting pounded by the storm, we noticed we couldn’t head back to the bait camp. There was almost a solid wall of lightning between us and the camp, and the storm was still heading our way. Full speed ahead to the northeast, our only partially open choice. Northeast of us lied the Texas City Dike, a nine mile, red granite wall built out into Galveston Bay (this was some of the last granite mined at Marble Falls, Texas). Its purpose was to smooth the bay waters for the Texas City harbor and channel, however, and I repeat, however, we were heading in on the rough side! The wind hit us now, the waves building up, all working to slow our speed. We barely kept ahead of the lightning, and the rain was awful!
We keep heading northeast and kept getting pounded by the storm, wind, rain and four- foot waves, which are huge for the bay and the distance between the wave crests was probably only ten feet. Very rough! Wave tops in the Gulf in four-foot seas are 24 to 27 feet apart, but lots of up and down for us, and luckily the drain plugs in the boat did their job. At least we didn’t swamp. Looking down, I thought Brad likes this and glancing over at Unkie, he doesn’t have a care in the world, however I was scared to death!
Plowing on through the rough water, we finally spotted the dike and could make out a bait camp on our side and headed straight for it. Closing in on the dike, I anchored the boat with the bow pointing into the storm, which has slacked off some. We got out of the boat and waded to the dike and some smart aleck on the dike said, “Kinda rough, wasn’t it?” If not for my nine, year old son, there would have been fisticuffs!
No cell phones then, so I went into the bait camp and called my ex-wife in Jamica Beach to tell her of our ordeal and ask to bring my car and boat trailer so we could get back to Unkies car. It had rained ten inches in Galveston and everything was flooded, she’s stranded out on the Island and couldn’t get into town. We’re stranded on the Texas City Dike and can’t get out and the storm was now picking up in intensity!
All I could do is call a cab, leave Brad and Unkie to watch the boat and go slowly through the water, back through Galveston (city of) to Jamaica Beach, pick up my car and trailer and drive them back over here and get the boat. At least the fish had ice on them.
Sometimes I am a slow learner!