Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Planning is Overrated

Part the Second: The Voyage

Paul jumped into his truck and had it hitched to the boat trailer in nothing flat; Andrew would ride with him, RJ drove his truck with me in it. With some simple instructions and directions, RJ took off to the bait camp with Paul were right behind. A quart of live shrimp, two pounds fresh dead. Then to Buccee’s for ice, then to the ramp for launch.

In no time, we were on the water with our gimme caps turned backward to avoid losing them in the mighty Brazos. Cap’n Paul navigated us to the Dow Chemical plant’s intake/discharge channel for our first attempt. The narrow strait was clogged with large rafts of wood debris floating in and out with the surge of the waves. The skipper placed us up against a tree trunk at the water’s edge, and I, being the bow man, tied us off.

By the time I got my rod rigged up for fishing live bait (I usually use soft plastic jigs and the new configuration was, well, new to me), RJ had dropped his shrimp in from the stern of the boat, and had pulled in a speckled trout in the 19 inch range! Indignity! Then Andrew pulled in a redfish and the race was on.

Well, Andrew and RJ raced, since I hung up on some submerged something-or-other after a croaker stole my shrimp. In the mean time, RJ pulled in what Paul identified as a Mangrove Snapper. They are related to Red Snapper that is found offshore, and are dang fine eating. This was a beautiful fish, with the body of a snapper, except with a deep maroon kind of color.
Undeterred, I kept working the crustaceans and eventually pulled up a small Mangrove of my own, but since it was under 10 inches long, we tossed it back to bite again later. No worries, it was a cool fish, and I was glad to set him free.

The action turned off after a little while, and Cap’n Paul was eager to get us on some fish. We cast off the main line and headed into the drift, which our leader skillfully guided us through with no damage to boat, motor or image. He ran us back down the river to a spot rumored to hold sand trout where we plied our best efforts to entice our quarry to bite our bait. It was not to be, so we weighed anchor and ran on down to the mouth of the river.

I want to pause in the play-by-play to describe the kind of conditions we were operating in. The sun was bright, the wind was light and a bit cool, and there were only twelve clouds in the entire sky the whole day. And they weren’t very big, I’ll tell ya. The normally chocolate brown Brazos even had an emerald tint to it as we ran down the stream, watching shoals of small mullet and other baitfish working the surface, making the water appear nervous. One of the most beautiful sights was when we ran under a power line that stretched across the river at about 50 feet of altitude, upon which were a row of birds. There were cormorants and seagulls and several large brown pelicans. As we passed under, the birds took flight in the same direction as us, and we watched them glide over us in formation for a few seconds until we outran them. The sun’s angle on the great birds made me wish for a camera. But I have it up here between my eyes!

We ran, as I said, down to within a few hundred yards of the mouth of the Brazos where the river meets the Gulf of Mexico. There was a long stretch of beach on both sides of the watercourse, and on the Freeport side, there was a long line of trucks and vans and SUVs among other types of vehicles stretching as far as you could see. Some had flags and mini-camps set up. Each of the means of transportation had a contingent of fishermen with their arsenal of rods bristling out of the sand. Some throwing cast nets, others cutting bait, some just sitting waiting for action.

We pulled up on the beach opposite the army of anglers and began to toss our offerings to the unseen schools of fish that were no doubt rushing past in the current. The other guys were throwing different baits; fresh dead shrimp, live mullet, and I was trying out my artificial baits. I had one strike that chomped my fake minnow in three pieces, but the clever fish missed the hook. Good for him, not for me. Andrew hooked a good speckled trout and that was about it. I did see a couple of guys paddling kayaks back to the river from a slough they had followed back to a small lake. They each had a limit of redfish, so they must have been doing something right.

Since the fish weren’t obliging us the same way they had flocked to the kayak boys, we figured we might oughta try a new location. Paul had been catching bait with the cast net (he really took care of us) and asked if we were ready for a change of venue. A unanimous “aye” was sounded and we shoved off the sand and headed back upstream to the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway, to the uninitiated). We took a right and headed to some oyster reefs that had produced fish a few days before.
We stayed there for an hour or so, there is only so much fun you can have losing terminal tackle on oyster reefs while only occasionally pulling in small black drum and undersized redfish. Cap’n Paul put us on the move again.

The destination this time was at the intersection of the Brazos and the ICW. Here, the likelihood of fish was very, uh, likely. We baited up, and brought in a sand trout or two, but the main excitement was the Captain hooking what appeared to be a small submarine. RJ and Andrew spoke as one in the question, “What do you think it is?” Paul is cagey, and he said between grunts of exertion, “Well I don’t know what it is, we’ll have to wait till it comes to the surface…” The excitement on deck was palpable.
I knew what it was. In fact, so confident was I in my prediction, I spoke up, “It’s an oversize redfish, that’s what it is, and I’ll even wager a cracker!” High stakes, I realize, but by the way it was fighting and running and pushing the limits of the rod and reel and pilot of said equipment, there were few other things it could be. Yeah, it could be a stingray, but those take off and don’t stop till you’re spooled or you just cut the line. Same for amberjack and them like ‘em. Nope. This was a big scienops ocellatus, red drum.

Paul ended up having to walk nearly clear around the boat to fight this beast, and when it surfaced, we all saw it was the bull red that I predicted. I yelled out “30 inches”, though likely nobody heard me. As he wore the big fish out, Paul was ready for the net-man, which I’m, and I picked the leviathan from the water and plunked him down in the boat. Everybody was wow-ing and gosh-ing and generally admiring Paul’s finesse and skill at landing this beast, especially when I went to remove the hook, and it was just caught in the corner of his mouth, rather than buried in the jaw. Had the Cap’n given any slack or played the fish carelessly, it would have been gone.

I hoisted the scaled marvel for everyone to see, and the oohs and ahhs repeated with renewed vigor. After Andrew snapped a pic of it with his Razr phone, I put the fish down on the ruler to get an official verdict on the overall length. 31.5 inches. For the non-fishermen in the audience, that’s eleven and a half inches longer than the minimum size for the species. What a great catch.

Since the big red probably frightened all the fish in a 200 yard diameter, we decided to weigh anchor again and head to a new spot. This time, we went down the ICW and parked just outside the main channel. We threw out our bait and almost immediately began to crank in sand trout. If you know anything about sandies (we hard-core fishermen like to call ‘em “sandies”), you’ll know that most of these little guys were in the 10.5 to 12 inch range. Not a lot of fish, but a lot of fight.
Andrew started bringing them in, then RJ, then me. Paul started cutting bait because that is what they were responding to. Andy caught one without the benefit of a hook at one point; a loop in the leader lassoed one of the unfortunate fishes. His dad topped even that; he caught two fish on the same hook. Paul was beside himself, and we required Andrew to snap a picture of the catch, because no one would believe the telling.

After pulling in sandies one after another, along about 5:30 we’d all had about enough. Once again, we raised the anchor and hoisted the sails (figuratively, of course; Paul just started the 90 hp Mercury) and headed to the ramp.

The sun was heading toward that low angle that produces such a golden, beautiful glow, and it bathed the Brazos riverbank with that liquid gold light that makes everything look so nostalgic. We were all sunburnt in spite of applying girly sunscreen (thanks Sis), tired and happy. We kept a total of 31 fish, and after the short drive back to the house, Paul graciously set up his cleaning table, brought out his knives and even his electric fillet knife. We washed and scaled the fish and he filleted them quickly and efficiently. Then we rinsed and bagged the meat. The assembly line method really has my “one man show” approach to fish cleaning beaten, hands down. We had all 31 fish done in less than 30 minutes.
When all was done, we thanked the generous and wise Cap’n Paul for his generosity and wisdom, and went inside to eat some of the redfish we had harvested.

While a camping trip would have been nice, in retrospect, being surprised by a fantastic day of fishing guided by an old hand has a slight edge over sleeping on the ground and eating while standing up for a day and a half, even if only by a little.

And I think we are going to “plan” another camping trip.

Maybe. We’ll see how it goes.


invigilator_tex said...

See, if you hadn't been such a classic smart aleck you boys woulda been skunked fer sure.

"Hey Capin Paul, What you ain't gotta fone?" Take me next time, them geezers got enough fish to feed the masses.

Anonymous said...

2 great posts!!...too bad I wasn't 'man enough' to go with! I can't wait to catch some flounder next month. Glad you guys had a great time.

Howlsatmoon said...

mmmmmm....fishin and friends. Don't get much better....

aA said...

you said it, Wollf! and at my age, a pretty day beats a nasty day even if all the other variables stay the same!

aA said...

Tex, you're not a socialist, are ya? I think I hears me some, "Spread the fish around..."

And yes, for once, being a smarty pants got me something GOOD!

invigilator_tex said...

Ya know, I think I am a socialist come to think about it. I mean, what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine. You know the line.

I was actually making a reference to Jesus and the fishes and loaves....I think he was a socialist too.

aA said...

loaves and fishes were multiplied supernaturally, not collected and redistributed so everyone got a crumb. they were all filled.

I don't thing socializm will satisfy everybody the same, they're all miserable the same!

Rob V. said...

So, here I am at work reading this wonderfully descriptive post about a really fun fishing trip, complete with great weather, great adventure, and a pretty good haul of fish. What is wrong with this picture?

aA said...

well mrV, the ONLY thing that woulda made it better is a Nikon D700!