Walkin’ The Dog

“Walkin’ the dog” is the term used for a specific type of fishing lure retrieval – twitch the rod tip and then reel one turn of the reel handle, then twitch and reel, twitch and reel, for the entire retrieve. The lure is moved along slowly, twitching to each side, resembling a small, injured fish.  My dad taught me this long ago and it is still a most favored retrieve for almost all types of fishing!

This was the technique used by my dad and our neighbor and fishing partner, Dub Middleton the past weekend when they had caught and released 2 big tarpon, probably 75 to 80 pounders!  Both fish were caught on red and white Zara Spooks, wooden, top water plugs “walked” past schools of surfacing, rolling fish.

One more point, these monster fish were caught on light, split Calcutta, cane, popping rods and Shakespeare Criterion reels, loaded with 15 or 17 pound, braided line. On the left is Dad’s old, circa 1933, reel with the original braided line still on it! The reel had no drag system, but to control the fish pressure was applied by using the angler’s thumb and among fishermen, blisters were common!

The next weekend, in the spring of 1953, was my first encounter with a tarpon.  Dad took Bobby Baldwin, and me to fish for them near the mouth of the New River, near Freeport, Texas. The New River channel of the Brazos was manmade to create a safe harbor for Freeport. What this created was a 5, mile long fish haven, frequented by tarpon in the spring prior to their beach runs of the summer.

Right after sun up we arrived at the fishing spot, then walked about 100 yards to the river’s bank. The walk, smells and all, seemed like a walk through a garbage dump!  The area was littered with the remains of tarpon, the big fish scattered about in various stages of decomposition.  Back then, I knew that tarpon weren’t a food fish and common sense said they should be returned live to the water, but these fish were caught, killed, I’m sure pictures were taken, smiles and all, and then simply left to rot. What a waste of a fine fishing resource!

After passing through the stench of rotting fish, we started fishing, casting to rolling schools of tarpon. They were everywhere along the river and, up and down you could hear folks holler when a fish was hooked. Being teenagers, we watched the show and then my dad, under his breath, let out a “Hmmpf”, his rod bowed and a silvery/green tarpon cleared the water, then haded upstream toward Rosenberg! “Did you see that? Wow”, we shouted as Dad fought the fish and all at once, the hook pulled out, leaving my dad with a sore thumb!

By the early 1960’s the tarpon had left New River. I’m sure useless killing of fish played a role in their disappearance, but the main culprit, thought by most fisherman, were the huge chemical complexes sprouting up around Freeport.

I have my Dad’s scarred up, Zara Spook in a picture box display, along with all of his fishing plugs. The old plug must be almost 90 years old!  No more tarpon that day and not another one until 1998.