Saturday, April 24, 2010


It's been a long time, almost a decade, since I've visited Matagorda, and over much talking and planning this past week, Billy Ray and I decided to take a fishing trip to Matagorda with El Fisho Jr. coming along to make sure we had plenty of fun.

El Fisho Jr. has been on many fishing trips with Billy Ray and I and really we couldn't imagine a fishing trip without him now. In thirty years of fishing trips, Billy Ray and I have covered a whole lot of the Eastern, Southern and Central parts of the state, but our trips are much more fun with El Fisho Jr. ready to learn what we know about being a sportsman and outdoorsman and all that goes along with that.

We talked about Texas history with the many large and small communities we passed through on the way there, and it seemed the farm and livestock business is doing well in Wharton and Matagorda Counties. Billy Ray are both huge supporters of keeping farming local and non-corporate and of helping the farmer (wo)man that feeds us live a decent life and not be in tons of debt.

The weather couldn't have been better, and the next time we come to Matagorda, we'll have to rent a 4x4 or convince Shrimper Dan to come with us in his Beach 4x4 SUV. The good fishing is, of course, in the parts of the island that are seldom traveled, and frankly, it's the journey down and back the island (any island, for that matter) to and from the fishing spot that's as interesting as the adventure at the fishing camp site.

I was personally disappointed to see that an old haunt of mine in Bay City had closed, Denn's Sporting Goods. The main sign was still up but the store was empty. It used to be a favorite stop of mine on the way to Matagorda. They had a huge selection of lures, rods, reels, tackle and just all kinds of associated stuff. Their excellence lay in the stocking of items that did well in the region.

When I first found Denn's in the nineties, I was entralled because they had a HUGE stock of NOS Abu-Garcia Ambassador parts. After I saw the size of the parts cabinet for these classic reels, I gathered all of the parts lists I had from my various Ambassador reels and took a day trip there with a fishing friend of mine and we stocked up on cheap and impossible to find parts for our respective Ambassadors.

You used to see these huge Abu-Garcia parts cabinets in stores like Oshman's in the 1970's, and in sporting goods stores located near the water.

I don't know what happened to that treasure trove of parts for these reels when Denn's closed down, but I hope that whoever got it appreciates what it is and is using or selling them and that it's not wasting away in a warehouse somewhere, with an owner unaware of it's rarity.

Over the last decade, we've mostly been going to Port Aransas with other trips to Port Isabel-South Padre Island, Corpus Christi, Freeport, Galveston or Boliver Island. And we didn't go to Matagorda.

But Matagorda has a charm of it's own. It's wild out there, and we've seen both gators and rattlesnakes in our past trips. Today we saw herds of wild hogs across the Colorado River on the other portion of Matagorda Island, across from the Riverbend Restaurant, which conveniently provides binoculars to view the feeding wild herds of feral hogs.

The beach isn't graded, as far as I can tell, and we could only go a mile or two before the sand got really too deep for my 2WD SUV to handle. We didn't get stuck, but came close once, and saw one 2WD truck mired up to both axles.

In the old days when Mrs. El Fisho and I roamed Matagorda, we had a Jeep Wrangler, which could handle near anything the Island could throw at it. I missed having that vehicle today, and it's been a long time since I've missed that rough riding and *always leaking something* rascal.

Despite regularly scheduled maintenance and mostly off road driving, with the Jeep Wrangler we owned in the 90's, nearly every system that contained a fluid of any sort developed a leak, often in several places. Simultaneously, it did this.

This weekend, we caught no fish, and those surf fishing around us pulled in what looked to be a croaker or sand trout weighing about a pound. It wasn't much bigger than the mullet we were using with the 13' rod. The current was way strong, with a very strong undertow. I was using 2 and 4 ounce surf weights with extended steel pegs because that was the only weight that would hold itself in that strong current, and as the afternoon wore on even those were not holding most of the time and were being swept ashore.

But as I always say, it's not about the catching, it's about the adventure. El Fisho Jr. got to see a wide variety of sea creatures again on this trip, and he's clearly fascinated by them. The nice fellow at Rawlings Bait Camp just over the bridge next to the Colorado just before the beach access road to the left, let El Fisho Jr. load up a quart of live shrimp and he did a great job.

The shrimp were nice sized and were very heathy and hardy. I use an aerator pump in my live well bucket, and only one shrimp died over the course of the afternoon and early evening hours, but we did keep the bucket in the shade the entire time. We also bought some dead mullet, and it looked like something chewed on the head of one of those that were thrown pretty far out by the 13' rod.

Nobody around us that was fishing seemed to be doing much catching Saturday afternoon. It was a fairly strong but not intense wind, and as per all my prior trips the water close to shore was brown with suspended sand whilst the water out past the last break was nice and green. It was significantly less humid than it had been Friday, and I really didn't break too much of a sweat at any time despite being pretty active during the entire visit.

Lots and lots of shells, mostly half-dollar to a nickle size, and as El Fisho Jr. and I did some hole digging with the shovel and for several feet down there were quite a few layers of shells from up near the dune line to the waterline buried in the sand. We dissected a HUGE dead cabbage head that had been washed ashore sometime ago, and it was interesting to see what it looked like on the inside. Nasty is the best word that captures the innard viewing experience in summary, but after seeing literally thousands of these at times during what I used to hear called "a bloom" of cabbage heads (or often jellyfish). "A bloom" is when there are just swarms of these creatures everywhere in the water, instead of just the occasional creature every now and then.

Some bay fishing is in order at Matagorda, and since we don't have a boat, that means a guide. For me and Billy Ray and El Fisho Jr., for a 4 or 5 hour morning of fishing, that doesn't come out too expensive.

I know first hand the excellent fly fishing that lies in the skinny water around Matagorda and its envirns, and I've even caught a nice redfish in a large, for lack of a better word, a large swampy ditch that ran alongside some road heading east out of Matagorda proper.

Back then in the 90's, there were signs on the road warning of gators, but I didn't see any while I was fishing. I just pulled out the fly rod with some streamers the fellow at Rockport's Tackle Town store had sold me back in the late 1990's. He sold me a big assortment of good flys and streamers for the gulf coast, and by golly they've worked well for years. A few are worse for wear and have been replaced, but I've got quite a warchest, er mmm, flybox full of good Texas saltwater flies.

I hooked into a nice tailing redfish right off, and caught a few more that afternoon. Later, when driving down that road further, we did see some gator action in that same canal or ditch or whatever it was. The gators were big enough to do some serious eating on a human, and I've never yearned to live any part of Jerry Reed's masterpiece "AMOS MOSES", particularly the gettin' a body part "bit clean off" by a gator.

But gators are not unusual in many coastal areas in Texas, and perhaps they are present in all of them. All I know is that I've seen my fair share of them in saltwater swamps and brackish waters and rivers to know that they are out there and you need to be on the lookout for them when wading, boating or kayaking in areas that are their habitat.

So I've got great memories of that town and numerous trips to it. Some kinfolk of mine are buried in the city cemetary there, and although they are many generations removed, I know enough about their lives to have a lot of respect for the hardiness that is required to live in a place like Matagorda, particularly in the pre-electricity/water days.

This trip was no different. It will be remembered for the great fun we had, and what we learned.

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