Rooted in familiarity and often demonstrated through action, this simple word unites the old and the new.
In the waning light, giving way to a western sky, my dad joined me on one of my Texas flats looking for a big bite. As a 73 year old father of 3, the only thing he loves more than speckled trout fishing is his family. With more than 6 decades of experience, and tens of thousands of bites under his belt, one bite has eluded his angling life. Yet still driven and blessed by enduring physical capability, we agreed to fish that afternoon on the hypersaline waters of the Upper Laguna Madre. Unfortunately for him, this meant a 0330 rise and a 9-hour drive while I made the 3 hour jaunt from the city of San Antonio after working a half day and snagging a quick lunch.
Excited by what the day and weekend held in store, my mind raced with possibilities - I’d venture to say his did the same. Days out from a new moon, solunar and tide charts confirmed that fishing would be above average. In addition, perpetual review of the ever-changing wind forecast presented a settling southeasterly and better yet, a steady barometer. In short, we couldn’t wait. So to pass the time, I pressed play on my dash and recited 5 decades of the Rosary; an act I know my dad started this same day before the tires exited his gravel driveway. It is what we do (It is our ritual- our duty). Growing up under his angling mentorship, we started every trip giving thanks. If fishing wasn’t spiritual enough, starting the day in peaceful meditation definitely brought it up a notch, and as it turns out, these 15 minutes help reshape perspective and provide clarity to the fast paced life we live.
In the less than luxurious setting of a Valero gas station, we shook hands like men and acknowledged the time since our last visit. It was good to see him. Revealing a slight limp, he fetched his gear for that afternoon wade and despite a quick examination; his passion for a big trout removed the wrinkles on his facial exterior. To an outsider, they would see an old man going fishing, but to me I saw a “young at heart” angler excited to get on the water – so off we went.
After a quick drive curtailed by catching up, we donned our waders and walked to the flat. Greeted by a less than gentle east wind, we noticed that mullet were present in the off colored trout green water. Past success led me to believe that a big fish was present. So to sample that theory, I decided to throw a slow-rising jerkbait and encouraged him to do the same.
Astute to the angling nuances of chasing trophy speckled trout our senseless chatter turned to whispers and hand signals the moment our boots hit the water. Walking side-by-side in thigh deep water, I motioned to him to work the shallow contour off to his left, while I focused on the deeper shell to my right. Fortunately, a more than healthy fish confirmed our efforts to being efficient and stealthy. As a father and son, we’ve fished a lot together. We no longer needed to verbally acknowledge each other’s presence. Instead, we let the wind driven waves communicate our closeness. Progressing through the flat, less than a dozen fish decided our offering was appetizing enough to pursue, so we pressed on.
Questionable silence accompanies time on the water. Despite a million things working in conjunction and peripheral forces providing external noise, human intuition hears the slightest thing. In this particular instance, it was a mullet flip on the shallow side of the flat and in a curious fashion; my dad decided his lure should investigate. Turns out that was a good command.
After 3 downward twitches and a 2-second pause, his jerkbait succumbed to the rush of water produced by an above average trout. Now captured in a yellow cavern, he decided to set the black nickel hooks to secure his presence. In short order, she disagreed and physically portrayed her displeasure with an unforgettable headshake – it was the fish he was after.
Experts say reflexes start to fade the older you get, clearly they never studied aging anglers. Like he’d done so many years in the past he played the fish with skillful precision. As she ran left, he followed with a high rod, adjusting his drag to ensure the hooks stayed right where he set them. As she ran right, he followed. Ensuring not an ounce of slack disrupted this moment, he focused like never before despite a self-proclaimed failing mind. As a spectator, I secured my equipment to help land the fish. Standing shoulder to shoulder, he looked to his left and said, “My hearts racing!” Channeling his fatherly example, I encouraged him to stay calm and keep the line tight, the same way he did for me decades earlier. As the trout grew near, the intensity transferred from him to the fish as she made one last ditch run. Successfully navigating her wily intent she soon ended up on the business end of a Boga grip - he did it!
To say that moment was special is an understatement. Joyful grins, accompanied by numerous high fives and HD pictures ensued, but that wasn’t the apex. Instead, it was the comfort of a fatherly embrace. A feeling I’ve been fortunate enough to grow accustomed to, yet standing in the newness of Texas waters forged by an experience few will understand.
A picture shows an 8lb trout, without a doubt a new personal best. But to me, I see unconditional love and passion a father has for fishing and his family – I’m blessed.
Speckled trout, as I’ve said before, have this uncanny ability to bring out certain emotion. However, in this particular instance, 28 ½ inches brought comfort to a father and son wadefishing on a South Texas flat. I’ll never forget it and neither will he and that’s comforting to know.