Editor’s Note: ‘Along the Trail’ is a weekly column written by David Hewitt of Switzerland County; and covers all things dealing with the outdoors, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.
My typical sunrise routine for this time of year finds me perched on my treestand, hoping for an early morning meeting between my longbow and a whitetail. But last week was different. The early mornings found myself and my fiancée rising to meet the sun along the Gulf of Mexico in Texas.
The warm Lone Star sun and the cool gulf breeze made for a relaxing trip, but this wasn’t just a beach vacation. My gal is an outdoors person at heart and with the waters of Gulf out our front door and the East Galveston Bay off our back porch, she was itching to catch a fish.
Our days consisted of hitting the bait camps for shrimp and mullet, rigging the fishing gear as best as a couple Nimrods could and then tossing the lines into the water, hoping for something to grab our hooks. For a couple of freshwater bass fisherman, fishing in the salt is a whole different ballgame. Different baits, different lures and different tactics. I did my best to try and figure it all out, but to be honest, a lot of the saltwater fishing styles left me scratching my head. After a couple of days of trial and error, we slowly figured it out and started to yank a few fish from the sea and drop them into our cooler.
Four days in and we were becoming like old pros at the game. I’d watched enough other fishermen to mimic what they were doing and it paid off in spades.
The rough, churning water waters of a canal named Rollover Pass yielded our limits of flounder, pound for pound a great fighting fish and hard to beat for table fare. In between catching fish, we managed to fill a five gallon bucket full of blue crabs. Our faces were wind and sunburnt, but our fresh caught dinners and the unbelievable sunsets made us forget about the burns as we drifted into vacation mode a little deeper.
Our last morning to fish and it broke cloudy and gray, spitting rain. More like November here at home rather than the Texas coast. I’d have been content to stay under the blankets, but she was after a big fish and she wouldn’t go home happy until she had a redfish under her belt.
Redfish is the nickname of the Red Drum. A hard fighting fish that is one of the most sought after by saltwater anglers. We’ve caught them before in Florida, but most of them were no larger than the farm pond bass I’ve caught, but the waters of Rollover Pass were known to hold some big ones and that’s what she was after.
Bundled up like an Eskimo to fight the 30 mile per hour blow off the Gulf and the 50 degree temps, she staked out her spot among the others lining the seawall of the canal. An hour in and several shrimp sacrificed to the pinfish, small sheephead and other little bottom feeding fishing, frustration was setting in. A snag and a line break as the tide poured out of the canal, she reeled in the line one last time.
I re-rigged her rod and copied the set up other fisherman were using next to us as best as I could. She slid a shrimp onto the hook and cast it out into the canal one more time. A couple minutes in and her rod tip bounced.
“I have one biting”, she said, her eyes brightening.
A couple turns of the reel’s handle and she set the hook! The pole bent hard and line streamed off the reel as the drag sang.
“I think it’s a good one”, she hollered as the fish peeled off more line and headed towards the Gulf.
I scrambled down the wall and borrowed a long handled dip net from another angler, while she fought on.
The big fish surfaced and gave us a look at just exactly how big the red was and he was huge by any standard. A few more minutes and she worked the monster to the wall and I did my best to net the big boy, but he was too long for the net. I’d work his head into the net’s opening and the fish would thrash and work his way back out and head to deeper water.
She had a look of panic on her face and we both knew the fish was likely to be the largest she’ll ever catch. She managed him back over to the wall as I desperately netted him again. Just then, another fellow with a net came to the rescue and we were able to hoist her prize up and over the seawall.
When I removed the fish from the net, everyone gathered around to see her catch and what a catch it was – 36-inch “Bull Red”, as they call it and easily north of 30 pounds. The old fish was a fighter too. Scarred and missing scales, blind in one eye and a couple of triangular tooth marks on his side showed evidence of an encounter with a shark according to the locals. Despite his beat up appearance, he was still a beauty!
We snapped a few photos, shook a few hands and I stepped back and watched my gal bask in the glow of a redfish of a life time as all the seasoned anglers up and down the wall congratulated her and I realized that I am the one that has caught a “keeper”.
- David Hewitt