What Was That

Along the upper Texas coast, in early March of 1991, spring had sprung. Water temperatures were up above seventy and the pelagic species of fish, namely big, king mackerel had moved in to the near shore waters, almost up to the beach. Kings traditionally spawn in late summer, but I’ve heard that the big fish spawn early. I don’t know, but I do know that several of my friends had caught a couple of fifty pounders right off the end of the Galveston jetties this past weekend.

Unpredictable March is a tough one to plan offshore trips for, but the Wednesday morning after my friends big catch, the wind wasn’t too bad, ten to twelve out of the southeast, some gusts to fifteen, temps in the mid seventies, but it was cloudy. It was one of those mornings that seemed cold, but if you put a jacket on, you started sweating.

My Bayou Vista neighbor, Carl Parkinson and I braved these conditions in my deep vee, twenty-four footer, with two one twenties and right after sun up, as soon as we slid past the end of the jetties, we put out two lines. Both rigs were stout, six foot boat rods, medium weight Penn Senator reels, both loaded with sixty pound line, just the ticket for big kings. For bait we used jigs, one with a green plastic, tail and the other with yellow feathers.

We circled around the end of the south jetty and about a hundred yards out from the rocks, began trolling back toward the beachfront. Our first hit wasn’t the screaming run of a big king, but more like trying to stop a Greyhound bus. The bus turned out to be a twenty-pound, jack crevalle that Carl landed, but even on the medium/heavy tackle, it put up a bruising fight. The jack is one of the pelagic species that isn’t good table fare, so we released the fish and continued trolling.

Our second hit, again on the yellow tail, took off for the Yucatan and peeled off a blazing fifty yards of line. Again, Carl grabbed the rod and held on! From the long run, we figured that it was a big, king and as it grudgingly yielded to the pressure, we saw the silver flash that identified it. After a couple of short runs and several splashes around the boat, we gaffed it, whacked it on the head with a billy and put the thirty pounder into the big cooler.

The fishing slowed, we kept trolling within sight of the jetties and around 10:00 AM Carl said he believed that he’d had enough. Coming about, the lines slackened, and right then, the line with the green tail was hit by something. Carl grabbed the rod, didn’t set the hook, just bowed back and let nature take its course. Setting the engines in neutral we started drifting and it seemed to me, we were being pulled, by the big, fish. Carl said, “Jon, I can’t stop this thing and it’s taken almost half of the line. Better chase it!”

Putting the engines back into gear, we eased forward with Carl keeping pressure on the fish. Carl said, “You’d better speed up.” I did, and the line went limp. No fish! What happened?

It was a big, big fish that Carl couldn’t stop. From all appearances, it was hooked very good. Surging the engines forward, did this create a little slack and the hook fell out? Was the fish just holding the bait in its mouth and spit it out when the tension eased off? Did the hook just pull out? Maybe it was one of those Russian subs?

We’ll never know, but we’ll always wonder, what was that?