by Randall Beaird
Every summer I go offshore fishing with childhood friends. Freeport and “Captain Elliot’s Party Boats” welcomed Pat, Doug, forty other anglers and myself. Until my family moved to the farm in 8th grade, we grew up in Houston; Pat lived next door, Doug a few houses down. We met in ’66 at age three, hit kindergarten running, and have ran together ever since. Reunited for various events, usually fishing, the same stories are told –some things never get old.
Forty miles and four hours later, the two detroit engines slid to a crawl. Eighty eager hands quivered to attention over buckets of slippery squid portions. After a few “looptyloops” on the hooks, we couldn’t wait to hear the captain signal when the anchor was set, “Let’s go get ‘em.” Anxious twenty ounce weights plummeted 125 feet.
Waxed burlap bags tied to the rail began to fill slowly. The red snapper had to be at least 15 inches long to keep, and everyone caught their fair share of kiddies. A sprinkling of amberjack, angelfish, triggerfish, and ling were also brought in.
A seventy year old man was once yanked in by a thirty pound amberjack. The current and fish pulled him under the boat while a deckhand dove in for the save; they both popped out on the other side. After being plucked from the water,his pole was caught by a fellow angler. They yelled for the old man and he was strapped to the deck. Tied up and soaking wet, he was handed the pole as cheers thundered all around. Dinner was extra special that night, considering it almost killed him.
Once on a weekend trip with my Uncle Bill and cousin Mike, I couldn’t leave the fish alone. (Thanks to my dad, I caught the fishing bug at an early age; he would wake me at four for Galveston or Freeport, and sometimes before midnight.)
While Bill and Mike retired to the lakeside cabin, I stumbled down to the pier with seven fishing poles. One by one, baited with minnows and worms, the poles lay strewn across the bulkhead like a line of bazookas. I never will forget holding my minnow up to the moon to frame it on the hook. When I wasn’t bounding from pole to pole arranging bait, I was in a lawn chair with a pole under each arm. If it was toothy grin night, I would’ve won.
After catching a crappie and turtle, I dozed off until around 3am I caught movement out of my right eye. This was more than a nibble as the pole began a slow slide to the water. I just froze. The rod’s steady retreat was so intoxicating I couldn’t move. Even worse, it was Uncle Bill’s best zebco splashing into the lake.
Four hours of sleep later I was back down at the water fishing for the pole. With a party of hooks and weights tied to a nylon line, I drug the cove. Mike and Bill soon joined my side. Mike was trying hard not to laugh–Bill, trying hard to soften my defeat.
I felt so bad and was trying so hard, gauging my long tosses to cover every angle. Bill decided to help by holding the end of the line. Knowing of his firm grip, I slung the weighted hooks as far as I could. The line snaked out over the cove forty yards and more. It didn’t stop. Bill thought he was helping, but was only holding a separate eight foot piece. The actual end floated out over the water. Seeing Bill holding the short impostor string, and the surprised looks on all our faces, bounced us on the grass with laughter. Bill was laughing so hard, and turning so red, I thought he would pass out.
Back to the snapper conclusion.
As the day wore on I kept thinking, “Just a few more minutes!” I kept mumbling, “one more baby, just one more.” After catching several “just one mores”, the signal was given to head to shore. My last “one more” was in the bag on ice for ten seconds as the anchor rattled onto the boat.Then something sentimental hit my squid streaked frame. I grabbed that last snapper, popped his ballooned bladder (necessary for it to live) and set it free. We all like to play the good guy, especially in the middle of a great day.