ROCKPORT, Texas — The dark, gray clouds hugged the sea as we slipped over the side of the boat and started our wade fishing adventure in the intercoastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
My friend, Don Sitton, who lives on the Texas Gulf Coast, invited me to make the trip down from Oklahoma City last month to fish for redfish, also known as red drum. Known as a powerful fighter, redfish are one of the most pursued species of fish in the Texas saltwaters.
I flew to Corpus Christi to meet Don at his home in the coastal town of Rockport, where he already had prepared his boat and our fishing gear for an early morning departure the next day.
Before sunrise, we launched the boat and traveled about 6 miles off the coastline to a series of small islands in order to claim our fishing spot. There is so much fishing pressure in the area for redfish and speckled trout that you’ve got to stake your claim early.
The fishing waters around Rockport contain numerous islands, saltwater marshes, channels and shallow flats. We selected this particular piece of water because it was full of baitfish. Our hope was the redfish would be chasing their breakfast into the shallow water that morning.
Our strategy was to walk in skinny water from knee to waist deep as quietly as possible. Even though we wore shin guards to protect ourselves against sting rays, anglers are advised to shuffle their feet in order to spook away any stingrays lying on the bottom.
A salty mist was heavy in the air as we began casting. Don used a spinning rig, while I used a baitcaster.
Don could be referred to as a purist because he only uses artificial lures. His two favorite offerings were the classic 1/4-oz. Johnson gold spoon and a 1/8-oz. lead head with a plastic eel attached.
His rod technique resembled an orchestra conductor rapidly moving a baton. This movement swims the lure in an erratic, wounded fashion. At the same time, he keeps a tight line by constantly reeling in the slack. Years of experience perfected his touch, which soon proved deadly.
Almost immediately, my friend started catching redfish. The limit is three per day, and they must measure between 20 and 28 inches.
Fishing for redfish requires a a great deal of concentration, but there are plenty of distractions, like jumping mullets and screaming birds. The area also is a bird-watching paradise. Thousands of birds migrate along the Gulf Coast in the spring from tiny terns to large whooping cranes.
Many of the birds also were also fishing with us that morning because of the plentiful baitfish in the water.
Don quickly put a couple of keepers on his stringer and caught and released several undersized reds. I had yet to catch a fish even though I was standing by his side just a few yards away.
He tried to lift my spirits by explaining it was only a question of luck, and not a lack of skill, when he got a solid bite. He powerfully set the hook again and his line started screaming off the reel as if he had hooked an 18-wheeler.
There are many species in the ocean, and at this moment the only thing we knew was that this creature was huge.
Finally, he turned it and started gaining line back on his open face spinning reel. A large wake passed by that reflected a dark red color. Don’s beast of a fish was a giant bull redfish.
After several more small runs, Don lifted from the water a 36-inch beauty. This old fellow weighed 30 pounds, and due to its age was partially covered in black barnacles. We took a picture and released the bad boy to fight another day.
Redfish are excellent to eat, and later that day Don grilled our morning’s catch in his backyard. He prepared the filets by leaving the skin and scales on one side, a delicacy known in the area as “redfish on the half shell.”
As I sat beneath ancient live oak trees, I reflected on my late father, who had suddenly left Oklahoma my senior year of high school and moved to Rockport, Texas. His logic in moving had remained a mystery to me.
After this wonderful day on Gulf waters, I now understand why he came here to live out the balance of his days. It is truly a very special place.
And never forget that any day spent on the water, or in our case in the water, is a great day.