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.