Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Texas Reds

My well planned fishing trip to Rockport,Texas was everything I had imagined and much much more.  Meeting my good friends Joe Stanfield and Jim Cox at the Corpus Christi airport on Friday afternoon, we located our hotel on the main drag and headed directly for Joe's friends Butch and Penny.  Resident's of Rockport, Butch was also going to join us on the trip Saturday.  Rockport Texas is a smaller city on the gulf coast, nestled behind the Inter-coastal Waterway, 3 hours south of Houston.   Here large saltwater marshes and barrier Islands create a haven for fish and wildlife, including alligators, migratory geese, white pelicans, and the endangered Whooping Cranes.  Aransas National Wildlife refuge is located in this area and the chance to see one of these magnificent birds was pretty good.  Waking up at 5:30 Saturday morning, a quick breakfast and we were off to pick up Butch.  Arriving at the house he had some bad news...............storms with severe hail were due to pass through the area and our captain had called delaying our trip till after the squall line passed, he figured about 11:00.  Killing time we had a chance to view Butch's beautiful house, located on a canal leading to the prime fishing grounds, talk about fishing strategy and envision how good those fish were going to taste this evening. 

Being a fishing guide also means that you have to know your weather, and our guide Dave was no exception.  Heading to our rendezvous point, it was 10:50 and the blue skies were within sight after enduring a pretty windy, rainy morning.  Our trip would be a first for me, first airboat ride, first redfish caught, first time fishing the gulf.  I can guarantee you it exceeded my expectations for all three.  The first order of business was loading up our gear into the 22 foot, flat bottomed boat powered by a huge V8 engine.  Putting out 545 hp, this aluminum blocked, fully blueprinted Cadillac engine drove 2 - 8 bladed propellers, each counter rotating for stability.  This machine rocked.  After securing our noise muffs, hats we took our place on the boat.  Being the one most excited about the trip and my past guiding experience, I got to ride up in the elevated cockpit of the boat, putting me about 7 feet above the surface of the water.  Our guide Dave idled out of the launch area before he hammered the throttle.  I know one thing, being up on the top, right in the main flow of air is a rush that's hard to explain.  It was still pretty windy from the morning's storm so we stayed close to the edges of the marsh, crossing over oyster beds, the Inter-coastal, up small islands, thru channels to our fishing grounds.  Dave would simply take the boat, run it up into the marsh grass, pointing the front end into the waters edge and shut it down.  We fished the channels that ran through the marshes, usually in water less than 2 feet deep.  It actually reminded me a lot of fishing Indian Slough back home with my buddy Kevin.  Our rigs were simple, a 3/4 oz egg sinker with a 2 foot leader, plain hook, and hunk of fish for bait.  Casting it out into the open water, it was identical to cat fishing, wait for the fish to grab the bait, let it run for 10 seconds or so before tightening the line and hammering the fish.  It didn't take long before Jim nailed his first, a beautiful 24 inch fish, one for the box.  Reds have slot limits in Texas with all fish under 20 inches released and you can keep one over 28 but you need to report it to the Fish and Game department, where you will get permission to catch another one.  Few do as the 22 - 26 inch fish are the best to eat.  Moving a couple of times, we had 3 in the box before heading to the honey hole, and honey it was.  Our limit was 12, and with 6 in the box, none caught by myself, the "feel sorry" factor started.  "Here Dave, reel this one in........BS, I catch my own fish!  Well 3 minutes later and I nailed the 26 incher you see in the first picture.  Once the ice was broken, I quickly established myself as a credible Red Fisherman, catching the largest of the day, one over 28 that had to be released.

We ended out the day with 12 nice redfish caught within a span of less than 2 hours.  We endured a once in a lifetime ride on an incredible machine, capable of skimming across anything that's wet, and got to see 2 Whooping Cranes on the way back.  Once at the dock we loaded the boat and watched the guide clean the fish with the efficiency of a seasoned pro.  There were the usual cast of pelicans, gulls, and terns to take advantage of the free meal they were about to experience.  Simply slabbing the fillets off the backbone, he removed the ribs and left the skin on.  Our plan was to have Butch cook them up for us that evening, using a few of his famous seasoning and barbecue grill.  We headed back to the hotel, cleaned up, and stopped at an oyster bar for a little appetizer of 2 dozen raw oysters before heading back over to Butch's.  His recipe was pretty simple... fajita seasoning, lay the fish directly on the grill skin side down, close the cover and cook for 20 minutes.  It was the final reward for what turned out to be a memorable trip for me.  Another item crossed of my bucket list!  There is too much to tell in one post so I will add another later in the week.  I am still in Fort Worth, heading back tonight with nothing left but a sunburn and memories.

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