The Storm NOAA Missed by Jon Bryan
The summer of 1987 was the calmest weather I can remember. Back then, we could plan an offshore trip a week ahead, and the weather would cooperate, so Bob Baugh and I planned a trip one week ahead, and sure enough ended up sixty miles out of Freeport, Texas, in his Formula. The “Bill Collector” as it was affectionately known, at a rig in one hundred and ten feet of water.
We cruised around the rig checking for bait-fish and noticed not five feet under the surface some small Amberjack, so I cast out a Cigar Minnow and a bigger Amberjack quickly darted in and snatched the bait, and the fight was on. I finally subdued the fish and we netted it, a 20 pounder, and back into the water it went.
After we tied up to the rig, we really got a workout from several sixty to eighty-pound Amberjacks. Amberjacks are a member of the Tuna family, and I know that for their size they are the hardest fighting fish in the Gulf. We were using eighty-pound class tackle and after each bout with a big ‘jack” we would take a five or ten minute break.
During one of these breaks I got out a new bay rod that I wanted to try out and baited up with a Cigar Minnow and cast it out behind the boat and let the bait drift with the current. We noticed a squall line looming to our east but didn’t worry about it since NOAA was predicting calm, storm free, weather.
For every five big Amberjack we hooked, we may have landed one. If their head got to pointing down, you’re done for and he’d cut you off in the rig. After loosing another one, I was re-rigging and I happened to look up and noticed the squall line getting closer. “Bob, should we worry about the weather?” I asked. He replied, “Naw, doesn’t look like a problem.” We laughed later, over his reply.
Just then, my new rod bent nearly double and the line was peeling off at a rapid rate. Bob says, “I told you that new rod was too light for these big fish out here!” As I set the hook I was rewarded by a big Bull Dolphin that cleared the water by about ten feet and took off in passing gear! What a fight this bruiser put on!
Jump, jump, jump, while running away from the boat, the Dolphin was “turned on”, each jump silhouetting the neon, green/blue/gold fish against the approaching dark blue squall line. If I were an artist, it would have made a beautiful picture to paint. Captain Bly (Bob) spoiled it saying, “We better get, that storm looks like a good one.”
“Horsing” the fish in wasn’t an option. I would get him near the boat and jump, jump, run! We finally got the Bull Dolphin subdued and into the boat and the wind changed from south and hot to northeast and cool. Oh, oh, I’ve been down this road before. We quickly whacked the Dolphin on the head, put him into the big cooler, un-looped the rope from the rig and Bob backed away.
Then Bob did something funny, he reached into the boat storage area, got out a motorcycle helmet and slipped it on. He wore very heavy glasses (this was before he had corrective laser eye surgery) and he used the helmet and visor to keep the rain out. He wiped the clear visor with a towel and told me, “We’re going to get wet, so find you a place and hold on.”
We headed directly into the storm and broached each wave crest, probably eight footers, the rain, worse than when I was caught in a severe storm in 1982, and like then, this storm was between us, and the shore. Wind was about forty miles per hour and no lightning, but the rain almost obscured the bow of the boat, ten feet in front of us.
All we could do was trust the LORAN, this was before GPS, and keep going for forty miles. The easy one hour run took us two and a half hours. The last twenty miles were in relative calm seas and the last five miles were spent in a race with a twenty-four foot Proline. Our speed on the LORAN was fifty-two miles per hour. We won!
The Bull Dolphin weighed thirty-one pounds.
NOAA never said anything about the storm that never was.