Along with the annual fair goes the annual fall fishing rodeo and time for the speckled trout to be moving inland from the Gulf and the red drum to be trolling the shorelines.
My youngest son, whom we lovingly call Termite (self explanatory), had been asking me all week if he could fish the local rodeo. Why would there be any question about that, you might ask? Because Termite has been grounded for achieving less than what I thought was his best in his Honors Math class, as reflected by his last report card. But like a good mother who tries to say “yes” to healthy, wholesome activities as often as I can, I finally gave my positive nod to fishing this rodeo.
Of course, this plan included his best buddy J.D., who had his mind set on catching a bull red or bull drum that grown men dream about catching. But Friday afternoon when I went to buy their rodeo tickets, I was informed that there would be no “bull red” and no “bull black drum” categories this year. Reason? The rodeo sponsors decided that it would be best to let the big fish live to spawn another season in light of the Deepwater Horizon oil leak. As a fishing guide, I was glad to hear this very conservation-minded decision. “Bull” refers to those red and black drum that are longer than twenty-seven inches, and fisherman may keep one fish per day in this size.
Even though J.D. and Termite were disappointed to have their fishing dreams dashed, they quickly decided they would stick to their plan of attack and only keep those red fish and black drum that were under twenty-seven inches and enter the “five-stringer red fish” category—still a very ambitious goal.
It seemed a little unfair to me, though,that these teens were required to compete in the adult category. There was a children’s division, for kids ten and under but nothing for the teenagers. I expected to hear the same complaint from at least one of these young fishermen; but they just set their sights even firmer on fishing hard and fishing well. Their attitude made me proud in a time when others would have given up, being victimized by the unfairness of it all.
After changing out of school clothes, Termite quickly baited two crab traps and set them out in the bayou in order to catch live crab to later use for bottom bait. Next day, in the early-morning fog, he and J.D. emptied the traps into the ice chest, where the crustaceans would be chilled into paralysis. They put their quart-sized bag of frozen bait shrimp into the bucket and covered them with bayou water to speed the thawing process as we headed out in search of an early-morning trout bite.
I’m not sure how baseball socks became stylish fishing attire, but they both had them on–team socks left over from last summer. Baseball is another sport these two youths have shared for the past four years. J.D. had never played organized ball when Seth asked him if he’d like to join the summer league and ride to and from practice with us. It was an offer that just might have changed this young man’s life for the positive. The socks made me chuckle, and I will never be one to criticize such bold fashion choices–even if we were just fishing.
The spotted sea trout are still making their way inland, and finding the large, adult trout was challenging. Recent scouting trips resulted in a couple spots that consistently held juvenile trout, many of which just didn’t quite make the twelve-inch limit. Typically, we fish for trout with plastic baits on a jig head, on a slow retrieve on the bottom or under a popping cork. Instead of plastic, though, the boys put shrimp on their jigheads and got busy making noise with their popping corks, mimicking the sounds of a feeding frenzy or shrimp popping the surface of the water. It was a smart move, as there were live shrimp snapping the surface all around the boat.
Even though the dead shrimp attracted more than enough hard-head catfish, they also attracted a few nice keeper trout that were measured and then thrown into the chest. The boys then decided that they would compete in the “five-trout stringer” category, as long as they could come up with at least five keeper trout between them two of them.
After the trout bite slowed to nil, we ate a sandwich before switching gears and switching gear to head off to the pass for the big reds and drum. As we traveled, they prepared the crab to become fodder for what they hoped would be prize-winning fish. As we reached the pass, we found a big oyster boat going round and round, passing right over the spot where we wanted to anchor. So, we chose a spot on a different point, set anchor, and hoped for the best.
While fishing for specks earlier, we caught a mess of white trout; but instead of throwing them back (no time to clean and cook fish while fishing a rodeo and going to the weigh in), they decided to keep some of them and use them for “cut bait” at the drum hole. That is the bait I chose to fish with first, which netted me a gaf-top sail catfish that held first place on the Leader Board on Day 1 of the rodeo.
However, by the end of rodeo, this catfish was bumped down from first to third, with the winner only weighing about one pound more. These fish are fun to catch, but they are slimy and not good to eat (unless you are starving), and this will be the first (and possibly last) time I EVER allow one to be brought into my boat. Sorry that there is no photo. Termite was busy netting and J.D. was manning the gaf. Remember, we don’t touch them because of the poisonous fins.
While preparing the crab as bait, J.D. noticed a crab that was just about to be a “soft-shelled crab”. A crab molts–sheds its shell–several times in its life cycle. When the to0-small shell falls off, the new shell is already formed but has not yet hardened–a process that happens in a matter of hours. However, during the soft-shelled phase, the crab is two things: very vulnerable to predators and very good to eat. The dish is called “fried soft-shelled crab” and brings a hefty price on the seafood restaurant menu. If cooked correctly, they are unlike any other fried seafood you have eaten.
On day two of fishing, we followed the same pattern. They caught a few more keeper trout to add to their stringer, and then we anchored off for the bigger species again. For reasons unknown to us, we never did find any big black drum or red drum. The cracked crab did produce a couple stingrays for the boys, which they enjoyed observing before releasing.
At the end of the second day, Termite suggested a bayou further north where he has consistently caught reds, so we detoured there on our way back in. His favorite shallow cove produced two keeper reds for him but nothing big enough to make it to the Leader Board. The reds put up a good fight, and they make great table fare, so the detour was not a total loss.
At the final weigh in, J.D. proudly handed his stringer of specks over to the weigh master, and quicker than the weigh master could say “Sorry, you’re stringer is about four pounds short,” the boys were off to ride the Zipper with the challenge of making their cart flip over more then eight times in a row. It must be great to be fifteen.
The moral to this whole fishing tale is that there were two boys who each had ten dollars they wanted to spend on a fishing ticket–on a chance to win a rod and reel combo, ice chest, or tackle box. They caught their own bait, handled all their own gear, manned the lines and anchors, fished hard, and lost. They laughed, joked, made fun of me, and stayed out of trouble for two more days of their teen hoods.
They might smell only slightly better than fish, and Termite’s math score might not be “all that”, but I would not trade these two amazing young men for a whole boat load of Straight-A students or trouble makers that smell like Polo Black.