A Pleasant Day on Galveston Bay

     Not long ago I was reminded again why my wife and I attend the church to which we currently pledge allegiance. Not only does it offer the serious things like a caring, spiritual leader, a loving, concerned congregation, and a place where one can truly feel a communication with one’s Creator, but it also offers fun stuff to do, even for us…um…Golden Agers.
     This event was an opportunity to satisfy that most basic instinct of man, that of the gatherer. You know, the mighty man who goes out and brings in the meat for the grateful family back at the cave. Except in this case it wasn’t a hunt for forest game, but rather game in water. Yes, I am talking about fishing. What the more sporting leaders of the church had done was obtain tickets to go on a charter fishing boat out of Galveston for four hours on Saturday morning. The price was $25.00, which was a bargain, because the boat people offered fishing gear, bait, transportation to the fishing spot, and expert guidance for that small price. The plan was to exit Galveston harbor and sail out to the jetties, then re-enter the bay and sail over to the Bolivar Peninsula, and then wander around the bay as the ship sonar sought out the schools of fish for us to capture. Visions of monster redfish, speckled trout, flounder, even sharks danced in our heads as we looked forward to Saturday morning. Concerns about how big of an icebox do we need to take to insure we get all our fish back home floated around in conversations. All of us experienced fishermen contemplated taking our own gear because we have our own special way to fish. It was all very exciting. The ship was to pull out at 8:00 a.m., so we knew we would need to leave the church by about 6:00 or so to make sure we got there in time to register and board the vessel. All of us (at least I did) excitedly went to bed early Friday night to be sure we got up in time to make the deadline.
     I awoke before my alarm went off at 4:45 a.m. to the sound of pitter-patter outside our window. No, it really wasn’t pitter-patter, more like the sound of water gushing off the roof and down the down spout. I went to the door, cracked it open, and saw that it was pouring down rain, and colder than…well, it was chilly. And the wind was blowing. My mouth said, “Boy, the fish ought to be biting in this weather,” but my heart said, “I bet they’re going to cancel the trip.” I checked my super sophisticated Blackberry Curve internet capable cell phone for any emails with fishing news, and there was nothing. So I decided to go to the church and get the bad news there. After having my usual healthy breakfast of Pop-Tarts and milk, I threw on my clothes, found a rain protective hat and a water repellent jacket, hopped in my truck and headed to the church.
     The trip gave me a new revelation. I have decided we need to have Sunday Service at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday. Anyone who travels FM 1960 any distance knows it is a frustrating blend of suffocating traffic and constant red lights. This morning I drove the eight miles from my house to the church and never slowed down. Not a stop light and not a single doddering old dude cruising at 25 miles per hour the whole distance. I made it to the church in less than 12 minutes. It was so nice. But at the church, arriving about 20 minutes before we were to leave, I realized there was no one there. Where were the 35 or so brothers that were to make the pilgrimage? It was still raining, by the way, with a damp wind that was chilling. Finally I saw a car over in a corner, but it did not appear to have anyone inside. So it appeared that I was alone, which, without being an alarmist, still makes me nervous anywhere in the Houston area, especially when all my weaponry is at home and not in my truck.
     Finally a Hummer rolled in and I realized that Pastor Fauss was there, so I was now safe from harm and danger. As he got out of his vehicle, the other fellow got out of his, and I realized that it was Brother Mike Mabry, so I joined them. Needless to say, the primary focus of conversation was the weather, with the general consensus that it was supposed to be better “down toward Galveston.” In fishermen, hope springs eternal. Shortly later, Brothers Leonard Wiggins, Shawn Everhart, and others trickled in, and as we approached the departure deadline, there arose some concern about where everyone was. But about that time Brother Joe Hargrave cruised up and said that many had decided to drive straight from their homes to Galveston instead of gathering at the church, so we all felt a little better, and, about 6:00 a.m., we loaded up and headed to Galveston. I was privileged to ride with Brothers Mike and Leonard in Brother Mike’s 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe. I mention the Santa Fe only because as a person formerly involved in the car business, I can’t help but check out a vehicle if I’m anywhere near an interesting one. The Hyundai was a very impressive small SUV with good power, a smooth ride, and good finish.
     It is always a privilege and a pleasure to travel, associate, or visit with men of like Christian faith. The conversation is always friendly, honest, respectable, and clean….and usually fun. I could tell that Mike and Leonard had known each other for a long time because the banter between the two men was easy, relaxed, and humorous as befits long time friends. I appreciated how they welcomed me into their conversation, and by the time we reached Galveston I felt at ease, as if I had become an instant long time friend. Relationships like this are extremely rare in human interactions, and they cannot be overvalued.
     The weather did at least seem to abate a bit as we headed to salt water country. Though the winds and chill remained, the rain reduced to just a slight mist. Galveston, however, was a little depressing. The scars of Hurricane Ike of 2008 were very evident. As we passed the ending of IH45 and cruised along Broadway, scores of empty and damaged homes and business were still evident. Vacant land and lots were every where, and even the marshland prior to the Galveston Bridge that sits to the right of IH45 which usually is covered by tall grass over its watery bed is now mostly just water with all the marsh grass washed away. Turning left on 25th and approaching the Strand, the buildings looked simply older and more weathered and the whole area looked, well, sort of not very salvageable. We turned right on Harbor, rolled down to Pier 19, and there we were with the 70 foot catamaran "Cavalier" sitting expectantly at mooring. Sure enough, there were several men of the church already there and waiting, and by the time we loaded, our total was around 23-24. Considering the weather, not a bad turnout. There were also about 20 or so other people joining us for the cruise, but, since the boat is geared for about 80 fishermen, we had plenty of room. If you’ve never been on a charter fishing boat, they usually are models of efficiency. From amidship on the starboard side, back to the stern, and around to amidship on the port side, there are numbers painted on the railing about two feet apart from zero to 80. Next to each number is a loaded up rod and reel and a bucket of bait, in this case chopped up squid. When you get your ticket, it has a number, and that number is your assigned fishing spot. Mine was 67, so I located spot 67 at the rail and I was ready to go.
     We cranked up and headed out of the harbor. The wind was cutting, and the waves very choppy, sending a spray of icy water to those trying to hang over the edge. I was amazed at the number of dolphins playing in the bay waters. There would be five to seven in a pod, and they would beautifully jump out of the water in unison or cruise just below the surface. When they cruised under the surface, their dorsal fins would be visible. If I had seen them at a beach somewhere, I would have headed to the shore because they looked very shark-like. As we left the harbor area and entered the open bay, the waves got higher with foamy whitecaps. The water looked like chocolate, and I was surprised at the amount of debris floating around. Wooden panels, two-by-fours, logs, and bottles floated by and made me glad we weren’t in a sixteen foot skiff trying to motor through all this.
     Our first stop was at a sunken concrete freighter that has been in Galveston Bay since World War II. It’s usually a good fishing spot for flounder and whatever (I’ve been there before,) but this time the outbound current was so strong that the boat’s anchors would not hold and we kept breaking free, making it impossible to toss out our lines. After 20 minutes or so, we headed across the bay to athwart the Bolivar Peninsula. Here we dropped anchor, baited our hooks with the tasty bits of squid, and heaved to (cast out our rods.) The current was still frustrating. Casting straight out from the boat would result in your line swinging instantly to the stern of the boat. When you have 45 lines doing that, needless to say, tangled lines were inevitable.
     Now I don’t consider myself an expert fisherman, but I do have a little bit of experience. A sensitive hand on a rod can feel the weight sliding along the bottom and you have a sort of sixth sense that tells you when it’s time to reel in and avoid calamity. You learn also when a line bump is a weight bouncing on a rock on the bottom and when a bump is a fish nabbing your bait, and when to jerk your line and when to wait. The fishing gear on most boats like the "Cavalier" is heavy duty, heavier than you need, and to the amateur fisherman is a nightmare to handle. It takes a delicate feel to cast without turning your open face reel into what is called a “bird’s nest” of tangled string. I saw more than one reel that would have tempted a bird to lay an egg.
     But with the wind, cold, current, and chocolate water, the fishing was terrible. All that was caught were gafftop and hardheads, and not too many of them. I was able to catch four, but threw them all back. To be honest, we spent most of our time fishing smack in the area of the Houston Ship Channel, and there have been so many reports of all the powerful chemicals awash in the area that I decided I would not eat anything that came out of those waters. If we had been able to go up into East Bay or Trinity Bay, I may have kept a fish, but not there. We were not able to head out to the Galveston jetties, which are two stone and concrete barriers that extend out into the Gulf of Mexico on either side of the entrance to Galveston Bay. They are there to protect the dredged channel of the seaport from being damaged by shifting sand and currents. Along these jetties the fishing is usually pretty good, but today the waves were topping nine feet in height, so we had to cancel our trip there. We were condemned to wander around the mouth of the bay, and at the next point of anchor drop, just off from Sea Wolf Park, we tried it for awhile, but no one caught anything.
     So about 10:30, we weighed anchor with a total of one fish, a four pound or so gafftop catfish to show for the work of 45 men. As we neared shore, the crew passed a can for tips, into which most of us tossed $5.00 bills, which was probably too much, since the deck hands had a pretty easy go of it, what with no fish to unhook or clean. Oh, well. I have said before that a bad day fishing is better than a good day working, and this was a good example. The weather was lousy and the fishing was worse, but it was still a lot of fun. We who wanted to fish got to do so, and those who did not were able to stay inside and….eat. Inside the boat were a small grill and a deck hand who grilled sandwiches, micro waved nachos and cheese, and sold soft drinks. I heard that there was a certain pastor who had breakfast on the way to Galveston, then had two sandwiches and two plates of nachos on board the boat, and then had lunch on the way home. It’s just a rumor and I haven’t substantiated the report. I can report that Brothers Mike and Leonard and I did stop at Popeye’s Chicken in Texas City. We were hungry, however, because we had spent most of our time on board working on our mission…trying to catch fish. To each his own.
     Sure enough, as we left Texas City and headed back to the church, it began to sprinkle again. But now we were in the warm confines of a little Hyundai Santa Fe SUV. Three friends, full of fried chicken, who had just enjoyed a four hour fishing trip. It doesn’t get any better than this.