Category Archives: Fishing

Roughing It

During the summer of 1973, Jack Schlindler and I, and our families, were invited to spend a weekend at a 100 acre private lake in Central Arizona, just below Thumb Butte. We hitched his original Skeeter Bass Boat with a 55 HP motor, our tackle and our water skis, yes water skis, on to my 1973 Dodge Power Wagon and eagerly accepted the invitation.

North on Interstate 17, left at Bumble Bee, on through Prescott, until just below ThumbButte and, as it was getting dark, we arrived at our destination, a beautiful man made lake with sumptuous accommodations. Putting the boat into the water, we had just enough time for a quick “fish” in the lake. Several casts later, each of us had a nice Bass up to the boat, each fish falling for a yellow Piggy Boat. I had brought an ample supply of them from Texas.
Our accommodations were wonderful, but the hit of the evening were the rib eye steaks cooked outside over mesquite coals, potatoes wrapped in foil and cooked in the coals and fresh, home grown tomatoes, yummm!


For Jack and I it was early to bed, with visions of fat Bass in our heads.

We’re up early and on the water before the sun came up. We head across the lake to a vertical cliff that formed the south side of the lake and pull up within casting distance and let fly with two yellow, Piggy Boats, smack, into the rocks. Both baits flutter down the steep sides and both of us are rewarded with solid strikes and our day’s aerial circus begins.

Mixed in with our catch that morning were some nice sized Blue Gills. I think they are as good to eat as White Perch. When I eat Blue Gills I always think of my Uncle, A.J. Peters, smiling, while he was eating one and saying, “Fry them up real crisp and eat bones and all!”

After a couple of quick sandwiches, Jack and I, and our kids, hit the water and his original Skeeter, flat bottomed, Bass boat with a 55hp Johnson, does yeoman service as a “ski boat”. We ski for several hours and the kids want to continue their exploring so off they go with a mandatory “Be careful!”, from us.

We had caught so many fish that morning, Jack and I decided to only fish the last 30 minutes before dark and repeating the process, cast on to the rocks and let the Piggy Boat flutter down and wait for a strike. We added another mess of Bass and Blue Gills to our Igloo cooler and “had” to hurry back and get the grease hot and start frying up some fresh caught fish.

This roughing it is tough!

We Ate the State Record

In January of 1971, I was promoted to Phoenix, Arizona to be Sales Manager in charge of all new business. The first months were spent missing the Gulf Coast, then a one month bout of Aisian Flu and then, whatever else time I had getting into my new job.

Shortly after the Asian Flu, I met Jack Schlindler and he became my hunting and fishing companion for the next fifteen years.,

Jack was from East Texas, and grew up hunting and fishing in Texas’ great piney woods. He was also a Mechanical Engineering graduate from Texas A & M College (now University). Jack hung the dubious nickname of “Beechnut”, or “Beech”, on me because I chewed Beechnut Chewing Tobacco.

We had many adventures, some spine tingling, like when I slipped and fell/slid fifty feet down a two hundred foot canyon wall at the Black River. As I was sliding down, something inside told me to flatten out and spread my arms and legs to slow my fall. This saved my life! By lying flat and “scroochin” up inches at a time I finally got to where Jack could reach me and pull me up and out of my fix.

Some were funny, like the time when we were chasing a large covey of Gambel quail, on the slopes of Sombrero Peak, in the Tonto Basin and I climbed over a six-foot, barbed wire fence and “caught “ myself and was hanging upside down for what seemed like an eternity until Jack came up and said, “Beech”, you hung up.” After we had a good laugh, he got me down OK.

Or the thrill of training my own Brittany Spaniel pup, Beechnut’s Rooster Cogburn, or “Rooster”, as he was affectionately known, and watching him get his first point on a covey of wild Gambel Quail and shooting two out of the covey for him. And overall, some of the best White wing and Morning Dove shooting, and some of the best Gambel and Mearns Quail hunting on this planet!

Since we were both fishermen, our first adventures were several trips to Lake Pleasant, at the time a twenty-minute trip up Interstate Seventeen, north of Phoenix. Now the town has almost surrounded the lake.

At that particular time, the spring of 1972, Jack had an original Skeeter Bass Boat with a fifty-five horsepower Johnson, three cylinder, outboard engine. It was an early model of the Skeeter with a flat bottom and, of all things, stick steering, not a steering wheel. If I remember right you pushed the stick forward to go to the port (left) side and pulled back to go to the starboard (right) side. But, it served our purposes.

We would put in at the State launch ramp at the lake and head straight for the dam and try to fish inside the restraining cables. . The dam had a watchman, or “Troll” as we called him. We never met him but ALMOST became friends with him, because he ran us off from inside the restraining cables so many times. He must not have been a fisherman. Until the “Troll” would run us off, we would cast up on the dam and bounce our special multiple jigs back down its side, awaiting a strike from a White Bass

White Bass in Arizona you say? Yes, years before, Texas had traded millions of White Bass fingerlings to Arizona for a large number of Rio Grande Turkeys. Texas repopulated the state with the Turkeys and Arizona created a great fishery for White Bass at Lake Pleasant.

This particular trip was on a beautiful desert morning, clear, no wind, and for a while we were the only ones fishing around the dam. I asked, “Do you see the ‘Troll’,” “No Troll’ in sight,” Jack replied, so under the restraining cable we went. After several casts I had a strike with some “weight” behind it. Must be a catfish I thought. It made a nice run, more like a Red Fish, then swirled the top of the water and took off again. Soon we lipped it and swung into the boat, the biggest White Bass ever, maybe. We estimated it was seven pounds or more. What a fish. Onto the stringer it went, and back to casting.

Catching one more fish, much smaller, out comes the “Troll”. “You boys get behind the restraining line, OK.” His first warning was always nice. We waved to him and kept fishing. “Behind the restraining line!” More firm. We waved and kept fishing. He was beginning to annoy us. “Move that blankety-blank boat or I’m going to give you a blankety-blank ticket”. It was time to leave, so we started up and headed out into the lake and noticed a fisherman in a boat right up to the restraining line laughing at our encounter with the “Troll”. He says, “I saw you caught a nice one, let me see it.” We showed him and said we thought it would weigh seven pounds or more. “Real nice,” he said as we motored off. We took both White Bass home and ate them.

Several months later I get a call from Jack and he says, “You remember that big White Bass you caught out at ‘Unpleasant’,” our new name for the lake. I said, “Sure do, it ate real good!” He went on to tell me that the fisherman we showed the fish to was a local outdoor writer for the Arizona Republic, and of all things, he wrote and was published in “Sports Afield” an article about the White Bass fishing in Lake Pleasant, and most embarrassing, about two Texas boys who caught a monster White Bass, easily a new state record, didn’t register it with the state, but like all good “meat” fishermen, took it home ate it.

Always remember, that if records interest you, most times the state will keep the fish, and you can’t eat it

One More Cast

In 1970, the spring and early summer fishing for Trout had been as good as it gets. I had set a new personal record with a seven pound trout caught just out from Greens Cut.

We had not had a damaging freeze on the coast for sixteen years and game fish and bait fish 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.

I had 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 eight years old and had been fishing with me for the past two years. He was fun to take along, he could bait his own hook and never grumbled about getting up early or cleaning 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.

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. I told 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 by 7:00 AM at the Jamica Beach launch ramp and started our fifteen minute trip to Pleasure Island Bait Camp. I noticed storm clouds in the Gulf south of Galveston Island. Rain coming. What’s different about that?

After picking Unkie up at the bait camp and buying one 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 speed toward the nearest ones and begin a morning of catching Trout as fast as we can, 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 seventeen foot, deep vee, Lamar 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 Trout, the northern storms getting closer. We paused to look at them 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, heading east, right down the bay and right toward us. We were one mile east of the Causeway and it was about one mile west of it. Plenty of time, keep fishing.

Craak! Boom! Lightning hits a channel marker not three hundred yards from us and Unkie utters his infamous remark, “I’ve got time for one more cast.” He casts and hooks a nice one, which we take valuable time to land. During his fight with the fish I get Brad’s life jacket on him and don one myself. Craak! Boom! Another bolt hits a channel marker not one hundred and fifty yards from us. “Let’s get going,” I yell as the rain starts to batter us.

Really getting pounded by the storm, we notice we can’t head back to the bait camp. Almost a solid wall of lightning between us and the camp, and the storm is still heading our way. Full speed ahead to the northeast, our only partially open choice. Northeast of us lies 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 is to smooth the bay waters for the Texas City harbor and channel, however, and I repeat, however, we are heading in on the rough side! The wind hits us now, the waves building up, all working to slow our speed. We barely keep ahead of the lightning, but the rain is awful!

We keep heading northeast and keep getting pounded by the storm, wind, rain and four- foot waves, which are huge for the bay and the distance between the wave crests is probably only ten feet. Very rough! Wave tops in the Gulf are twenty-four to twenty-seven feet apart in four-foot seas. Lots of up and down for us, and luckily the drain plugs in the boat do their job. At least we don’t swamp. Looking down, I think Brad likes this and glancing over at Unkie, he doesn’t have a care in the world. I’m scared to death!

Plowing on through the rough water, we finally spot the dike and can make out a bait camp on our side and head straight for it. Closing on the dike, I anchor the boat with the bow pointing into the storm, which has slacked off some. We get out of the boat and wade to the shore/dike and some smart aleck on the dike says, “Kinda rough, wasn’t it?”

An Igloo Full Of Keepers

In the spring of 1966, severe floods over the Trinity and San Jacinto Rivers and the head waters of Buffalo Bayou had flushed out Galveston Bay. The bay water was fresh and muddy and almost all of the bait fish had left and taken up residence at the jetties and along the beach front, quickly followed by the Trout, Red Fish and Flounders. This presented a real opportunity to catch some fish.

Four of the Igloo full of Specs we caught.

This particular day, Wednesday, May 3, 1966, my Dad, being retired, and I, had decided to sneak off early in the morning, fish our South Jetty spot and be back in town by 10:00 AM so I could make some afternoon appointments.

We bought one quart of shrimp and put it in the internal bait well on the new, 16ft Falcon, then put the boat in at Bobby Wilson’s Bait Camp and sped at thirty-five miles per hour around the East Beach Flats, no more wading for us (only if it is too rough to get around the end of the South Jetty). No problem today since the wind was blowing lightly out of the north- east.

Just after sunrise we motored up and slipped up close to the Jetty, quietly dropping the anchor and letting out line. The anchor caught and we looked up and down the jetty, we were the only boat out. We ended up thirty-five or forty feet from the rocks, in ten feet of water. The depth dropped from zero to ten feet in forty feet! The tide was flowing to our left toward the beach. It is funny that when the tide is flowing out of the channel you get a reverse effect on the Gulf side of both jetties. Bait fish were crowded against the rocks. We knew the Trout were here.

Daddy had a new, red Ambassadeur 5000 reel with fifteen pound line, mounted on a six and a half foot fiberglass “popping” rod. Just the right tackle. I was armed with a Mitchell 300 spinning reel, ten pound line and a semi-stiff, six and a half foot spinning rod. Ok unless I pick up a big Red or Jackfish. We were free shrimping with a BB size split shot attached about ten inches above a small, treble hook. Trout poison! For the record we had two coolers, a foam one for food and drinks and a new forty-eight quart Igloo for the fish. Funny thing, at that time, Igloo was one of my customers.

We baited up and cast toward the rocks, dragging the shrimp slowly along the drop off and whamo, whamo, we are both into two very nice fish. We began the “Jetty Shuffle”, which is circling around the boat, passing rods under each other to prevent tangling, all while keeping pressure on the fish. We netted both fish in the same landing net, removed the hooks and placed them in the new forty-eight quart Igloo cooler. The fish were identical, twenty-six inches long with their tails curling up the side of the cooler. We shook hands, baited up and cast out and whamo, whamo, two more nice fish! We repeated this over and over until we had the new, forty-eight quart Igloo cooler full to the top with a minimum of ice left in it. Twenty-nine Specs’, all twenty-six or twenty-seven inches long, almost two hundred pounds of fish. All of this in less than two hours!

Looking up, I see Wes Thomas, another “jetty pro”, and one of my old college and baseball playing buddies, pulling up slowly outside of us. I yelled across the water, “Wes, our cooler is full so let me pull up the anchor and you all ease in here and you can catch some fish.”

I saw in the next days Houston Chronicle that Bob Brister, the OutdoorEditor, wrote that the “jetty pros” hammered the trout at the NORTH Jetty. Funny, I guess he really could keep a secret.

Just gutting the fish, we got back to Houston well before 10:00 AM and sold most of the fish for over $100. My afternoon appointments were no problem.

My “special” spot is still there and still a fish haven, less than a mile in from the end of the Gulf side of Galveston’s South Jetty. I have caught a whole lot of fish in my life from Florida, to the Gulf of California, to Hawaii, but no day equals the quantity and size, or the fast, furious action that Daddy and I had on May 3, 1966.

A New Way To Fish

From 1966 to 1970 Bart Paxon and I were members of an “exclusive” hunting and fishing club south of Danbury, Texas. The club catered to Duck hunters, but allowed fishing and frogging when it didn’t conflict with the hunting. The club offered a nice air conditioned and heated lodge that slept twelve, a complete kitchen, including a cook during Duck season, game cleaning facilities and six, flat bottomed, aluminum boats and, on top of all of that, family members could use the facility for fishing, etc. without the member being present.

Besides the camp house and one hundred acres of woods, the club consisted of three lakes, rice field reservoirs, of about twenty acres each. A deep channel was cut all around a square impoundment with the excavated dirt piled up to form a type of dam, with about ten feet of shallow water along the dam’s inside, before the excavated channel dropped off to about six feet of water. The channel, the only structure in the lake, was approximately thirty feet wide, sloping up to a large, shallow flat, two feet deep, which covered the center of the lake. The lakes were over twenty years old and had excellent aquatic vegetation flourishing in and around them. Plenty of snakes but, strangely, no Alligators

My Dad was retired and his fishing companion many days was Brad, his Grandson and my Son. Brad was five or six at the time but loved fishing with his “Poppy”. I was meeting them down there one Friday afternoon and my Dad and Brad went down early. When they arrived, the owner was draining one of the three reservoirs to clean out the channels and increase it holding capacity. The lake was down to only a square channel of twenty feet, or so, wide, behind the dam.

My Dad had told stories about low water conditions and pounding something against the bottom of a floating boat, creating vibrations under the water, causing the fish to jump in the air, some falling back into the boat. Hookless fishing! I have seen salt water Mullet become excited and jump into a boat, especially at night, when flounder gigging, in shallow water.

Launching a boat into the channel, he and Brad, climbed in and while Poppy paddled, Brad smacked the bottom of the boat and the fish started jumping in. Brad was excited and laughing at the sight of the fish landing and flopping in the boat. Most of the fish were thrown into one of the adjoining lakes but Poppy kept three for supper that night.

I had gotten down to the club in time to take this picture that clearly shows the low water channel behind my Dad and Brad. One of the two adjoining lakes is visible in the background.

As soon as the picture was taken, Brad began jumping up and down wanting me to take him fishing and see the Bass jumping into the boat. I did, and we quickly “caught” six more Bass in the boat and put them in one of the other lakes.

What if a four or five foot Alligator Gar had jumped into the boat?

A First Time For Everything

By the summer of 1946, WW II had ended the previous August and gas rationing had gone away. We celebrated these events by taking a trip to visit my Aunt Lenora and Uncle Pete and their two kids in Temple, Texas. I was excited to see the family, but really excited because Uncle Pete told me that he was going to take me fishing in his boat. Never having fished from a real boat I was wound up tight for the visit.

At the time, Uncle Pete, A.J. Peters, had a Texaco Service Station in Temple and I remember he had a trophy in the station for having the number one Texaco Station in the country. How could a station in Temple be number one? Easy, Ft Hood, with about 50,000 troops stationed there, was about thirty miles away and anyone leaving the post heading east would stop at his station and gas up for around $.15 per gallon, get their tires checked and their windshield washed, all for no charge. Everyone smiled and spoke English then.

The fishing day dawned, but then I learned that Uncle Pete had to work until noon and we would go fishing after that. Eating a quick lunch we, Uncle Pete, my Dad and I loaded up the car and headed out to, I thought, the Temple Country Club Lake, but before we went fishing, I was to encounter another first. We had to go seine some bait and Uncle Pete said the Leon River, southwest of town would be the best place.

Having never seined for bait, or anything else, I assumed I would get to watch, but as we unloaded the net, Uncle Pete told me to wade out into the water for about two feet and try to push the pole into the bottom of the river and hold it there and that he and my Dad would take the other end and make a sweep into the river and when they came even with me I should slide the net up onto the bank.

Following orders to the letter and sliding the net up on the bank, I looked down and the net was teaming with small fish and minnows. Drying off and putting a copious amount of bait into the bait can, we loaded into the car and headed to the Country Club Lake.

Uncle Pete’s boat was in a boathouse and the twelve foot wooden boat looked huge to me. I was assigned to the middle seat by the bait well and was delighted to be going fishing, but as we pushed out, my Dad said, “Boy, put those oars into the sockets and start rowing across the lake toward those trees down in the water.” Another first for me as Uncle Pete nodded his concurrence and I huffed across the lake.

We anchored just out from the trees down in the water and I was handed a five foot metal casting rod with a Shakespeare Criterion reel attached. I knew how to cast and bait up so I was soon fishing and my cork went straight down toward the bottom! Rearing back for all I was worth, while holding my thumb against the spool (no drag on this reel), the hook pulled out and went flying above us, and, hook, line and sinker, settled down on my shoulders.

“Boy, watch what you’re doing. Don’t horse these fish,” my Dad exclaimed and Uncle Pete said, “Here son, let me show you how to set the hook on these fish.” My Dad and Uncle Pete then explained to me that the White Perch, or “Crappie”, we were fishing for had “soft” mouths and just to exert a firm upward pressure on the rod and the fish would hook himself. A lesson learned for me that I have followed all my life!

We probably caught a dozen, nice Crappie and as we called it a day, I “got” to row back across the lake. We took the fish to a cleaning table and Uncle Pete handed me a de-scaling tool and said, “Son, get to scraping the fish and I will gut them.” Another first.

When we got home the grease was hot and the fish were quickly fried, some were done extra crisp for Uncle Pete and he made short order of them. My Dad asked him, “A.J. how can you eat bones, fins and all?” He answered, smiling at my Dad, “Fry ‘em crisp and they go down easy!”

Not a bad day for me, four firsts and a life long lesson learned.

‘Gator Bait

World War II had ended in August, 1945 and by the summer of 1946, military surplus stores were thriving. Eliminating the middleman, one of my industrious Uncles, Austin Bryan, who was in the U. S. Navy Sea Bees had come across a two man, inflatable life raft. This one was “lost” from a Catalina flying boat. It had never been used 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, a 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 even showed a profit. Drugs, illegal immigration and our Federal Courts fixed that! Uncle Ace went on to become Warden of The Walls unit in Huntsville, then to the State Parole Board, rising to its President.

This was my second trip to a Prison Farm. Here, on the Brazos River, the inmates seemed happy and waved and spoke to us. My first was to the German Concentration Camp in Temple, now the site of the V. A. Hospital. These were “hard” guys, Afrika Corps troopers. They were sullen and took immense glee that when a plane flew over them, they would raise their shovels and rakes and pretend to shoot at it, then congratulate themselves on a “hit”!

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 our communal stringer and we headed to the 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 of it and kept fishing.

Our Dads were headed back our way with a couple of more Bass on the communal stringer and Dave Miller 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” and the water exploded and a big, it seemed five or six foot long, Alligator, our “snag”, clears the water in a twisting, mouth open, teeth showing jump, makes a great splash as it returns and then takes off, at top speed, pulling the life raft behind it. My dad’s Calcutta rod is dangerously bent, he is yelling because the “Gator is stripping the line from his reel, and having no drag system, only his thumb, which is being blistered, to put pressure on the line and try and stop the run. The ‘Gator jumps again, the plug pulls loose and comes flying back toward my Dad and, a ducking Dave and settles on the water behind them. “Whoopee” exclaims Dave, followed by a “Damn” from my Dad, as both anglers paddle 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.

The Alligator

The summer of 1964 found me still working multiple jobs with little spare time. My dad had made friends with a Telephone Co. contractor from Philadelphia, Miss. Looking back now I can see that he was a “redneck’s, redneck”. He was a market hunter for ducks in the fall, had absolutely no respect for game laws, but he was the man who had introduced us to The Trinity River bottom.

In past years he had spent time in north Louisiana and had made several successful float trips down the head waters of the Calcasieu River. Easy trips of four to six hours, floating and fishing about five miles of river. Put in and take out at State boat ramps. Easy, no problem. The object of these trips was to catch Smallmouth Bass not really the cold water variety but Spotted Bass, common to moving water in the south and southwest.

My Dad, who was nearing retirement, and I had arranged for a weekend off in mid September, so off we go to north Louisiana. Our “headquarters” was a motel in Alexandria and we arrived at the jumping off point at first light on a bright, clear, Indian Summer day. Four of us were going on the float trip, my Dad and I in one jon boat and his contractor friend and one of his relatives, who “knew the river” and would “guide” us, in the other boat. His relative saying “We got a few falls (fallen trees spanning or down in the river) to go over or under, but outside of that, it will be easy. I have since learned that if I hear the word, easy, prepare for the worst.

Where we put in, the Calcasieu River was slow moving, clear as tap water, about seventy-five feet wide and for our whole trip didn’t exceed that width. The banks were lined with tall pine and oak trees. Pretty. Pretty now, but we all would be cursing them by midnight!

We drift about fifty yards from the boat ramp, I put a hand full of Beechnut chewing tobacco in the side of my mouth, and my first cast with a yellow Piggy Boat and, bam, a solid strike from a one pound spotted bass, the fish is taking line, running, not jumping like a regular bass. My dad hooks up and soon we have two nice bass on our stringer. Looks like a good day starting. I’ll ask myself later “Why did we keep these bass?”

We ease under our first fall, a tree down from bank to bank, and up ahead we see one resting in the water. We drift up to it and, in the water we go, and pull the jon boat over it. The little “dip” was refreshing. This is repeated several times during the first half-mile of our “easy” float. We come to hundred yard stretch with no falls and casting right up to the bank, retrieving for two reel cranks, I have a savage strike. This fish is fighting hard, running and now jumping. What a pretty sight. I land him and onto the stringer he goes, a four-pound Spotted Bass! My dad takes another and we are amassing a really good stringer of fish.

More falls, it seems one every thirty or forty yards. It is now noon and I bet in the last four plus hours, we haven’t made two miles. I ask the relative and he says, “A few more falls than I remember, but we don’t have that far to go.” Later I think, “Who is this guy who supposedly knows the river?”

The fishing remains great! Whenever we can we make a cast, at least half of them are rewarded with a solid hit. However, it seems we are spending more time slipping under or pulling over trees, than fishing. We catch several more nice, three and four pound bass. Our stringer is getting heavy. We slip under a fall and blankety-blank, my dad lets out a line “blue streakers”, and slaps the top of his head, smushing a red wasp which has popped him. Over he goes into the water and I think, “Oh no, he’s had a heart attack,” but he comes up out of the water smiling and says, “Boy, when wasps get after you, it’s better to go into the water than run.” As if he could have run anywhere. He asks for my chew of tobacco and places it on the sting and soon the sting just a memory.

More falls! Over them, under them, drag the boat, we’re both soaked, so are our other fishing mates, it’s close to 5:00 PM and no relief in sight! The intrepid relative says, “There sure is a lot of these falls!” We echo his sentiments!

Here is something new, two trees down at the same place, a longer drag, almost a portage. My Dad jumps onto the logs pulling the boat sideways so I can also get out. We pull the bow of the boat up on the logs and he jumps into the water and the water explodes! He has jumped down on to an Alligator! Ride ‘em cowboy! “Alligator, look out!” the fearless relative shouts. A six foot ‘gator is airborne as my Dad scrambles back up onto the logs. The ‘gator is long gone but here come the “blue streakers”, blankety-blank-blank, from my Dad. He is soaking, again, really mad and ready to choke our “guide”, the relative. He says in a firm voice, “Get me out of this blankety-blank place. The relative says, “We still got a ways to go.”

He was right, it’s nearly dark and we seem no closer to the take out ramp than we were two hours ago. Something is wrong here. We pull over to the side and ask the relative, what’s the deal. He replies, “Best I can figure, the hurricane that came through here last year just tore up these woods and knocked all of these trees down. But don’t worry it’s an easy walk out’a here.” There’s that word, easy, again.

At near dark, probably 7:00 PM, we tie up the boats to a convenient (they are all convenient) fall. The “relative” can worry about his boats later. We start “out”, carrying our rods, luckily we didn’t bring any tackle boxes, fish on the stringers and water, today’s lunch being all gone. Our “guide”, the relative leads off. We guess we have to walk two to three miles to the road, then north on the road for another mile to the State ramp and our vehicles.

The darkening sky finds us walking somewhat north, through very thick underbrush and trees everywhere, carrying our rods, the stringer of fish and our water. Down and up through a dry creek bed and slipping down the “up side” of the bank I remark “This is more like a forced march than an easy walk.” No reply from our “guide”.

We trudge on for an hour and go down a creek bank and climb up the other side and I see my slide marks. We have walked in a circle! “Stop” I cry out and our weary procession slows to a halt. “We’ve walked in a circle”, showing them my slide marks. I say, “This deal stops right now and I’m walking in front and am going to get us out of this damn place!” I look to the sky and find the Big Dipper and follow its bottom two stars to the North Star. That will be my mark to keep us on line. Our “guide” is silent.

With me in the lead we head north. After about another hour we all decide to drop our stringers of fish and leave them for the varmints. Why did we keep those fish? We finish the water and drop the water bags to the ground. Pressing on, we hear the artillery at Ft. Polk, north of us, begin booming. I think, “The booming will be a good guide.”

As we head north we see a light ahead, six hundred yards later it turns out to be a Coleman Lantern hanging in a tree. We see three men sitting around a low fire. “Hello, the camp!” I exclaim. The three men jump up, startled, and look around. Seeing us, four apparitions coming out of the dark with no lamps or flashlights, out comes their guns!

“Stop right there, who are you.” We explain our plight, still standing outside of the circle of light and finally our “guide” remarks that he is the brother in law of “so-in-so” a deputy sheriff. The guns comes down and they ask, “What do you want.” I reply, “A drink of water and a ride to our cars parked at the State ramp.” Mumbled conversation and a reply, “Pay for the gas and we’ll take you to your car, but no water.” “Thanks” I say, then mumbling under my breath, “You sons of bitches!”

Back at our cars, my Dad’s contractor friend is quiet, not having said much for the last six or seven hours and his relative, our “guide, only says “It was a tougher float than I thought it would be.” Saying our good byes, Daddy and I got into his car. He looks at his watch and says, “It’s almost midnight. Quite a day!” I rolled down the window, and fished out a Pall Mall and lit up, blowing the smoke out of the window. My Dad had smoked for forty years but had quit smoking ten years past and hated for me to smoke. He said to me, “Boy give me one of those.” I never saw my Dad’s contractor friend again. And, I never saw my Dad smoke another cigarette.

Four Wheel Drive And A Hand winch

The period of my life from 1959 to 1964 was spent finishing up my Army duty, working three jobs and welcoming my first child, Brad. All of this left precious little time for any outdoor activities.

Several times during this period I did have the opportunity to spend a day hunting and 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.

The road was only part of the challenge. The leaseholder of the land, I never knew his name, would come by several times during the week to check on his cattle and hogs and to scare poachers out. He even chased us out one time mounted on a horse! When the river was up and out of its banks you couldn’t possibly get in. But if you could get to the river, the creeks and sloughs provided some of the best bass fishing and duck and squirrel hunting to be found.

My brother-in-law, Jim Buck, was desperate to get down to “The Bottoms”. He had heard my Dad and I talk of the fabulous hunting and fishing opportunities. Just a month before my Dad and I had a very enjoyable afternoon fishing there, in one of the many sloughs, catching one to two pound bass.

My Dad had an “employee” and friend, a telephone company contractor who worked for him and had first taken us to “The Bottoms”. The friend had a jeep with mud grip tires and a “new” Warn winch mounted on its front bumper. If we got stuck, hook up to a tree and let the winch pull us out. That was the way to conquer “The Bottoms”.

Well, Jim found, for $500.00, a 1947 Jeepster Station Wagon, four wheel drive, a rusted green color, but mechanically sound, which he promptly purchased “Bottom” here we come! “Jimmy, we need a winch. Did you get one for the front bumper?” I Asked him. He replied, “No, I have something better, a hand winch which we can use front or back.” At that time, I had a very elementary knowledge of mechanics and uses of a hand winch so I thought we were fine. “Bottom” here we come!

The new, old, Jeepster made the trip to the Kennific Fire Tower with no problems. It turned out it ran very well on a smooth road. Pulling up to the gate in the not light, early morning, it was unlocked, but we also knew where the key was hidden, and there was no sign of the leaseholder. Many times during the day to come I had wished for the evil leaseholder to show us up and “help” us out of this infernal place. “Bottom” here we come.

We navigated the first six hundred yards and came to the first boggy spot. The Jeepster, and its skinny road tires, we never thought about mud grips, plowed gamely through the muck and deposited us safely onto solid ground. “Piece of cake”, we thought. Another low spot, spinning tires, mud flying everywhere, stuck! No problem we have our hand winch. There is a tree close by in front of us, very convenient, and we hook on and begin cranking the winch and the vehicle moves, all of six inches. (My mind flashes back to a duck hunt that turned sour, where, in a boat, me and two of my friends had to scoot across the mud flats twelve to eighteen inches at a time to get back to our launch area.) Twenty minutes of cranking and we are out of the mud and sailing down the “road”.

Winching through three more bogs we notice the sun is up, its hot and humid and the mosquitoes are out in force. We missed the sunrise fishing we had planned on. No worry, so little fishing pressure where were going the bass will hit all day.

More bogs, more winching. We are both wet and covered head to toe in mud and its getting close to noon, we won’t have much time to fish. We gamely “soldier on”. We hit this one spot which I had worried about on the way in a fifty foot run through bog, mud and water and we splash in, four wheels spinning and making no progress. Stuck again. No tree close by, so I volunteer to push. Maybe that will help. It did for five feet. Still, no tree near, and we are really stuck! Finding small logs and branches to give our street tires some traction, we inch forward until we can reach a tree with our winch line. Crank, six inches. Crank, six inches. Crank, six inches. This ceases to be fun. Crank, six inches. Solid ground and we break for a late lunch.

We assess our situation. Over the past seven hours we estimate we have made about three miles. We are almost out of water. We have been stuck twelve times. If the Jeepster doesn’t break, at this rate we will get to our fishing spot about dark. Maybe we don’t have the right equipment. We can always blame the Jeepster no mud grip tires. We can blame the weather that last big rain really made a mess of the bad road? We can blame the leaseholder maybe he came in with a Dodge Power Wagon and deliberately ruined the road. Admitting a tactical defeat, we turned around and headed out. “Bottom” you won.

However, there were some good things to come out of this ill-fated trip. We only got stuck seven times coming out. We got out just before dark. I did not have to push. We “made” the leaseholder some new road. We had no fish to clean. And, best of all, we dried out before we got home!

Gig ’em

All day long I had been trying to get a hold of my Son, Randy, to help me with a sticky problem on my Blog. Finally, in the evening he called me, very frustrated. He had “snuck” off and gone fishing, a noble achievement, and as we say, “I resemble that remark.”

He was frustrated because he had lost several nice Bass, because he had made a mistake of epic proportions. He forgot to put the hook on the, new H and H Spinner Bait, he had just bought at a large sporting goods store. This particular product comes from the manufacturer in a plastic bag and the fisherman must add the hook to the spinner bait before using it. In Randy’s excitement and impatience to get to the fishing at hand, he had neglected to attach the hook.

As I laughed at his omission, my thoughts went back almost fifty years to a hastily planned fishing trip that I went on with my Uncle Gus, George Alvin Pyland. He like my Dad was from Marlin, Texas. That particular summer I was working on another of my Uncles, Shelton Gafford’s ranch outside of Marlin. My chores were finished early and I went into town to make a purchase at the local sporting goods store, which happened to be owned by Sam Pyland, uncle Gus’ brother.

When I walked into the store, surprise, there was Uncle Gus talking with his brother. We hugged and shook hands and exchanged some small talk, and one of our favorite subjects, fishing, came up. Mentioning that Uncle Shelton had gotten me permission to fish in a stock tank, unfished by it’s owner, and planted with Bass by the state five years ago and that I was on my way out there as soon as I picked me up a couple of yellow Piggy Boats, Uncle Gus volunteered to go with me. He was in town for a short visit and would be happy to “help” me thin out the Bass in this tank.

I don’t know who made Piggy Boats Spinner Baits, I guess the Piggy Boat Company, but I do know that the company that made Piggy Boats was sold to H and H, the current manufacturer and H and H now has been sold to a large retailer. But, whoever the owner, this particular Spinner Bait remains one of the best baits for stock tank, small lake and stream fishing for bass. In saltwater I have even caught Red Fish and Speckled trout with them. Then, like now, they were sold in a small plastic bag with the hook not attached.

Uncle Gus had no tackle, but I had an extra rod and reel with me, so telling his brother goodbye, he purchased two Piggy Boats with yellow skirts and we headed out to catch some Bass. Arriving at the stock tank which was in the middle of a one hundred acre field covered with Red Buffalo Grass, I got out of my Uncle Shelton’s truck, walked to the edge of the water and made a cast and was into a nice Bass immediately. Uncle Gus said, “Wait for me Jon Howard” as he hurriedly attached the Piggy Boat to his line.

Uncle Gus looped a cast along the bank near us and had a strike that almost jerked the rod from his hands, the Bass ran toward the center of the tank, jumped, mouth open and the Piggy Boat came flying back towards us. Uncle Gus was a salt water fisherman of great skill and perseverance, but muttered, “Dang, that’s funny, the hook didn’t get set good even with that hard strike.” as he prepared for another cast.

Another cast, another jolting strike, another lost fish caused him to mutter, “Jon Howard, these Bass are harder to hook than Specs.” He was a great uncle to me, and a good Christian man, but when he lost his third Bass I was afraid my rod and reel were going into the water. Before that happened I asked him, “Why don’t you bring your rig over and let me check the hooks?” “What hooks?” he replied. I tried hard not to laugh, but in his haste and excitement he had forgotten to attach the hooks to his spinner bait.

Slipping the hooks on his lure, he cast out and, whamo, another hard hit, but this one was hooked good and soon landed and put on a stringer. We both got to the business of catching Bass, along with a couple of Goggle Eye Pearch, and ended up with a nice mess of fish.

The story ended well, but after Randy’s “hook” problem, it got me to thinking. You know, both Randy and Uncle Gus were former students at Texas A & M!