Category Archives: Fishing

He’ll Have To Wait

As the sun just peaked over the horizon we spied a huge school of birds swarming over the water between us and the Pelican Island Bridge. This early in the morning, it was unusual for birds to be working and in twenty minutes we were supposed to meet Dewey Stringer at the end of the South Jetty for a trip out to the Buccaneer Rigs, what to do?

We, Norman Shelter, Jim Buck and I had bought bait and launched the boat at Pleasure Island Bait Camp and were heading out to meet Dewey for a day of offshore angling, but seeing the birds working, he’ll have to wait, as we cut the motors back and idled up to towards the big swarm. For our offshore trip we would be using standard trout gear with a wire leader, but without a popping cork. Our rods were six and half feet long, with red reels loaded with fifteen, pound line and as we eased up to the birds, we quickly removed the wire leaders and slipped on our trout rigs.

A lot of birds working shrimp in deeper water, ten to twelve feet, could mean one of two things, good size speckled trout or small bluefish. Our first casts toward the birds resulted in two good strikes and the fish fighting on the top of the water and circling the boat, confirmed that these were big, trout!

Not having baited up, I netted both fish for Jim and Norman, two nice four pounders! As they were removing the hooks and boxing their fish, I quickly baited up, cast out and as the bait hit the water, it was hit immediately, jerking the rod almost out of my hand. Big trout are fun, these summer fish will smash a lure or a shrimp with reckless abandon, fight all the way to the boat and are excellent table fare! My fish, another 4 pounder, circled and as I reeled it in, beat the water around the boat to a froth. Jim netted it and as I slipped it into the cooler looked down at my watch, we were late to meet Dewey.

Trying to call him on the CB radio, with the distance and Galveston’s buildings blocking everything out, was useless, so we kept on fishing. Over an hour later, we had boxed twenty-five real nice specs, two to four pounds, so much for meeting Dewey.

Calling him that night, they had caught several nice kingfish, some small dolphin (dorado) out of a weed line and tied up to an oilrig, loaded up on spadefish, so much for meeting him, but we both had good days! This wasn’t a showstopper because Dewey and I were friends besides, catching fish was what we were meant to do!

The Gravel Pits

In 1954, May was a good time to drive up to the gravel pits outside of Romayer, Texas, north of Houston. If we left before sun up the drive, in non-air conditioned, cars, would be pleasant, if we fished ‘till dark, likewise for the drive home. For the record, our first car with A/C was a 1956 Chevy, Bel Air that my dad purchased in 1958.

This particular spring day, my dad and I left our house well before sun up and at first light we had already picked out the gravel pit that we would assault. This one was elongated with an irregular shape that reminded us of a hand with four fingers extended.

Enough esoterics, anyway, we started off with yellow Piggy Boats, during the first thirty minutes we only picked up a couple of small bass, but threw them back. For some reason, then Dad changed lures and attached a white one. His first cast, slipped under a low hanging willow tree, was met with a strike, not the solid head shaking hit of a good bass, but just firm pressure. The fish tugged and made one short run, but soon yielded to the pressure of the rod and drag, laid on its side and Dad then slid a nice two pound, white perch, crappie, (sac-au-lait for my Cajun friends), on to the bank!

We never took pictures of the white perch we caught and I had to get this one from Wikipedia.

That got my attention and, quickly changing lures, I hurried over beside him. He had already strung the first one and had cast back out and was into another that turned out to be a mirror image of the first. My cast was met with a strike and I reeled another white perch in. This was repeated until we had strung ten of the beauties, beauties to catch and beauties to eat!

The white perch stopped hitting so my dad walked around to the next finger of the pit and I moved to the one past him. More small bass, no keepers, but I heard Daddy yell, “Son of a gun!” and as I ran around to him, my first thought was snake, but as I cleared the point I saw him locked in a struggle with a good sized, alligator gar.

The gar, at least a three-footer, was jump, jump, jumping, frothing the water. It then tried to spool him, made one last jump and the white, Piggy Boat pulled free, (thank goodness). Daddy said that the gar hit right as he was taking the lure out of the water, it scared him sufficiently to cause him to yell out and then the fight was on!

It took ten years for us to encounter another alligator gar! Thank goodness, we had long nose pliers!

Against The Clock

On a spring morning, just at first light, I lowered the 22 footer into the canal behind our Bayou Vista home, headed down the canal and chugged, speed limit 5 MPH in the canals, into Highlands Bayou. Cranking up the big, outboard I finally skimmed the back way into the Intercoastal Waterway.

Having a 11:00 AM meeting with customers, this would be a short trip, but hopefully a productive one. My destination, with the tide coming in all morning, was the sand flats that ran from Green’s Cut up to South Deer Island. The target was to find sea gulls working over feeding specs, the specs driving shrimp toward the surface and the birds gobbling up the shrimp the fish missed. Classic food chain stuff!

Armed with a 7-1/2 foot, popping, rod, 12 pound line spooled on a green reel, rigged with a popping cork over a live shrimp hooked through its horn with a small, treble hook, I was ready for action. The action wasn’t long in coming. Of all things, I noticed several shrimp hopping out of the water and casting right in front of them, bam, a big strike.

The fish took off peeling line from the reel, not the circling fight of a 3 or 4 pound trout, not the head shaking, weight of a big red, then the fish, a skipjack or ladyfish, (Bodianus rufus) cleared the water. They’re real hard fighters, jump a lot, but aren’t good table fare. Many times they will be feeding on shrimp, driving them to the surface where the ever hungry, birds will congregate over them. No birds this time, so I landed the skipjack, guessing its weight at 3 pounds and tossed it back into the bay.

Two hundred yards away there was another good sign, several birds were sitting on the water, probably marking one or more good sized, fish, maybe even a school that was just getting together! Lowering the trolling motor, I slipped silently to within 40 yards of the birds, quickly baited up and let fly a cast toward the center of the area among the birds. The splash of the bait and cork hitting the water caused the birds to take flight just as my cork disappeared and I felt a big tug! Another run, more jumps, finally the rod and drag beat the fish, another skipjack, identical to the first that I landed, I unhooked it and tossed back in. Thinking to myself, This spot is full of skipjacks so I’ll just move down about a mile and try my luck.

Moving the mile down toward South Deer Island, just ahead, several birds, one hovering over the water, looked very interested toward the depths, cutting the motor I drifted up and let fly a cast beside the bird. When casting with the wind a little slack will undoubtedly get in your line and the gull took this slack line opportunity to quickly grab my shrimp. As it grabbed the shrimp, it immediately took off, wrapping the line around one wing and unceremoniously plopping back into the water. Reeling in the squawking sea gull, before lifting it into the boat, I grabbed a towel, swung the bird into the boat and, in almost 1 motion, covered its head and eyes.

Thank goodness, the gull wasn’t hooked just squawking, so I unwrapped the line from its wing, uncovered its head and flipped it back over the side, where it caught the wind and sped away. Looking at my watch, 8:30 so I’d better get back in.

No luck today, no fish to clean, just some throwbacks, but some good memories!

Birdin’ Season

Sounds like ‘Birdin Season refers to quail or doves, but this time it refers to speckled trout. My dad and I made a real haul, way back when, and this refers to that (?).

Getting a fast start on the birdin’ season on West Galveston Bay, in mid May, Dad and I arrived at the foot of the Galveston Causeway and drove on to Pleasure Island Bait Camp, bought us some live shrimp, launched the boat, sped over to around Virginia Point and started looking for birds. With a good tide coming in all morning, both of us knew, or so we thought, that the fish and shrimp schools would collide along the Intercoastal Waterway, between Pelican Island and the causeway.

Just what is birdin’ season you may ask? Along the Texas coast, sometime during May, depending on the water temperature, brown shrimp migrate back into the bays. Game fish, namely speckled trout attack these schools of shrimp, the feeding activity pushes the shrimp to the surface and the ever vigilant, sea gulls, always looking for an easy meal, congregate in mass to gorge on the feast, hence birdin’ season. Back in the ‘60’s, the trout in these early schools would be anywhere from 2 to 6, pounds, a 6-1/2 is my personal best.

For this foray we armed ourselves with 6-1/2 foot, popping rods, with red reels, loaded with 15 pound line and under the popping cork had a 3/8 ounce weight, a 2-3 foot leader with a number 8, treble hook knotted on, real trout poison. We slowly, cruised the bay in a big circle for over 2 hours and were quickly loosing interest, we hadn’t even baited up yet, then near a channel marker we spied a group of birds hovering over the water and no other fishing boats were in sight!

With the slight wind behind us, we carefully putted in position to drift close to the birds and when about 100 foot upwind, baited up and unleashed our casts that were met by 2 big strikes, nice fish! The fish circled the boat forcing us into “The West Bay Shuffle”, around the boat once, the drag and rod pressure finally tired the specs, nice 4 pounders that we netted and slid into the cooler.

More casts into the milling horde of gulls, it’s a wonder we didn’t foul hook one and my dad was into another nice trout, but my cast was met with a big strike, never getting the hook set, I reeled in and helped him with his fish, a mirror image of the first 2. We stayed with this school of trout/shrimp/birds for 45 or more minutes, the birds broke up once, but 10 minutes later, got back on the fish/shrimp and the action picked up once again. We ended this trip with 17 nice, speckled trout, 2-4 pounds, a good haul!

For years, whenever I passed by this channel marker, I remembered my birdin’ season kickoff and looked closely to see if any birds were hovering over the water, waiting for the shrimp to pop up!

The Last Click

When you read the title you’d think that I’d gotten my line stripped by a big fish, since this is a fishing story (kinda’), but read on and you’ll be surprised.

After, as it turned out, a very eventful trip off shore with Bobby Baldwin, his brother and father-in-law, I was to meet Bobby and one of his friends from Beaumont at their boat shed on Bolivar peninsula and head back out with them for another go at some kingfish. To top it all off, my ex-wife and I were to spend the weekend at their family’s beach house, long since dispatched by Hurricane Ike!

When I arrived at the boat shed, no Bobby. His friend, Joe, was waiting for me and said, “Bobby was purty sick, but he told me to tell you to take the boat on out and catch some fish.” What a surprise to me because I’d never taken a boat out anywhere, let alone, offshore. Well, there has to be a first time for everything!

Joe and I cranked it up, it started and purred as we backed out of the shed and putted out into the Intercoastal Waterway. Trying to remember everything Tom had said coming in from my last trip with them, I opened up the big engine and we cruised on out into Galveston Channel and around the South Jetty. We agreed that we’d stop at the special place and try for some speckled trout. Fiddling around there for an hour, we caught two, two pounders, then pulled up the anchor and headed south, out toward the twelve mile, oil rig.

Really being ciceros and having no experience with a big boat or offshore fishing, just as we left the spot on the jetty, we put out two lines for trolling, one with a green feather jig and another with a blue. Unknown to me at the time, there’s a small hump on the Gulf’s bottom, probably an old wreck or some other type of structure, six miles of the end of the jetty. Trolling over the hump, both lines were hit and two kings took off. We did our best and finally gaffed both fish. We had caught two, by our estimate, fifteen pound, kingfish.

Not even knowing to turn around and troll back across the hump, that we didn’t even know was there, we doggedly kept trolling south, toward the rig, now visible just over the horizon. We trolled around the rig for an hour with no luck and since it was past lunch time, I told Joe that we were heading back in.

We must have trolled back across the hump, because one of lines was smashed by something big! Putting the engine in neutral, I grabbed the rod, this big fish took line out like there was no drag on the reel! The fish continued the battle, but stayed deep, taking more line. Finally I started gaining on it, and as it wallowed on the surface, we both gawked at the biggest red snapper we’d ever seen! Gaffing it, hauling it aboard, it was huge and we guessed it weighed at least twenty pounds.

We iced the snapper in our cooler and headed in, past the end of the South Jetty, up the Galveston Channel and turned into the Intercoastal Waterway. The engine had been running for almost six hours and, when we left this morning, we’d never thought to fill the gas tank. Luckily for us we didn’t run out! But misfortune reared its ugly head as I was putting the boat into the slip, I turned off the engine and our drift, that I thought would take us on into the slip, stopped cold. The tide was going out. I didn’t even know about tides then!

Trying to start the engine, all I got was one click. The engine that had been running for almost six hours wouldn’t start. The starter chose this time to quit working. Luckily, a man outside of the shed threw us a line and we tugged the big twenty-three foot boat back into the stall. What if we’d gotten the click when we were offshore? I didn’t even know how to use the ship to shore radio!

On meat market scales the snapper weighed twenty-two pounds!

High Pressure

This tale is about a fishing trip that got blown out! High winds prevented us from going out more that 2 miles.

Quota achievement with my company was rewarded each year with an event at a very fashionable location and this quota year’s was in Miami Beach. Ample free time allowed us to choose from several prepaid options, offshore fishing, sightseeing, golf, tennis and, of course, I picked fishing, however there was one drawback.

High pressure was dominating the area causing the wind to really be blowing in from the ocean, 30 steady, gusting to 40. This, in turn, built up the normally moderate seas to 8 to 10 feet and most charter Captains were reluctant to even venture out, citing boat safety. One Captain finally agreed to take his boat out, but he said to us, “If anyone gets seasick, don’t blame me.

The 4 of us on the charter loaded up our gear on the, 36 footer and the Captain took the boat down the channel, turned left (to port) and headed toward the ocean. Before we cleared the jetties the seas were already building and once we cleared them, the seas were almost monstrous. Up, down, the boat was shuddering, we were already wet from the wind and spray and, frankly, I was concerned for our safety and how the Captain was going to come about and head back in.

We hadn’t even covered a mile, a mile of a lot of ups and downs, when the first case of seasickness hit us. A female salesman from Chicago rushed to the side, then a salesman from Oklahoma City followed suit, but both of them, even though they were sick, soldiered on. Both my friend from Houston and I, being experienced boaters, were starting to get a little “green” feeling, even the Mate was turning pale and the Captain laughed and looked down at all of us and said, “You all asked for it!”

The Mate said to me, “We’re less than 2 miles out and I hate to think about putting the lines out and I’m even getting sick.” Hearing that, I climbed up to the upper cockpit and sat down beside the Captain, leaned over and said, “Calf rope, we’ve had enough! Take us back in.” The Captain replied, “Me Too”, we skillfully topped a wave, cut the wheel to the right, powered up, slid into the trough, and climbed up the backside of the next wave! My earlier worries were unfounded.

At a faster clip, we rode the waves back in, cleared the jetties, picked up speed and turned to starboard back up the channel to the marina. With the seas smoothing out and our boat picking up speed, everyone was feeling better. By the time we docked the boat and the saleslady from Chicago and the salesman from Ok City, touched the dock, they we’re miraculously healed! As we got out of the boat, the rest of us felt much better too!

An Unusual Catch

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!

‘Gators, Too

Slowly tapping the sixteen foot, Calcutta, cane pole tip on the surface, the bait, two pork rinds, attached to two hooks, seemed to slide and jump, just under water, beside the dead tree. An explosion on the surface, bigger than a “blow up”, and the big strike bent the long pole over half way down into the water. The pole sizzled through the water as the fish ran in a wide circle around the aluminum skiff.

Unceremoniously, hand over hand, I brought the big, bass to the surface, jerked it into the skiff, smiled and held it up for Buck to see. He said, returning my smile, “Boy, you handled the jigger pole just right!” The bass was over six pounds and a personal best for my attempts at jigging.

An eight, pound, bass was the best that I ever witnessed him catching. Buck said that his most exciting jigging event was in South Carolina when he caught an alligator, and in his words, “I quickly let go of the pole and let the ‘gator worry about it.”

He had learned this unique, fishing technique, jigging, and the manufacture of the equipment from, of all things, an old Indian (native American type). This same old Indian made a poultice to cure Buck’s numerous sore throats, Buck drank the potion and passed out from the taste and the “fire” in the mix, but after he awoke, he never had a sore throat again. It probably just ate out his tonsils!

Before WW II, Buck, my former father-in-law, lived in South Carolina, across the Cooper River from Charleston. Buck was a wild thing then, a Klansman, a former professional boxer, a tailor and a hunting and fishing guide. He once guided Nash Buckingham, maybe the best bob white, quail shot ever, on a duck and goose hunt on Currituck Sound, in North Carolina.

Buck perfected his jigging techniques in the numerous ponds and irrigation ditches in the South Carolina lowlands. He was an expert with a cane pole, jigging for fish, primarily for bass, but anything in fresh water will hit a jigged lure, even alligators!

A Really Good Sunday Dinner

Last week, Tuesday, January 14, I went fishing in Rockport, Texas.  For the time of year we did very well, catching 6 speckled trout and 3 black drum, the drum, probably the best eating fish on the Gulf Coast. The specks were all over 15 inches (the minimum size limit) and the drum, 14 inchers, although we threw back some keepers, boys will be boys you know!  Fishing with my cousin George we almost always do good.

Anyway, on Wednesday night I baked 3 pieces of the drum and they exceeded my fondest dreams!  Randy came up on Saturday, the last 2 days of 2013 and 2014 deer season, he hunted Saturday with no luck, but Sunday afternoon he shot a spike, however the highlight of his stay in Goldthwaite wasn’t the buck he shot, but the trout and black drum we baked on Sunday afternoon, picture follows.

The entre was fresh Gulf Trout and Black Drum, with baked potato and slaw.  We tried a red wine, merlot, which was excellent by the way, and finished the meal with a sugar cookie (my favorite).  Usually with fish I serve a white wine, chardonnay or chenin blanc  my personal choice, but the wine melded with the fish.

This was a $30.00 meal, including the wine, not bad for a deer camp!

Why It’s Called Fishing

This past Sunday I drove down to Garden Ridge, Texas and visited with my cousin and his wife, George and Ann Pyland.  We got our days mixed up and I thought that I would show up on Sunday, but Monday was the day that George thought, never the less it all worked out and later that afternoon we drove on down to Rockport.  I might add that on the way down we were a couple of hours ahead of a norther that would blow us out of our fishing trip on Monday.

Both of our dad’s said that there was no use to get an early start on winter fishing, so we slept in and didn’t hit the water until 9:00 AM.  The weather was real nice Tuesday morning, light seas, light wind, but the tide was way out.  With Ron and Dick, two of George’s fishing buddies to fill out the boat, our trip was to the “Canals” north of Port Aransas, we trailered down and launched at a nice bait camp, probably maintained by the State, and after a short boat ride we arrived at the our spot.

We fished this hard for 3 hours and only had one speckled trout 15 inches long to show for it, so we left this spot and after lunch headed to the upper reaches of St. Charles Bay.  Our first cast was met with a strike and George hauled in s speck just under the 15, inch limit, but within 2 hours we had caught 5 more specks all over the size limit, not to say of the several we caught just under the limit..

On one cast I had a big strike, a good fish, but as I was fighting it, he came toward the boat and literally spit out the bait.  I knew he wasn’t hooked good because after the cast I began popping the bait and by the time I had finished my rod was almost vertical with very little room left to set the hook, then the fish hit.  The speck was almost 24 inches long, which would have been the fish of the day.

The fishing dropped off and we moved to another spot, the honey hole, from the way they all talked about it.  Dick said that he would try some dead bait and see if he couldn’t entice a redfish, which we hadn’t seen one all day.  He cast out, the wind was really blowing, and he missed the mark, but as he popped the cork, it went under and he was fast to a fish, type unknown.  Fighting the fish to the net, it was a black drum, the best eating fish on the coast, we caught several more using the shrimp, ending up with three.  We threw four or more back, really we got to playing around and threw several keepers back, so what if we had a little fun!

Our dad’s said, “If you caught them every time out it would be called catching instead of fishing.”  We drew a blank almost at our first spot, but the second one paid off with 5 specks and 3 black, drum.  I had the drum last night, cooked with butter and Cajun seasoning along with a baked potato and cleaned my plate!