The Race Is On

During the summer of 1987 we could plan an offshore trip a week ahead and the weather would cooperate, beautiful weather!  Based on this, Bob Baugh and I had planned a trip a week ahead and, sure enough, in his boat, the “Bill Collector”, we were tied up to a rig, sixty miles out of Freeport, Texas.  The rig was anchored on the bottom in one hundred ten feet of water.

Checking for baitfish, we cruised around the rig and noticed, not five feet under the surface, some small amberjack, so I cast out a cigar minnow and from the depths, a bigger amberjack quickly darted in and gobbled the bait, and the fight was on.  Finally subduing the fish, we netted and released it, a 20 pounder.

After we tied up to the rig, we really got a workout from several sixty to eighty-pound amberjacks, members of the tuna family, and pound for pound, they are the hardest fighting fish in the Gulf.  We were using eighty-pound class tackle and after each bout with a big ‘jack we’d take a five or ten minute break.

Having recently bought a new, medium weight, rod that I’d been wanting to try out, during one of these breaks, I got it out.  Earlier, to it, I’d added a wide spool, red reel, wrapped with twenty, pound line and on the end of the line was a wire leader and hook, to which I added a cigar minnow.  Casting the minnow out, it would drift with the current and maybe a whopper would attack it?  We also noticed a squall line looming to our east, but didn’t worry about it since NOAA was predicting calm, storm free, weather.

For every five big, amberjack we hooked, we may have landed one.  If, they got their head pointing down, you were done for and he’d cut you off in the rig.  After loosing another one, I was re-rigging and I happened to look up and noticed the squall line was getting closer.  “Bob, should we worry about the weather?” I asked.  He replied, “Naw, doesn’t look like a problem.”  Later, we laughed over his reply.

Just then, my new rod bent nearly double and the line was peeling off at a rapid rate.  Bob said, “I told you that new rod was too light for these big fish out here!”  Setting the hook, the big, bull dolphin (dorado) cleared the water by about ten feet then took off in passing gear!

While running away from the boat the dolphin jumped three times, each jump displaying the fish’s bright coloration, green, blue, gold against the approaching dark blue squall line.  If I was an artist, it would have made a beautiful picture, but Captain Bly (Bob) spoiled it saying, “We better git, that storm looks like a good one!”

What a fight this bruiser put on!

Horsing in the fish wasn’t an option because I would get him near the boat and jump, jump, run!  We finally got him subdued and into the boat, then the wind changed from south and hot to northeast and cool.  Thinking, Oh, oh, I’ve been down this road before, we quickly whacked the fish on the head, put him in the big cooler, un-looped the rope from the rig and backed away.

Then Bob did something funny, reaching into the boat storage area, he got out a motorcycle helmet and slipped it on.  Back then, before laser surgery, he wore very heavy, thick glasses and he used the helmet and visor to keep the rain off.  He wiped the clear visor with a towel and told me, “We’re going to get wet, so hold on tight!”

We headed directly into the storm and broached each wave crest, probably eight footers, the rain, worse than when I was caught in a severe storm in 1982, and like then, this storm was between us, and the shore.  Wind was about forty, no lightning, but the rain almost obscured the bow of the boat, ten feet in front of us.

All we could do was trust the LORAN, this was before GPS, and keep going for almost sixty miles. The easy hour run took us two and a half hours.  The last twenty miles were in relative calm seas and the last five miles were spent in a race with a twenty-four foot outboard powered, sleek looking boat.  Winning the race, our speed showing on the LORAN was fifty-two!  The big dolphin weighed thirty-one pounds, but NOAA never said anything about the storm that never was.