For Turkey Day I spent some time with the male members of my family on the now-annual fall fishing trip to coastal Texas. This was the site of last year’s encounter with Larry the Fishing Guide. We hired him again. Most decent guides know where the fish are. Larry has a preternatural ability to know what the fish are doing. He reads the barely-subsurface topography of the intercoastal and can tell you why a school of drum is in this place but not 15 feet to the north. Of course, he’s constantly on his cell phone with other guides so there’s bit of a hive mind aspect to the local knowledge. But still. Larry’s uncanny.
Larry has a great verb: “to box.” As in “Nice one, John, that’ll box for sure.” As in “that fish is large enough not to get us arrested if we keep it so we can put it in our onboard freezer box.” To say “that’ll box” is easier, you see.
My favorite Larry trick? He sets the drag on his poles (which we all use) to the exact tension so that if the drag lets out you know you have a fish that’ll box. If the drag does not give then you’ll be tossing this particular fishie back. Think about that. Drag tension varies from reel to reel and yet he is able to set the drag precisely to differentiate a 19“ redfish from a 21” redfish. It worked too.
The new experience this year was flounder gigging. You go out at night into the extreme shallows and stand at the bow of your floodlit flatboat with a trident ready to spot-and-spear the flounder. It is so primitive and, well, satisfying. There’s absolutely no sport to it at all, but it is astonishing how much fun it is. It just shouldn’t be, but it is. Bloody too, as the pierced, spewing flounder are arc’ed into the holding tub on the end of trident.
Actually the best part is the marine life you see. In those shallows with that much light at night you encounter herons, crabs, jellyfish, mullet, redfish, and even porpoise. In fact, for most of our evening we had a two-porpoise escort. They played off whichever side of our boat was away from shore, effectively pushing fish into even shallower water for us. Smart creatures! The flip side of this natural beauty is the clear evidence of human negligence. Propeller-scarred lanes of sand criss-cross the grassy shallows like a satellite photo of Europa. Granted, navigating the tricky waters and tides of the intercoastal is difficult*, but some of these scars were deep and suggest foolishness rather than ignorance.
It is a bit eerie too. Some people gig flounder without a boat by walking in the shallows. These die-hards trudge through the muck with a lantern powered by a car battery floating in a sytrofoam enclosure tethered to their waste. They also drag a bag of bleeding flounder. This is intrepid bordering on stupid given the sharks that patrol the same shallows. The last thing I’d want is to try to outrun a blood-crazed shark with a car battery strapped to my waist.
[*] Quote of the Trip: “John, do you know how to use a sextant?” — father-in-law after we somehow ended up in Corpus Christi bay at night miles away from where we should have been. I am ashamed to say that I did not know how to use a sextant. But if he had an astrolabe …