Friday, July 3, 2009

Travel fishing tackle, Part One: FIshing on a Sailboat

Way back in the pre-cell phone days of the seventies, I used to often go fishing to get away from civiliation. Even then in my teen years, I enjoyed being incommunicado, especially on a boat. I was lucky to have a good friend throughout my teen years whose dad had a 27 foot sailing yacht at Houston Yacht Club (or HYC, as they call it down at "the club"), which afforded me countless hours of sailing in Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico from about age 13 to age 21.

It was then in those days of crewing on the boats of my friend's dads and others that I met at HYC that I began using a travel rod. Even on large sailboats, space is at a premium. Compartments that can used on a motor boat to store fishing gear are used to store extra sails, ropes and the like. Since large sailboats are much slimmer and deeper than many similarly sized motor yachts, space is at a premium on most sail boats.

In other words, the captains of these boats didn't want me bringing a 2 piece fishing rod because there was no good place to stow it on the boat where it wouldn't be in the way or in some critical spot.

I used my Popeil Pocket Fisherman on many of these trips, and often to good results. The limited casting range of the Pocket Fisherman and the tiny stout rod portion of that invention don't make for a lot of sporting action when playing and landing a fish, but in a lot of cases it was use the Pocket Fisherman or nothing to avoid pissing off the Captain who didn't want me lumbering around his decks with a 6' or 7' rod, afraid I'd snag a sail or rope with a hook.

None of the folks I sailed with minded the Pocket Fisherman, but I wanted to have more of a traditional rod to fish with. I do enjoy ultralight fishing in both fresh and saltwater, and that meant having some kind of rod about 5' or 6' long that would be sporting. I found that in what was one of the few travel rods available back in the 1970's, the Zebco spincasting travel rod, a five piece affair that broke down to about 14 inch sections.

That Zebco rig became my new sailing fishing rig. When the boats would take anchor, or when everyone was lounging and the boat was cruising at a slow speed and nothing was happening, I could quickly pull that rod from my boat bag and have it into action, already rigged in the case, in just a few minutes. I would often throw a popping cork with a Tout tail jig on the business end of the rig. A small plastic Berkley Triline fishing line box had been converted to a small tackle box, holding pliers, clippers and some various weights, hooks, spoons, a plug or two and some spare Tout tails in various colors.

My friend's family also had a couple of Sunfish sailboats down at HYC for their kids to use when the parents didn't feel like sailing. I often took out one of the Sunfish for fishing expeditions near and far in East Galveston Bay, and the Zebco rig was a mighty handy thing to have near.

I got so fond of fishing from the Sunfish that on one family vacation down to South Padre Island when I was about 14, I made my dad carry one of my friend's sunfish sailboats inside our family's tri-hull fishing boat. We laid the Sunfish on it's side and put it into the middle of the boat, with the bow of the small sailboat poking through the walk-through windshield of the ski boat my family owned. It was quite a site towing our ski boat from Houston to Port Isabel with the Sunfish positioned amidships in the ski boat, but it worked and it got the sailboat down to South Padre.

I did quite a bit of sailing and fishing in the Laguna Madre that summer. With the adjustable centerboard, I could sail into ultra shallow parts of the bay deep enough to hold specks and reds and yet too shallow for any motor boat to venture. It was silent, and with a little practice, you could position the sail to shade you from the glaring sun while you fished.

The only bad experience I ever had fishing with that Zebco rig out of HYC in the seventies was one bright sunny morning when I was just out of high school, spending much of my days off fishing and sailing down at HYC with my buddy. I took the Sunfish out to do some fishing, going quite a few miles with the strong winds that were blowing. I had checked the weather with the Harbormaster before leaving, and it was supposed to be all blue skies all day long.

I sailed into East Galveston Bay heading towards the Gulf of Mexico and several hours out into the trip, I was having some pretty good fishing. The bay was like glass where I was at, in about 6 to 8 feet of water, just west of the Intercoastal Canal. The only waves were the occasional one from a passing tanker heading in or out of the Houston Ship Channel. Fishing was good, and I had fallen into a big school of specks, who were chasing a huge school of shrimp.

It was very cool being in the middle of the bay, amidst a flipping, moving mass of shrimp perhaps 100 feet square. The trout were just plowing though the shrimp and enjoying the feast. I was able to sail back and forth through this shrimp school as the trout were feeding, and caught quite a few fish on the Zebco. I had a good shrimp articial I was fishing with a weighted popping cork and a light unweighted plastic shrimp.

All of a sudden, the wind picked up substantially. Within a few minutes, it was gusting from about 10 to 30 miles per hour. The sky went black, almost like someone had turned off the lightswitch. A nasty gulf storm had blown in and it had only taken a few minutes to go from perfect to dangerous. The bay went from flat and glassy to one foot whitecaps and two foot swells.

I was hauling ass, and well aware that my aluminum mast was the tallest thing for miles in the middle of the thunder and lightning storm. Hiked out for about half my body over the water and probably running the Sunfish at what is top speed, surfing from swell to swell, being airborne for a second ever other wave, it was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

It took fraction of the time to get back near the yacht club because of the raging wind, but for the last part of the trip the hard rain pelted me like so many stinging rocks. It was such a hard rain that I had to put my sunglasses on to protect my eyes.

As I turned in to the HYC protected harbor, I felt relief, I quickly beached the craft and sought refuge in the outdoor covered patio of the HYC Club building. I watched the lightning rage and the rain pour, blown by the fierce wind.

It felt good to be alive.

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