Outdoor Moments: No shoveling required

Alan Charles
Friday, February 22, 2019
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Alan Charles and his hunting buddies pose for a picture during a recent trip to the Texas coast.

Chuck got the first strike, and moments later, landed a six-pound redfish. Then, Doc hooked up, hanging on as his reel’s drag screeched against the pull of a slightly larger redfish. Ten minutes later, they both hooked up, landing a doubleheader of eight-pound redfish. Me? Even though I had not yet had a bite, I was smiling.

You see, the temperature was 52 degrees. The sun was shining. The wind was a mere breeze. We were standing in a boat on San Antonio Bay, on the central Texas coast about halfway between Galveston and Corpus Christi. A snow shovel was nowhere in sight.

We were on the first morning of a quick trip to Texas. Chuck, a U.S. government wildlife biologist from South Dakota, was on a paid vacation (otherwise known as a governmentshutdown furlough). Doc, a longtime friend of both Chuck and me, now lives on the Texas coast near Houston. And I, while having spent most of my life in Montana, once operated a hunting and fishing lodge close to this place.

While some people prefer to snowbird to a commune of trailers in the desert near Phoenix or Sacramento, or buy a berth on some cruise ship where they can potentially get sick with three of four hundred other passengers, we three decided spending a couple days fishing and hunting ducks on the gulf coast was a better way to fight that late winter depression.

I did, finally, catch one of those big redfish. Then Gary, our guide, ran the big flats skiff back to the dock at a little camp along the Intracoastal Waterway, where we changed into waders and camouflage parkas better suited to the duck blind. We took off in a powerful 18-foot airboat and skimmed for miles across shallow flats to the grassy marshes on the bay side of Matagorda Island, a long, narrow barrier island that separates San Antonio Bay from the open gulf.

Winding through narrow channels that threaded the marsh like a spiderweb, we passed generations of old duck blinds, some dating back through several onslaughts of hurricanes and storms. Some were new and currently being used, but many were old, ghosted with memories we could only imagine.

Gary delivered us to our own special spot, a point of firm land studded with mangrove bushes, a type of vegetation that was not present when I worked in this area nearly forty years ago. While our guide set out sixty or seventy decoys, Doc set out his own decoy, a very special hand-carved decoy that contained the ashes of Henri, his beloved old Chesapeake retriever.

We sat there, then, in the late afternoon sun, and again the next morning in the same spot, watching as an amazing array of all sorts of waterbirds passed by our blind. Some of them were big birds like roseate spoonbills pink as flamingos, and ibis, egrets, and herons of various species, while others were small birds like willets and pipits and sandpipers and such.

We shot a few ducks, including green-winged teal, lesser scaup, pintails, and redheads. But mostly, we just sat, and watched, and talked about old times and new dreams. When the shooting slowed, I shucked a few oysters, and we dined like kings on homemade goose salami, crackers, and salty fat raw oysters served on the half-shell.

After we left the coast, Chuck and I bid farewell to Doc, and boarded planes that would take us back to the North Country. Weather forecast for Huron, South Dakota, called for fifteen below with a blizzard in progress, while Billings, Montana, was milder at five above with sunshine. We never flinched, basking in the warm memories of our quick visit to the Texas coast and plans we were already making to return next winter.