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Chummin’ For Kingfish

Chummin’ For Kingfish by Jon Bryan
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Layla and I had married in late 1983 and by the next spring she was anxious to go fishing and quickly became an excellent fishing partner!  Brad was joining the Army in August and Layla’s Daughter, Laura, was in college and had been pestering me to take her offshore fishing.  I obliged her.

We, Layla, Laura, Brad and I, all arranged for a mid-week day off in early July and planned a trip out of Galveston to fish for kingfish behind the anchored shrimp boats. Shrimp boats drag their nets all night for shrimp and anchor before first light and start culling out the small fish from their night’s catch of shrimp.

The early rising fishermen who can find one of these boats culling their catch can find some fantastic fishing. The chum line of the discarded catch will trail for up to a mile behind a shrimper, attracting all the predators in the food chain. If you can find several boats in close proximity to each other, this only adds to the action. That was my goal for this particular midweek morning.

We were up early, launched at the Galveston Yacht Basin and cleared the South Jetty as the sun was just beginning to peek on the horizon. The wind was eight to ten knots out of the southeast and waves were two to three feet, almost perfect. Brad was an old hand at this and it looked like Laura was getting along OK. Layla had already been out with me numerous times and she really liked the boating, fishing and catching, but to this day, I can’t get her to clean the fish.

We headed out on a course south past the twelve-mile rig. About five miles past the rig, we saw the early morning sunlight reflect off of a boat’s windshield. Could it be a shrimper? There’s a second flash, maybe we’re in luck.

Sure enough, two shrimp boats were anchored about a hundred yards apart and we were the only fishing boat out here. They looked like two big birds sitting on the water, with their nets, on each side, drying on the main booms. No crew in sight on one boat, but on the other, all three crewmen were busy culling their night’s catch and tossing small fish, culls, over the stern. We could see the chum line extending out for several hundred yards and the fish could be anywhere along that line.

The current was running east and our plan was to start our drift right alongside the “working” shrimp boat and let the current carry us out with the chum. We had been drifting for about one hundred feet and Laura said, “I don’t feel good.” I correctly diagnosed the beginnings of mal-de-mere.

Many times when the boat is moving at speed and the wind is blowing in your face, sea sickness won’t show itself, but let the boat stop, drift and start rocking a little, it hits. I stood her up and told her to concentrate on the other boat, breathe deep and try to “pop” her ears.

Stuck into our thru-gunwale rod holders, were four trout rigs; seven foot popping rods, fifteen-pound line, with thirty-six inch steel leaders. Most of the fish out here had real teeth! Our baits were seven to eight inch, frozen, cigar minnows, that provided sufficient weight for short casts and when they hit the water, thawed out quickly.

Zzzzzzzz! A solid hit on one of our lines and Layla grabbed the rod and held on, knowing that with this light tackle, the first run could be up to seventy-five yards at full speed. Laura kept her vigil on the other shrimp boat, while Brad and I scrambled to clear the other lines from the water, Layla held on gamely and soon the king was brought to gaff and I flopped it into the big cooler.

We re-baited the one line and put them all out again and I looked at Laura as she charged to the gunwale and up came breakfast. She was green and sick. Speaking from experience, she will probably stay this way until she sets foot on dry land, or we go fast in the boat. I got her back up and tried to get her to focus on an oil rig far out on the horizon.

Zzzzzzzz! Zzzzzzzz! We were about two hundred yards out from “our” shrimper, when we had two hits and Brad and Layla jumped to fight the fish. Laura remained uneasily holding onto the windshield and looking at the horizon. Gaffing both kings, two more good ones went into the big cooler. A nice start! I asked Laura if she was doing any better and her reply was a very “green” smile. It’s too bad she was seasick because we were into the fish here, and were still the only boat.

Laura, while ill, gamely puts pressure on her nice Kingfish! We hadn’t drifted fifty more yards when, Zzzzzz, Zzzzzz, Zzzzzz, Zzzzzz, four hits at once on all four rods! Layla, Brad and I grabbed for three of them, and I thought out loud, “We’ll loose the fourth fish.” But to my surprise, up jumped Laura (still green) and grabbed the fourth rod. Our “goat rodeo” started with four angry fish on four light outfits and four anglers, one quite ill with mal-de-mere, trying to keep the lines from crossing, while keeping pressure on the fish.

There were two gaffs onboard, so while fighting our fish, I grabbed one and Brad grabbed the other. I gaffed Laura’s fish first and as it flopped around on the floor, Brad gaffed my fish with more flopping. Brad’s fish wasn’t ready, so I gaffed Layla’s and put it in the box along with the other three. Gaffing Brad’s fish, I looked at Laura and she was bending over the side. I guessed that the excitement didn’t cure her!

“OK folks, we’re heading in,” I exclaimed. Looking at Laura, she smiled “greenly” again as we put the last two “floppers” into the cooler and stowed the gear and roared off, away from a twenty, or more, kingfish day. We had seven nice ones, and, as I thought, as soon as we cleared the South Jetty and ran into smooth water, Laura began a slow recovery, that was completed when she stepped off of the boat on to the dock.

Laura had her color back and said, smiling, “I saw a Mexican restuarant back where we turned when we got here this morning. A margarita sure sounds good now!” This sentiment was unanimously echoed.

I never got Laura to go offshore fishing with me again.

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