Reavis Z. Wortham

You wouldn’t think that people our age who have fished all their lives could get rusty, but the War Department and I proved that true this past week while fishing in Rockport, Texas. We went out with a guide who soon became our new friend, Captain Gordon Taylor, who simply lives to fish.

“We’re going out to a place where I can almost always catch trout.” He waved in the general direction of the water. “If that doesn’t work, I know another place, but it’ll be a little ride out there.”

We climbed into the boat and settled in. Skimming across the water, I realized there were only adults in the boat.

“Good lord, when was the last time it was just us out for a day on the water.”

The Woman Who Never Forgets frowned into the wind

“You know, it’s been at least five or six years.”

We fished all right during that time, but it was always with grandkids, which meant we were not really fishing, but constantly untangling lines, baiting hooks, helping to reel in their fish, and telling them not to hook each other.

I turned around to address Gordon.

“We might need a refresher course once we get to your spot. It’s been a while.”

“It’ll come back to you.”

He anchored off a line of shallow rocks and we baited with shrimp. This was a trip to put fish in the skillet, or in ceviche, so live bait was the only way to go for us. The cast was long, so he helped the War Department at first.

He should have helped me.

“Pitch it toward that little cut.” Gordon pointed toward some pilings. “The fish’ll be there.”

I threw about forty-five degrees to the side.

“I wanted to throw there, but using tiny little Snoopy and Hulk rods for the past few years kinda screwed up my cast.”

I reeled and tried again, with less than satisfactory results. The War Department was the first one to hook up. Her rod tip bent and Gordon nodded.

“When I have a couple in the boat, the ladies always catch the first fish.”

He watched my next cast.

“They’ll always catch the biggest fish, too. Especially if you keep doing it like that.”

“I feel like I should untangle someone’s line right now.” I looked around. “This is unfamiliar. I need to yell at someone not to hook their brother or cousin, too.”

Ignoring me, Gordon measured the War Department’s fish

“First one in the box.”

I felt the line tighten and set the hook.

“Ha!” There was a great battle, involving lots of grunting on my part and advice from the two not holding the rod. The unseen fish went sideways, taking line and I reared back to keep up the pressure.

Reeling and finally in the zone, I was hoping for a big sow speckled trout, or a redfish. We never found out, because ten feet from the boat, whatever it was down there threw the hook.

There it was, that familiar old feeling after losing what you know was a fish.

“I should have stuck him again.”

“You never know.” Gordon watched the War Department’s line. “Pull!”

She yanked and missed.

I cast, felt the line tighten, and missed the set.

For the next hour it was that same way. We were always half a second behind the bite, and Gordon shook his head to excess. Frustrated, the War Department sat down.

“You’d have been reeling in fish on every cast, wouldn’t you?”

“I can put you on the fish, but y’all have to catch them.” He nodded. “Y’all missed a lot, that’s for sure.”

She sighed.

“We’re rusty all right.”

Then the fish shut off and we couldn’t buy a hit. Gordon finally had enough of no action.

“It’s pretty windy, but let’s try an offshore rig I know of. We can catch all kinds of fish there.”

He wasn’t kidding. On the way out, the little boat bounced over wave after wave until we reached the shelter of the abandoned concrete rig that provided shelter from the wind.

“Try over there.” He pointed toward a wide expanse of calm water in the lee of the rig. “We’ll have to find them now, but the fish are here.”

We threw until the world looked level. I caught a stingray, then a hardhead and a ladyfish, but no trout. My casts were still a mess, some on, but most off to the side, or short. I felt like a beginner. The War Department finally pitched her bait to the side and the next thing we knew, her rod bent double.

“Fish on!” Gordon was excited. “Big fish!”

She brought in a huge trout and I thought things were going to get better. I caught a gaff top, and kept missing strikes. Gordon finally baited up another rod and pitched it out while I ate a sandwich.

Of course the War Department hooked up at that moment and he went to help her.

“I’m going to put this down right here,” he said, laying the rod down.

“You’ll probably get a fish, then.” I took another bite and his rod lit up.

He grabbed it and handed it over.

“Get him.”

I swallowed and we were into fish. It seemed like ten minutes later we were limited out on trout and it dawned on me as clear as glass.

He’d done exactly what I did with the grandkids when we fish those stock tanks. I was always busy helping the little ones, and often laid down my own gear to help them. Invariably, the line would tighten and I’d hook a fish, then hand it over to the closest kid to reel in.

Somehow, at my age, I’d traded places with them.

All because I’d gotten rusty.

Reavis Z. Wortham is an award-winning outdoor writer with family ties to Lamar County. He is the author of “Hawke’s Fury.

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