Dead Reckoning

Catching a break in the usually rambunctious March weather, light wind and favorable seas, Norman Shelter and I launched my 18, foot, tri hull out of the marina in Freeport, Texas, made the short run out of the jetties and up the coast to our fishing spot. This was an unusual spot, less than 10 miles out in the Gulf, where remains of an old coral, or shell, reef still harbored fishable quantities of red snapper.

A friend had passed the location of this reef to me, but this was way before Loran and GPS, and we’d have to “dead reckon” our way to it. The reef was in less than 25 feet of water and our landmarks were, two oil rigs farther out in the Gulf and a big tower on shore. Of course, to specifically locate the reef, we had greased up a trusty window sash with 50 foot of line. When we arrived at the approximate location of the reef, we dropped the window sash down to the bottom and when we hauled it back up, if it came in with a mix of sand and shell on it, we could be reasonably sure that we were on the right spot.

Scrupulously following the directions, our first try for the reef was a success, the window sash came back with sand and shell on it so we anchored up. Our rigs were medium weight boat rods, light offshore reels spooled with 30 pound, line and double drop, bottom rigs, with a small weight. We baited up with dead shrimp, cast out our rigs and it wasn’t long before I felt the angry grab of a fish!

The fish was overmatched against my tackle, but fought gamely until Norman netted it and I deposited the 18, inch, gulf trout into the cooler. These are good table fish with firm flesh, unlike the sand trout that can get mushy if not cleaned quickly. By the time I had rebaited, Norman was fast into an unknown fish that turned out to be another 18, inch gulf trout. Snapper had been on our menu, but we’d take a mess of gulf trout too.

We boxed 4 more of the metallic looking, gulf trout, then we let out 25 more feet of anchor line, let our window sash down and were rewarded with more sand and shell, we were still on the structure. Casting out, before the bait had reached the bottom, Norman and I both had solid strikes and reeled in 2, 12 inch, red snapper. Into the cooler with them, we baited up, cast out and were rewarded with 2 more strikes and boxed 2 more snapper. We kept this up for 15 minutes and had boxed at least 20 snapper, when I had a big strike and the fish took off for Mexico!

This wasn’t a small snapper, but something with a lot of pull that turned out to be a good sized kingfish. Sorry to say when Norman tried to gaff it, he knocked the king off the hook and we didn’t land it. This was a very early kingfish, the bigger ones come in early to spawn and then move farther out into the Gulf.

We caught 2 more snapper and Norman had a nice fish on when, whoosh, up came a 4 foot, shark and robbed the fish off his line. My rod was bent with another fish, when the line went slack and I reeled in a snapper head, sans body, a victim of another shark. We rebaited, cast out and had 2 more strikes, good snapper that were cut off by the sharks and I said to Norman, “Time for us to go back in!”

We upped the anchor and headed back. This wasn’t a bad day, a box full of good eatin’ fish, we lost another nice one, but then the sharks showed up! Maybe we should have tried to catch one of them? Back then we wouldn’t eat a shark, but now, if properly prepared, bull and black tip sharks are quite tasty.