The popping float cracked loudly and splashed to a wobbly halt, as I jerked the Ugly Stick skyward and sent the 10lb braid and 15lb fluorocarbon leader line snapping vertically into the air. Making sure to keep continual tension between my rod and float - now 30 feet behind the boat - my concentration was DEFCON 1. The live shrimp fixed several feet beneath the popping float was being pursued by a large school of Speckled Trout
(or Specs), through the murky, shallow, and fragrant Gulf Coast water.
The chartreuse popping float with its red bobber stopper, signaled from afar that it had yet to encounter any takers as it rolled-up and over the continuous waves, floating lightly on top of the water. Suddenly, the float disappeared. I tugged back hard, feeling immediate tension, I set the hook and a crazy battle ensued. The Speckled Trout leapt from the safety of the water, thrashing and rolling in mid-air, trying to unsettle the hook that was now bereft of the shrimp. With each jump and attempt at spitting the hook, the Speckled Trout shined and shimmered in the Texas Gulf Coast summer sun. Soon, the Spec had run through its inventory of defensive maneuvers and had come to terms with its fate.
The Speckled Trout here were reckless in their strikes and attempts on the shrimp. They would simply crush the live shrimp with violence and reckless abandon. Time and time again, the Specs would destroy the shrimp. Our veteran boat captain let out a hearty Texas yell and cried “we found em’ boys”. We were having the time of our lives! We kept casting and kept catching em'.
Pop. Pop. Pop. BAM! Our biggest problem at the time was the possibility of running out of shrimp.
Specs then Red Fish – we were catching fish after fish. We fished and fished and fished. It was what we had come for. Sitting here in the southern Texas Gulf coast, bobbing up and down in the warm summer sun, sipping suds and fishing with friends and family– life momentarily was at its pinnacle. With only a couple other boats out here, we practically had the place to ourselves and it couldn’t get any better for a trip to the Texas Gulf Coast.
However, little did we know, there was a Red Flag warning for this section of the Gulf we were fishing and in a couple hours, we were soon going to find ourselves in a particularly challenging situation.
Hazardous shallow waters are the norm on an ordinary day in this area. Small islands, large submerged grass flats, and other unseen submerged prop hazards dotted the saline coastline. But soon, the oncoming storm and winds would render the normal navigable path through these chains of small islands – a tedious task for any seasoned boat captain - almost unforgivable with the slightest mistake. Shifting tides also played their part in creating this Red Flag caution, as earlier in the day we had enjoyed an extra 3 feet of water to buffer us against the shallow water. The normal shipping channel that is used to travel between Port Mansfield and Corpus Christi was now nowhere to be found.
As the sun disappeared behind the ominous grey storm clouds, we pulled in the drift socks, turned down the Kenny Chesney, rapidly stowed the fishing gear and got ready for the ride of our lives. The sea had quickly turned against us as we were being tossed about. Immediately, we realized we had to get the hell out-of-here!
The 21ft Fish Master Travis Edition smashed bow-first into a cresting wave, sending us airborne (momentarily) and we landed with such force that the stabilizer bar snapped off from the boat, sending bolts, washers, and flanges into the air. The salty waves pounded from all sides but as we slowed down to inspect the damage, the cresting waves presented an even greater threat. The boat began to take breaking waves on the beam.
Momentarily stuck in the trough of the waves, rolling hard, it felt as though we were going to capsize. We were in it now. Understanding the gravity of the situation, we adjusted the prop trim, held on tight, and sped towards harbor but we still had miles to go. It was one hell of a ride!
We were being thrashed about. Zig zagging, trying to cross the waves at an angle, and avoiding the rollers, we were getting soaked and chilled to the bone. With such rough seas, we were all being battered and bruised. Luckily, the seamanship of our captain got us back in one piece. With only sore backs, a lost fishing hat and sunglasses and some gear, and minor scrapes and cuts, we made it back to harbor safely as the storm began picking up in intensity. The perilous journey was now over for us, but others were not so lucky.
The next morning, a twin pair of MH-65 Dolphin US Coast Guard Rescue helicopters lifted off out of Coast Guard Air Station Corpus Christi heading south. They buzzed low over the treacherous sea, their AGL only a couple feet above the rolling waves, their search lights glaring. Their target: an overturned fishing boat somewhere within Laguna Madre, marooned smack in-between Corpus Christi and Port Mansfield. The powerful storm that had nearly taken us down to the bottom, had in fact taken its toll on another fishing group and they capsized
. Luckily, the water was shallow enough that the group was able to wade to shore and await rescue on a small island.
Later the next day we went back out, once the sea had calmed and picked up right where we left off. The sun had returned, the Specs were hitting hard, Kenny Chesney was blaring, and we fished. We took it all in and enjoyed every moment of it. With such rough seas and the close call for the other fishermen the previous day, we really appreciated this calm day on the water. Our south Texas adventure would soon come to an end and we would have to head back to our normal lives, to our normal jobs, and to our normal routines back in Colorado. But just for a few days, for a brief moment in time, we lived it up in south Texas and had a Gulf Coast adventure!
Mike is a Colorado native and grew up fishing for all species, during all seasons, with all methods.