Confession: I lost a day somewhere, probably my clothes dryer ate it. (along with my sock) All day long I have been happily thinking it Wednesday. Just now realized, it’s Thursday… Well, I guess shit happens.
This little saga of a post should’ve been broken down into ‘chapters’. Alas, I never got to it. Oh well, if you have twenty or so minutes to invest, you might just like it. (And someday, I just may finish it.)
The original title was: “Not Like Going Down The Pond Chasing Blue Gills Or Tommy Cats”–Quint
A quote from the movie, Jaws
“Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale
Galveston! Oh Galveston!
Many times during my life Galveston has been my ‘stomping grounds’ and remains to this day one of my most favored places on Earth, even though it has been “cleaned up” and my favorite sleazy bar now just an empty spot on the beach and a vacant void in my heart.
My step-father took me to Galveston in late summer 1969 on a fishing trip, and I have loved Galveston ever since. Mike was a good stepfather who loved fishing and some of my happiest memories of him are the many times just the two of us would spend the day fishing in Santa Cruz, California or in this case, Galveston.
Leaving Houston, we rambled down Interstate 45 coming upon more and more water, (canals), as we approached Galveston. Seeing houses built over water without garages, but with little piers and small boats tied up in lieu of cars, I said to Mike, “That’s how I would like to live.”
Crossing the big bridge over to Galveston Island afforded a magnificent view. It was a beautiful bright clear day and I could see the fishing boats and sailboats in Galveston Bay. Over the bridge and driving through Galveston City we intersected Seawall Boulevard and the Gulf of Mexico appeared abruptly as if from nowhere and that overpowering first sight of it absolutely blew me away.
We went to the fishing pier which was connected to The Flagship Hotel and even though I caught nothing noteworthy, I had one of the best times of my young life. The smells of the sea, the fresh cut bait, the salt spray were all things familiar to me from so many trips to Santa Cruz. I love the sea, to be sure.
Many years later, after having read Peter Benchley’s Jaws and becoming obsessed with the idea of fishing for something that held the very real possibility of turning the tables and making me the “bait,” I decided Galveston was the place to explore the potential of this heady new-found avocation.
After high school graduation and a couple of semesters attending college in Commerce I moved to La Porte, which is about an hour from Galveston and there developed a plan for my first shark-fishing expedition. Since sharks, big sharks, the kind I was after, could not generally be found by fishing from the beach or even from the many fishing piers which run out from Seawall Boulevard, and since I had no boat, the South Jetty which runs almost two miles out into the Gulf from the eastern tip of Galveston Isle would be my causeway to deep water, no boat required. All it would take is a little forethought, some equipment, and some brass balls. I had all three available to me.
I spent the better part of my first paycheck (I was working for Gulf States Asphalt Company in Pasadena.) on a six-aught saltwater fishing reel and a very large study rod to mount it on. Now this rig was designed to be used from a fishing boat, i.e., could not ‘cast’ the bait with it.
Therefore the biggest problem I faced was getting the bait out far enough away from the jetty to be clear of the huge blocks of granite of which the jetty was constructed (begun in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century) and closer to where I presumed the sharks would congregate. Not relishing the idea of swimming the bait out (I had also seen the movie Jaws)
I decided a small inflatable boat would be the ideal and affordable and safe way for me to deliver the bait. I purchased a small orange ‘boat’ just large enough for one ‘sharker’ and his rig. I spent several hours one Friday night preparing all my gear for the initial test run.
Peanut was with me during this time and we both worked the same shift at the asphalt factory. He and I were living there in La Porte with the parents of three of our old high school buddies. The father had decided they move to La Porte after his children graduated as the job situation was quite a lot better in the Houston area than in Honey Grove. Go figure.
Peanut did not share my new-found passion for shark fishing and flatly vetoed my suggestion that he accompany me on my first foray into this brave new endeavor.
“I ain’t fixin’ to be studyin’ ‘bout no damn sharks.” I believe that to be an accurate quote.
No problem. Actually I was relieved, so that in the off-chance my plan failed and I remained ‘shark-less’ there would be no witnesses to any folly I might become the star of.
Part of the gear I had purchased was one very large hook. I’m talking large. Amazing to me now how stupid I was back then. (Still stupid today, but in different arenas) This hook was probably a good twelve inches long, made of steel over a quarter of an inch in diameter and the gap, the distance between the point and the shank, was five or six inches The damn thing probably weighed a pound and a half.
As I believe was mentioned, I was after one big mo’ fo’ of a shark. I found out later that one does NOT use such a hook for shark fishing, much smaller actually. Anyway, I felt so proud of myself for even finding such a prize. (I’m quite certain the salesman at the bait store had a great deal of fun at my expense, telling all his co-workers of the stupid kid he had sold what was better suited as a gag gift, a ‘big-ass hook’ for the purpose of catching JAWS.)
On the question of what to use for bait, I was stumped. I needed something large enough to cover the entire hook, and juicy enough to attract my quarry. This much I knew instinctively. Now in Jaws, they used an unborn baby porpoise to lure the Great White from the depths. I had no way to procure such a treasure. Therefore I settled on a whole roaster chicken, (a rump roast probably would have been somewhat better, but I was on a budget) purchased from the local Winn-Dixie. I only bought one.
I figured, one chicken, one shark: simple mathematics. I surmised that after fighting for hours one very large shark to the edge of the jetty I would be spent of energy and besides, one set of shark jaws, cut out right there on the jetty, and worn around my neck like Caesar returning from Gaul, would be all I needed to flaunt before my Doubting Thomas back home: Mr. Peanut Piland. He would be begging me to take him on the next sharking expedition.
I arrived at the jetty mid-morning and set about my trek seaward (Ok, Gulf-ward) full of adrenalin and anticipation. After humping the boat, the rig, and all the other gear I could carry what seemed like ten miles (in reality, about one-half mile) over precariously slippery granite boulders which became more ‘un-navigate-able’ the further I got away from the beach.
I picked my spot and started readying my rig. This I took great pains with: inflating the boat, rigging my line, sharpening the barb of the hook on the granite, and finally baiting her up, all with the calm, cool, steely-eyed, rock-steady demeanor of “The Serious Shark Hunter” I had become.
Wedging the pole securely between two boulders, playing out the line, and placing the hook avec dead chicken ever so carefully inside the boat, I got in and shoved off. As I was paddling out I could just barely see the lighthouse that was at the end of the jetty. Looked miles away, but actually it lies about two miles out, about three hundred yards from the very end of the jetty. “Someday,” I said, “Someday.”
After I had paddled out about fifty or sixty yards, I slipped the package overboard and made my way back to the jetty. Once there, nothing to do but wait for Jaws to grab the bait and the surprise concealed inside.
About three hours later, and now sporting a pretty good sunburn, I grew weary and decided to check my line. Reeling it in, I noticed it felt rather light; no drag for what should have been a four–pound chicken, uneaten, at the end of it. The reason became quite evident when I brought in the end of the line and discovered, to my horror that nothing was left of my shark bait but the picked clean skeleton of my chicken.
Shit! I sat there staring at this mockery, pondering where I had gone wrong. After surveying my surroundings and knitting my brow I decided that crabs had been the only thing interested in my fresh chicken. Obviously the sharks had been un-stirred by my sumptuous offering.
To tell you I was embarrassed and feeling as the complete fool and idiot would be over-stating the obvious, but I was feeling that way and cursed myself roundly for my stupidity.
Since it was getting late in the afternoon and since I was fresh out of chickens, and since I felt so utterly defeated, I decided to head home, puzzle things out, and try to come up with a new plan. Just did not know what I was going to tell Peanut when I arrived sans shark jaws…
“I don’t see no Jaws,” were the first words out of his mouth as soon as I got out of my orange Chevy Monza and began unloading my gear.
“He escaped,” was all I said and all I wanted to say.
“Escaped? Ha! You never did see no Jaws, did ya?”
“Peanut, fuck off and die.”
“C’mon man! What happened?”
“Gimme one of those beers and maybe I’ll tell you.”
I acquiesced and told him everything and naturally he burst out laughing—continuously and annoyingly.
“You one dumb sumbitch, ain’t ya?”
“Once again, Peanut, I invite you to fuck off. What’s for supper?”
“Crow. And humble pie for dessert.”
“You so damn smart.”
“Guess I might have to come with you next time and show you how to fish.”
“Listen Asshole, I have a plan for ‘next time’ if you care to join me.”
“And what’s your ‘lame-ass plan’?” he asked.
“You know that lighthouse at the end of the jetty?”
“Well, I’m gonna hike out there and spend the weekend. Deep water out there. Lots of sharks.”
“You go out there looking for shark; you prolly just gonna drown, or knowing you, get lost.”
I just glared at him.
“Must be two mile to that lighthouse,” he continued. “How you gonna get all your shit out there?”
“You’ll be with me.”
“You will come… and you will help.”
Early the next Saturday morning Peanut and I were loading up the Monza with all the gear and bound for Galveston.
“What?” I said.
“We need beer.”
“What for?” I asked.
“Goddamn it Peanut, we got enough shit to tote out there. We can’t be carrying beers as well.”
“No beer. No Peanut.”
“Okay. We can grab some Coors on the way, but you have to carry it.”
“Since I am ‘much man’ no problem,” he said.
“Fine. Cans or bottles?”
“Coors in the botella” (Peanut had learned the important Spanish: ‘Cerveza pour some more’—‘Buenas crotches’, et cetera.)
Since Galveston was at least an hour from La Porte, Peanut and I had time enough to fight and argue along the way. This was always our wont while on road trips, however long or short. We could get into an argument over anything and everything, and naturally we would feel compelled to slap the shit out of each other to punctuate our disparate viewpoints.
This trip was no exception. At least twice during our journey I had to remove my hands from the steering wheel to slap the shit out of him and he reciprocated. Traveling down Interstate 45 at seventy miles per hour is not a good venue to have a slap fight, but we did it. It was our custom, you see…
Arriving at Galveston somewhat unscathed, we set out toward the lighthouse, which, in fact, was no less than two miles away over precariously placed Texas granite—took us about two hours to arrive at our weekend home.
We dropped our backpacks and the rods and reels and decided to explore the lighthouse before beginning our “sharkin’.” There was a rusty ladder to the first deck and yet another to the second. We ascended to the second deck. There was an old generator and some other derelict machinery. This deck is actually the platform upon which the lighthouse proper was constructed. There was a narrow bridge, for lack of a term, to a small building mounted on another platform next to the main lighthouse one. It looked as if it had been added some years after the first. We entered the first floor of the lighthouse and found more old machinery and not much else.
Up one more floor were the living quarters of the ghosts of the men who actually lived in the lighthouse back in the Thirties and Forties, and I think maybe into the Fifties. There was one ‘stateroom’, a galley, and a head. In one corner there was a spot where a boxing speed bag had once hung. This is where we would bring our ‘comfort’ items, as this was also where we would sleep.
Strewn about everywhere was trash, some of it quite old, some more recent. A small amount of graffiti adorned the walls, but nothing I would call poetic, or even original, so I took out the Marks-A-Lot I had brought along, having anticipated just such an opportunity, and added my own contribution:
Here lies the body of Mary McGee. Died at the age of a hundred and three. For fifteen years, she kept her virginity. Not a bad record for this here vicinity–Cap’n Quint of The Orca
“Kinda has that homey lived-in look about it, don’t it?” Peanut observed as he slowly walked around the place.
“Yeah, and I think the maid is off on vacation.” I responded.
Peanut flashed an old “Hustler” magazine he found in the shitter. He said, “Just in case the sharks don’t show…”
“Just great. If the sharks don’t show, I can fall asleep listening to you jerk off. Perfect.”
Moving up to the third floor, we discovered two more bedrooms similar to the other one below. We couldn’t easily discern what the fourth story was for, but there was a very cool spiral stairway to the fifth (and last) level. This was where we found the raison d’être for all that was below us: The Light. We wondered aloud how long it had been since it had been lit up.
“Probably been about fifty year,” Peanut ventured.
“Naw, I think maybe only fifteen or twenty,” I said.
We must have been at least one hundred feet over the Gulf. The view was absolutely fantastic! We could see (just barely) the Monza parked on the beach and all the ships navigating the Ship Channel.
“Damn waste is what it is,” Peanut said after a few moments.
“Waste of what?”
“Damn waste of this here beautiful sight, as I should be sharin’ it with some luscious cowgirl and not your smelly ass.”
“Aw shucks, Peanut,” I said in my best faux hurt voice, “Why ya wanna go an’ hurt my feelin’s that-a-way?”
“Many-Feet, if’n you got any feelin’s worth hurtin’, I sure ain’t never seen ‘em.”
“Ya got me there, ‘Nut,” I said, slapping him on the back, “Ya sure got me there.”
Having finished our tour, it was time to ‘git on wid it’ to use the Peanut vernacular. We returned to the foundation, sorted out our stuff and schlepped the food, some of the beer, and some other sundry items to the second floor of the lighthouse. After consuming a few of the “Coors-in-the-botella”, we proceeded to ‘git on wid it’ in earnest.
We had brought some light rigs (Zebco 33 reels and light rods) for the purpose of catching “trash fish” croakers and the like, for bait. They were easy to catch using the freshly dead bait shrimp we had picked up at a bait shop just before arriving at the jetty. We caught a few and put them on a stringer. After that I inflated the orange dingy; rigged everything up and proceeded to bait my hook, instructing Peanut on how this was all going to work. (According to my new plan.)
“I’ll get in the boat and you play out the line as I make my way out clear of the rocks. Once I get far enough out, I’ll signal you to brake the reel, and I’ll pull myself back in to the jetty along the line. All you gotta do is hang on to the rod.”
Should have been.
I got into the little boat and cast off. I did not realize that the tide was going out strong along the ship channel and was immediately caught up in it. Didn’t take long to discover I was in deep shit (and deep water). The lighthouse is about three hundred yards from the end of the jetty where the real Gulf of Mexico begins. As I was approaching same, I signaled Peanut to “throw on the brakes” so I could begin pulling myself back to the lighthouse. Tried this. Didn’t work. I actually broke the 110 pound test line and was now adrift, heading out to sea.
The sky was blue and cloudless. The waves were knocking me seriously about. Life was a gift and precious. I did not want to die. Not one prone to panic, I quickly explored my options. (There weren’t many) I could see the end of the jetty. A wave hurled me out of my little rubber boat and took her away.
Serious situation now.
The tip of the jetty was now in my rear-view “mirror” and I had horrible thoughts of being swept out into the gulf, never being seen nor heard from again. Trying to tread water and all the while keeping my eyes on the jetty, I tried to swim. The swells and the waves were thrashing me roundly. I decided that if I didn’t do something in earnest, I would drown.
So I did something in earnest:
I swam. For my life.
Like I had never swum before—hit a troop of jellyfish—strung repeatedly and badly, fighting through them and the waves and tide and swells, I managed to finally make the end of the jetty and started navigating, staggering, (and somewhat swaggering) back toward the lighthouse and my best friend, Peanut Piland.
Exhausted, I found him there packing up (mostly the beers) and seemingly nonchalant.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Well, sheeeit! I figgered you for drown’d. So, I was gonna go home and to Gilley’s this eve’n.”
“Well, weren’t nothin’ I could do for ya anyhow.”
“I lost the boat.”
“Yeah, I can see you ain’t got no boat. ‘less it’s in your pocket.”
“We’ll continue this expedition without that boat. Gimme a beer. I’m parched.”
“How the fuck we gonna do that? You lost the damn boat.”
“Swim the bait out.”
“Swim it out where?”
“Away from the jetty.”
“Swim the bloody bait out? To shark-land? Where the bull sharks live?”
“Yep. To ‘shark-land’”
“You one crazy sumbitch.”
“Who gonna swim it out there?”
“Yeah. Goddamn right ‘you’.”
“Unpack your shit. I need to rig up some more line for this rig.”
New Plan: I would swim the ‘package’ out to the sharks, drop it and swim like hell back to the lighthouse. “Trepidation” is just a scare word, invented by the brave to intimidate the not-brave.
Who cares? I was a bona fide “sharker” now. Wasn’t I?
Fortunately, I had only lost about twenty feet of my 110 pound test line from the break. The bad news was I had lost my 10 feet of steel leader-line and one of my hooks. (I was no longer using the gag-gift big-ass hook from my initial foray into sharkin’, having learned that sharks will not approach such a ludicrous offering—I now had “proper shark hooks” much smaller, but more lethal) An old fisherman had told me that the steel leader needed to be longer than the shark because once hooked, a shark will thrash about and inevitably cut the mono-filament line with its rough hide.
Now I didn’t expect to hook a ten-footer, but one never knows when fishing in the ocean. The magic of this kind of fishing is that you never know what you may hook into and how large it might be. Fishing for bass, or crappie, or bluegill (called “brim” or “goggle-eye” in Texas) you could pretty much bet anything you hooked would not be 10 feet long: eight or ten inches was usually more the case.
Dealing with the ‘re-rigging’ of my rig proved to be tedious and time-consuming, (I was impatient to get a line back in the water), but dealing with Peanut proved to be irritating and infuriating.
“Man! What the hell happened out there?”
“You saw it. I got caught in the outgoing tide. I didn’t figure on that. The damn boat was a bad idea. It just sits on top of the water and it’s like you’re on a white-water river.”
“Yeah, you didn’t figure on a lotta things. I’m done with this business. I wanna go honky-tonkin’ at Gilley’s.”
“’Nut, all you ever wanna do is go honky-tonkin’.”
“Yeah, so what?” All you ever wanna do is fill my head with shark-fishin’ or some other lame-ass shit.”
“Listen, we made a deal, remember?”
“Nope, I don’t.”
“We agreed that every other weekend we would come here and chase sharks and every other weekend we would go and honky-tonk and chase women. Ring any bells?”
“Good. Now go in that tackle box; I need a new hook. I ‘bout got this new leader on. Oh, and hand me a couple of those two-ounce weights. And shut up about Gilley’s. As I recall, last time we were there we got thrown out ‘cause of your getting into a fight with some dude. Over what? ‘He was tryin’ to steal my woman’…Let me dial you in Peanut: she weren’t your woman and in fact, as I remember, she wouldn’t even dance with you. At least out here there is no one to fight with ‘cept me, and we can’t get thrown out of here unless we get caught by the Coast Guard which, if we’re stealthy, is unlikely.”
“What do you mean, ‘Coast Guard’?”
“Sorry. Forgot to tell you. The Coast Guard patrols the jetty at night looking for boats or ships run into it or for idiots stupid enough to ‘trespass’ here. Didn’t you see the sign nailed up on the second deck? The one that says ‘Government Property—Condemned—Stay Out’.”
“Didn’t see it.”
“Well, if we get caught, we’re gonna have a bad day.”
“Why do you s’pose it’s condemned?”
“Look up. You see that big-ass fuel tank up there, the one bigger than a whale looks like it could fall on us with any wind blown its way? The one hanging at a forty-five and only one remaining metal hoop to hold it?”
“Jeezus! Didn’t notice,” he said as he moved over and out from underneath it.
“Peanut, you miss a lot.”
“Oh yeah? Well I didn’t miss the fact that you fucked up and almost drown, and the fact that we’re out here two mile offshore, all beat up and bleedin’ from navigatin’ and totin’ all this shit over all that granite, and we ain’t got nothin’ to show for our troubles ‘cept some dead croakers, warm beer, and some Spam and Vi-enner sausages. Oh and one lost boat. I could be drunk and dancin’ at Gilley’s in a few hours wearin’ my new boots, my new shirt, my new Stetson, and talkin’ to the cowgirls. That, I noticed.”
“We’re stayin’ the weekend. We gonna continue this fight physically, or are you gonna help me?”
“Here,” he said, handing me the hook and the weights. “What did you mean by ‘stealthy’?”
“When night falls, we just hide all our gear, don’t light no cigs where they can see the light, and move up into the second floor of the lighthouse and wait ‘em out.”
“How do you know they patrol the lighthouse?”
“You don’t know shit from tuna fish and I ain’t studyin’ ‘bout no Coast Guard.”
I finished my rigging and was preparing to swim the bait out. Peanut gave me his ‘Peanut stare,’ which was similar to looking into a black kettle of black-eyed peas: lots of eyes all staring at you, while they swirled around.
“You really fixin’ to swim that bloody bait out from the jetty?”
“Yep. That’s exactly what I’m gonna do.”
“I saw some jelly fish floating around out there. Lots of ‘em.”
“Yeah, we’ve met already.”
“Well, you might think about how you gonna navigate through them. Oh, and maybe there’s a bull shark out there what hasn’t had lunch yet. Ever think ‘bout that?”
“I’m countin’ on it. You just hold the rig and as soon as I drop the bait, you set the brake and I will swim back. I’m only going out about 50 yards. Don’t worry.”
“Sheeit! I ain’t worried. You go right on ahead with yer bad self. I’ll wait for you right here.”
I lowered myself into the water and holding the dead and bleeding croakers over my head (I had strung up two on my hook) and swimming with the other arm I proceeded to backstroke away from the lighthouse. The waves weren’t bad and I discovered that since I was actually ‘in’ the water and not ‘on top’ of it, the tide was not really a factor anymore. I was making good progress when I felt a sharp sting on my leg. It hurt.
Then another and another and it hurt some more. Must be the damn jelly fish Peanut had warned me of. Sure enough I was caught up in a herd of them. Again. They were the softball-size ones, with that pulsating propulsion method of travel. Well, I had swerved into a whole cattle trail of them. They were just minding their own business, I’m sure, and I was in their way. They stung me mercilessly. The only thing to do was swim out of them. I was now about thirty yards from the light house, not far enough out to clear the base of the jetty which I estimated was about forty yards from its dry apex.
I swam on.
Finally I got shed of the jelly fish herd and at about 50 yards out, dropped the bait. I felt something rough and unseen brush against my leg. Could have been a bull shark. Could have been driftwood. Could have been a mermaid. Could have been my imagination. I don’t know, but it did unnerve me. A little.
I swam like hell back to the lighthouse, feeling right proud of myself for at least getting the package out to where the sharks must roam. I was concerned about swimming through the jelly fish again, but they (thankfully) had drifted on by…
Once I got back ‘on board’ the lighthouse and drawn a warm Coors from one of the back packs, I sat down with my rig and waited for…for a while.
Peanut was getting bored.
I said, “’Nut, why don’t you grab that Zebco and try to catch us up some more croakers?”
“I ain’t studyin’ ‘bout no croakers.”
“You ain’t ‘studyin’ ‘bout much today, are ya? Why don’t you explore some more of the lighthouse; it will be dark soon and we need to know if there be any demons here tonight. Find us a spot we can sleep out of view of the Coast Guard, but be able to keep an eye on ‘em. How much beer we got left?”
“Ok. I’ll do that, and we got ‘bout a six or eight.”
“Didn’t bring no pot.”
“You insisted on totin’ pounds of beer and didn’t bring no ounce of pot?”
“Didn’t have none.”
“Just as well.”
Peanut proceeded to mount the ladders into the lighthouse and finally I had some peace. I sat there, watching some of the small boats bobbing up and down in the ship channel for their weekend outing, and waited for my line to go taut with some leviathan on the other end, wagging its tail.
After about an hour or so of this wonderful solitude Peanut came bounding down the ladders and was about to say something I’m sure would have been piercingly eloquent when the line started flying off my reel. With a six-aught salt-water rig, you set the ‘clicker’ on to alert you of line being taken out. My ‘clicker’ had suddenly come alive! And vociferously.
“Peanut! I got one!” I yelled.
“No shit! Let it feed out then slam it!”
“I know! I know!”
I let it take about thirty feet of line and then I set the brake and slammed into it, setting the hook. There was a slight hesitation and then I had the rod nearly jerked out of my hands.
“Whoa! We got us something here now!” I yelled over my shoulder to Peanut.
I had set the ‘drag’ on the reel to ‘medium’ not wanting to have my line broken. This fish or whatever it was, was not impressed. It continued on taking line as if I had never set the brake at all.
“’Nut! This one big sumbitch!”
“Fight it!” he yelled.
“What the hell do you think I’m doin’!?”
I fought it for about five minutes when suddenly it stopped. Stopped? I tried to retrieve some line. No luck. Wouldn’t budge. At first I thought the line had been snagged on some jetty rock. But then I felt some slight movement, ever so slowly it took more line out to sea, and then it stopped again.
Frustrated, I sat there like a spring wound too tight and about to violently uncoil when a small boat of weekend fishermen noticed me holding earnestly and fervently onto my rig.
They brought their small boat close to the lighthouse and an old gray geezer yelled at me:
“Hey Boy! You got sumthin’ on that line?”
“Yessir. I believe I do, but it’s stalled.”
“You need to get over the top of it.”
“How am I’m gonna do that?” I asked.
“We’ll come in close as we can and you swim out here with your rig and we’ll get on over it.”
Since my fish was obviously taking a break and not making one, I agreed.
“Peanut, I’m gonna get in this boat and get over this thing and bring her in.”
“Go ahead on ‘Feet. I’ll hold down this fort.”
I waited for them to get their boat within about twenty feet of the light house and then I slid into the water and managed to swim one-handed over to them while holding onto my rig. They pulled me on-board and we proceeded to the spot where my fish was certainly underneath. The fish woke up and began swimming in circles, pulling the small boat with it as it did so.
Then it stopped.
“Manta.” One guy on the boat said.
“Manta?” I asked.
“You got yerself hooked into a manta ray—they common here. This one probably a ten or twelve-footer.”
“What do I do?”
“Nothin’ you can do; they use them wings they got and suck to the bottom and won’t budge. If they move, you can wear ‘m out and haul ‘em in. But the only way to get ‘em to move is to attach a blue crab to the line and snake it on down to ‘em. That’ll make him move. We got no blue crabs here at this moment.”
“So, I’m screwed?”
“Yep. You have to gig ‘em up with a crab. Otherwise, forget it. This fish weighs ‘bout six hundred pounds. You cain’t horse ‘im up. Impossible. Ya got to get him swimmin’ Might as well cut your line and give up Son.”
“Nope. I’ll force him up.”
And then I proceeded to try. I gigged, I swerved, I pulled, I cajoled… Nothing seemed to work. Finally after all the gigging, swerving, pulling, and cajoling, I broke my line and in so doing fell backward into their Styrofoam beer cooler, shattering it and scattering their beer and ice all over the deck.
“Sorry ‘bout that,” I said.
“No worries Son; ain’t ever’day one hooks a big manta.”
They took me back to the vicinity of the lighthouse; I slid over the side and swam back.
“What was it?” Peanut asked, now deadpan, since the excitement was over.
“A manta ray.”
“Oh. No shark?”
“Lost another leader and some more line…”
“Seems to be a pattern here ‘Feet.”
“Shut up and hand me the tackle box.”
“’Cause I’m going again.”
“For sharks, for fuck’s sake, you asshole.”
“Oh yeah, guess I dun forgot what the fuck we be doin’ out here.”
The sun was setting as were my hopes for a shark that day. Little did I realize, sharks are mainly nocturnal. I would soon discover this fact. I was not anxious to swim into the gulf after dark, so I hurried along, rigging up a new line. I took the biggest croaker off our stringer, and this time, drawing on my bass fishing experience, hooked him up through the lips—like a big minnow—“See what that does,” I muttered under my breath.
With Peanut’s assistance, I lowered myself into the water and got smacked around by the swells before I got shed of the jetty. Once away from the rocks, I calmed a bit. But I must say, swimming bait, any kind of bait, out into the gulf, made me apprehensive at best and damn scared at worst.
I swam on into the pre-dusk Gulf of Mexico.
Happily, there were no jelly-fish to contend with. I swam about fifty yards out and dropped the croaker. Swimming back using an improvised side-stoke, I thought about my folly and wondered too much what possessed me to be doing this. It would have been pleasant to be warm and dry at Gilley’s, sippin’ a cold one and Cowgirl-Watchin’. Maybe Peanut was right. Maybe, (Oh horror!) I was wrong! Maybe, there was more to life than sharkin’. Jaws was just a movie, after all, or was it?
No matter. I approached the lighthouse.
“Many-Feet, I might-ah have said this before, but you one crazy son of a bitch.”
“’Nut, you need some new material,” I said, as I accepted his help, helping me out of the water.
To get out of the wind and salt spray, Peanut and I retired to the living quarters in the lighthouse. Sipping on Coors and munching on Vienna sausages, I kept my ear tuned to below decks for the sound of my reel’s clicker. There was nothing much for us to do now but wait.
“Kinda remote out here, ain’t it?” Peanut said.
“Yep. Kinda,” I said back.
“Listen to that wind,” he said. “Spooky.”
“Kinda,” I agreed.
“Wonder who’s playin’ at Gilley’s tonight?”
“’Nut, I don’t care who’s playin’ at Gilley’s tonight,” I said, digging another sausage out of the can.
“Well, next week, gonna be Ronnie Milsap, and we goin’. Milsap draws the women, ya know?”
“Yep. He sure does. Too bad he can’t see ‘em.”
“’Feet,” he said, “Don’t be talkin’ no shit ‘bout Milsap. The man is a fuckin’ legend.”
“Sorry ‘Nut. I suppose you’re right. A ‘Legend’.”
Even though it was summertime, there was a bit of a wet chill in the air. Peanut and I were both exhausted and were soon curled up on the deck fast asleep.
I awoke with a start, and sensed something was amiss. I had not meant to fall asleep, and still in that groggy just awake state, I heard something which didn’t seem to go with the endemic noise of the environment.
Then I realized what I was hearing.
“Peanut! Wake up!” I yelled at him as I shot to my feet.
“Somethin’s on the line! Listen!”
I could hear the six-aught reel clicking its ass off down below and I dashed down the stairs and the two ladders to the main deck.
I had laid the rig down pointing straight out to sea, and had tied the butt end of the rod to one of the stanchions for insurance. The reel was singing. I picked up the rig and slammed into whatever was out there stealing my line. It was as if I had set the hook into an oak: solid–a slight pause–then the thing violently lurched forward almost pulling my arms out of their sockets.
“Goddamn it Peanut! Get down here!” I yelled.
I heard Peanut’s boots clanging down the ladders, but did not look around. I was certain I had a bull shark by the horns this time, no manta ray this. He was taking line fast and I became afraid he would just run it all out and snap it once he emptied my reel. I had to wear him down somehow.
I grabbed the star shaped drag and tightened it a half-turn. The fish lurched again and kept taking line. I wanted to get closer to the edge of the deck but the rod was still tied to the stanchion, not allowing me to maneuver. Not wanting to risk taking one hand off the rod to untie it, I yelled over my shoulder,
“’Nut! Cut that rope!”
“What rope?!” he yelled back.
“The one tied to this rod!”
He cut it and I carefully made my way to the edge of the lighthouse foundation. The concrete was slick and I didn’t want to have myself pulled down, (or in) but felt I needed to be closer to the edge and away from the cables that crisscrossed between the stanchions.
With more room now to work the rod, I began trying to regain some of my line. The fish did seem to be slowing. I heaved back, pulling hard and managed to horse in about three feet, lowering the rod as I reeled in.
‘This just might work’, I remember thinking at the time.
Although it was now about ten o’clock, there was enough light from a half-moon and the lights from Galveston to see some of what was going on. I could make out where my line entered the water and I could plainly see the swells around the rocks of the jetty. We had not brought along a lantern, but we had a flashlight—somewhere.
Peanut was yelling at me, “You gotta get back some of your line! He’s takin’ too much!”
“I know!” I yelled back, as I tried to horse in another three feet.
I pulled back on the rod, managed to regain a few more feet of line, then the fish took off again in earnest.
Peanut was beside me now, yelling in my ear over the complaining sound of the reel as more line spun off. “You ain’t got much line left! Tighten that drag some more! He gonna break the line anyway! GO FOR IT!”
He was right. I had been too cautious and had squandered too much line that the fish didn’t earn. I tightened the drag some more and heaved back on the rod, expecting the line to go limp with a snap somewhere along the length of it.
It did go limp, but not like I’d expected. It wasn’t the sudden, quick limp one gets when the line snaps, but more of a ‘slow limp’ if that makes any sense. Greedily I began recovering lost line, still unsure if I had lost the fish or not.
“You lost him!” Peanut yelled in my ear.
“Dunno yet…wait a sec… He’s still there! I can feel him. He musta changed direction.”
“Maybe he just gonna surrender and come in all peace-able an’ shit.” Peanut mocked.
“I think he’s swimming this way,” I said as I struggled to take up the slack that was still coming to me.
The fish did appear to have ‘surrendered’ but appearances and assumptions have always been problematical for me. If he were spent, and I was certain he was not. And if, by some miracle I got him to the edge of the lighthouse, the dangerous task would become getting him on-board. I had read somewhere that the best thing to do with a shark in these situations was to throw a noose around his tail (Tiger Shark by the tail?) and hang on until he drowns. Since I had no real experience at any of this, I had relied upon literature to guide me and had brought along a broom handle with a wire noose attached…just in case. Well this just in: I think my case was next on the docket.
“’Nut! I think he’s comin’ in! Grab that noose I rigged up!”
“I told you about it yesterday! Go get it! Now!”
“Oh, you mean that broom handl’ with the bailin’ wire?”
“Yeah! That! Get it!”
Looking down at my reel, I estimated I had recovered most of the line, meaning the shark (at least I hoped it was a shark) must be very close now. I studied the point where my line entered the water, but couldn’t discern any clue. While watching, it began to trail left and right and I saw the shark break the surface.
“Peanut!! Get over here with that noose!” I yelled.
He came scurrying over, ‘noose’ in hand.
“Look there!” I screamed and pointed. “He’s just about ten feet out!”
“I don’t see nothin’.”
And the shark was suddenly within spitting distance.
“Holy Shit!” Peanut yelled.
I couldn’t tell, but the thing (now definitely a bull shark) looked to be about six foot at least. Realizing it was no longer freely in the depths; it came alive with new found determination and was not going to be easily subdued. Holding the rod with every bit of strength and courage I could muster, I attempted to wear it down to the point where Peanut could attempt to slip the ‘noose’ over that tail. I do believe it would have been easier to pin the tail on the donkey at this point—a real, really pissed off donkey.
By some miraculous miracle, Peanut had managed to get the ‘noose’ over the shark’s tail.
The shark, desperate for its self-preservation (and really, really pissed off now) joined the battle in earnest.
Peanut yelled at me:
“’Feet! I cannot hold him! Come help me out!”
I dropped my fishing rig and joined the battle, jumping in front of Peanut and grabbing the broomstick.
Together we tried desperately to hang on.
We were losing.
I managed to slip on the wet concrete of the lighthouse and fall headlong into The Gulf.
With the pissed off shark.
Bad for me.
I yelled at ‘Nut: “Drop the damn stick and pull me out!”
He did. (And the shark took his exit, stage right, dragging the broomstick, it on the surface, leaving a wake in the water)
Happily (and apparently) the shark had chewed through the line and thus did not drag my expensive “Sharkin’ Rig” out to sea with him as well. It remained on the Lighthouse floor.
I flopped onto the pavement like some kind of beached whale.
Peanut pulled me to my feet.
“’Feet,” he said. “Can we go home now?”
“Not until tomorrow,” I said back.
“Well, next week, Gilly’s?”
“Yeah, and the week after that and the week after that and the week after that. I am done with this folly.”
I was lying of course.
Two weeks later, we were back at the Lighthouse
A little bit of added value in honour of my too soon lost great good friend: Jimmy ‘Peanut’ Piland
“Peanut, I am so sorry. You were right: we shoulda spent more time at Gilley’s and less time on the jetty. I was wrong. Wherever you are, I hope you will read this.
Vid compilation credit: J.R. Ramos