Growing Up – First Trip Offshore

During the summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school, 1952, one of my friends, Walter, invited me on a two day, one night fishing trip out into the Gulf of Mexico. His Dad was taking his boat out and I was asked to come along. This was a ‘huge deal’ for me, my Dad thought it was a great idea, my Mom worried that I’d be lost at sea, but my Dad prevailed and off we went the following Friday morning to meet Walter and his Dad at the Houston Yacht Club.

Formalities behind us, we loaded their forty-five foot Mathews, cruiser with provisions for the trip and chugged out into Galveston Bay. The plan was to motor down the bay in the Houston Ship Channel and just past Texas City turn right at the Intercoastal Waterway, then head west to Freeport and anchor for the night in New River. The next morning we’d head out into the Gulf, troll back to Galveston, then head up the Ship Channel and arrive back at the Yacht Club. This was over a hundred mile trip, would take us two full days and for the time, 1952, a real adventure!

A little history about the New River, in 1929 New River was completed and is a channelized mouth for the Brazos River. Over the years, commerce in the Freeport/Velasco area was damaged almost yearly by floods raging down the river, then the summer hurricanes would bring their flooding rain, so by 1929 the river was diverted to a new channel – New River, and the Port of Freeport has flourished since then, rising to sixteenth in tonnage for the U.S.

Just before nightfall, we pulled into the New River, anchored and prepared supper. Walter and I put our lines out, baited with dead shrimp and began catching, hard heads, salt water, catfish. Not our main targets for the trip but these were big ones, two pounders and kept us busy ‘till bedtime.

Up with the sun, we headed down New River and entered the Gulf for our trip back. As soon as we entered the Gulf we put out two lines, one with a red jig and one with a green one. We were just out of sight of land, trolling along and I was sitting up on a cooler, dozing and ZZZZZ, the clicker on my reel let out a squawk as the fish pulled line off. Grabbing my rod all I could do was hold on as the fish made its first run. Soon the pressure of the rod and reel’s drag allowed me to get the fish up to the boat and Walter identified it as a kingfish, the first of the hundreds that I caught in my fishing life.

Before we iced the king, I admired it and stroked the shiny sides and Walter told me they were good to eat, especially when grilled. We plowed on through the Gulf, more nodding and dozing, then another ZZZZZ, another reel let out a squawk, mine again. Another long run and an unyielding fight all the way to the gaff, my second king, that proved to be the last one of the trip.

We continued eastward, soon on the horizon we saw the old light house at the end of Galveston’s South Jetty, shortly we turned into the Ship Channel and headed north back to the Yacht Club. What I didn’t know then; what good navigation without Loran or GPS, what dependable equipment, what a trip, what an exposure to offshore fishing, wow!

When I got back home, my Mom and Dad admired the fish and with no freezer we really didn’t have a way to keep the second one, so we gave it to our neighbor, Dub. The next night we had a small party in our back yard, steaks and the feature of the night, grilled kingfish. Not knowing how to prepare kings, we filleted both sides of the fish, but we didn’t skin it, nor did we cut out the bloodline. The fish was tasty, but when we touched the bloodline, whew, it was uneatable. We, correctly figured, that cleaning kings you should take off the skin, remove the bloodline, then grill the strips. You live and learn!