REEL THREEL ARTICLES
Old Standbys Produce A Satisfying Excursion
Longtime friends add to appeal of catching limit of red snapper By JOE DOGGETT Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
Thirty miles south of the Freeport jetties the water turned from rich green to dark blue and the thrill was back. Skipper Mike Segall stood at the wheel of his 29-foot Prokat and grinned as the twin hulls sliced clean spray from a glassy swell. ADVERTISEMENT Ranging into the open Gulf on a “slick calm” summer morning carries a special satisfaction, and that reward was enhanced as I glanced around the boat. Catching fish is only one measure of a good trip. On board were two of my oldest outdoor companions Ken Frazier and Jack Segall. Frazier and I go back to the mid-1960s when we were Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers at the University of Houston. He always was good with rod and gun, a natural talent that invariably comes through. We fished and hunted together through the ’70s and ’80s. Jack and I met during 1972, during my first year with the Chronicle. He owned and operated Kickapoo Marina on Lake Livingston. When Mexico’s Lake Guerrero blew everything off the bass-fishing map during the mid-’70s, Jack moved to Cuidad Victoria. He showed me the best bass fishing in the world. And he, also, carries that extra touch of the master angler. Frazier and Segall became friends through association but, as these things happen, the three of us drifted apart. The trip earlier this month with Segall’s son at the helm was a bit of a reunion long overdue amid the twists and turns and slings and arrows of the 610 Loop. Our goal was limit box of red snapper. Mike’s Reel Threel Saltwater Charters specializes in snapper/kingfish trips off Freeport and, with the stable run of July weather, he was “on fish”. He has GPS locations on numerous rocks, wrecks and “hard spots” and ran to a 40-mile winner for our first stop. No other boats were in sight. He positioned up current, allowing the flow to carry us over the sweet spot as the lines were free-spooled down.
Rigging For Action
The bottom-fishing rigs were basic but effective a single J-type hook knotted to a two-foot 50-pound monofilament leader below a swivel and a 2- to 3-ounce egg-type lead weight. Mike provides medium-heavy boat rods for this work; they are light enough to wield and wind, but sufficiently stout to play tag with sow snappers and amberjacks near bottom. Being a high-powered outdoor writer with all sorts of notions and theories (not to mention tackle), I eschewed the boat’s gear and used a heavy popping rod and a wide-framed casting reel spooled with thin gel-spun line. The so-called “super braid” provides superior touch and no stretch advantages during the deep, vertical presentations for bottom fish in the open Gulf. During the first drift, the sharp rap of an aggressive bite rang up the gel-spun line. I flipped the reel into gear as the rod tip dipped. A hard strike bent the rod against a fine 6-pound red snapper. Jack grunted over a bending rod and, moments later, a scarlet eight-pounder flapped onto the deck. “Good fish, both of them,” Mike said. “That’s what we’re out here for.” Frazier stood fishless as we cranked up for another drift. The second pass netted a four-pounder for Jack and a six-pounder for me. Frazier studied his line and muttered, yet to feel life. “This is fun, old man,” I gloated. “You ought to try it.” On the third pass, Jack and I drew quick strikes on falling baits. We chuckled in chorus, but the fish felt different not as fussy as bottom-boring snapper. Nagging worries were realized when a pair of 10-pound Atlantic sharp nose sharks spiraled into view. Nothing against sharks, but they are a definite downgrade when glorious red snapper are milling below them. Frazier’s boat rod dipped. He hit back and a strong fish surged down. Jack and I winked no doubt, a record-class sharp nose. “Don’t think so,” Mike said, standing close with a stick gaff. “Fights like a sow snapper. And some good ones are out here.”
Upping The Ante
Frazier reeled and pumped and we watched as a wide flash of silver and scarlet hove through the blue shafts below. Mike reached with the gaff and a gorgeous snapper came over the side. It looked to weigh 12 pounds. Maybe 14.Frazier lifted the big snapper, flashing a grin that carried back over the years. The best fish of the trip he did it again. We made several more stops, out-running annoying schools of sharks and dolphins, and pecked away at our full limit of four red snappers apiece. All were solid fish, well over the federal minimum length of 16 inches.
Big Bang At The End
The only significant glitch occurred on my final fish. I reacted to a strong yank and hit back with both hands, snapping the graphite popping rod about 12 inches above the grip. The rod exploded with sound, of a .223 rifle. It seems that the no-stretch gel-spun line transfers a lot of power to either end of the argument. Using the stub of the ruined rod, I landed the 5-pound snapper amid a gallery of rude onlookers. “So that’s how the experts do it,” Frazier said, setting up on his final fish. Running in, we enjoyed a flurry of king mackerel action at a “short rig,” an oil platform in green water about 12 miles off the jetties. We boxed our two-fish limits while slow-trolling with wire-rigged sardines, and reflected on similar trips with “ice fish” and ribbonfish to the close rigs off Galveston during the ’70s. Catching kingfish from Frazier’s 19-foot Thunderbird was a big deal back then, high adventure on the open water. And it still is fun. The sudden strike, the ripping spool are the moments that define fishing in the Gulf for thousands of close friends in open boats.And, I am proud to report that I caught the largest king, a fine fish in the 15-pound class. Of course, I had to use Frazier’s rod to do it.For information on Gulf fishing trips, contact Reel Threel Saltwater Charters at 281-229-9022.