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David Sikes


David Sikes, Caller-Times outdoors writer specializes in hunting and fishing. David's columns are published Thursdays and Sundays. David also compiles a fishing report on Saturdays. He can be reached at sikesd@caller.com.

Sunday, June 4, 2000

Rock Of Ages

You never know what you’ll hook off the North Jetty, which attracts a loyal following of young and old anglers seeking similar thrills

Photo by David Sikes
Teamwork is often the key to landing larger trout on the jetties. Wes Mayfield, of Taft, left, responded quickly when he spotted his buddy, Emery Wolfe, also of Taft, struggling with a 24-inch trout.
The click, click, click of golf spikes on the Jetty Boat's metal deck declared I was not among novice jetty rats.
   Only regulars use spikes for secure footing on the slippery algae that grows on the rocks.
   Motionless flags at Woody's Sport Center spelled a third day of relief from weeks of pounding winds. The usual assembly of fishing guides sat or stood on the docks, waiting for customers and discussing nature's kindly reprieve.
   It was going to be a good day, fish or no fish.
   As the Jetty Boat rounded the last breakwater of the harbor and the engine revved toward the ribbon of granite known as the North Jetty, Emery Wolfe, of Taft, tinkered with his tackle. Monofilament in mouth, he prepared a fishing leader he hoped would hold.
Photo by David Sikes
Alfonzo Gamble, a San Antonio Vietnam veteran who's fished the North Jetty since 1970, said he'd be on the rocks stringing trout two or three times a month if the wind and water conditions allowed.

   Wolfe and his longtime friend, Wes Mayfield, had abandoned plans for a bumpy ride down the National Seashore after hearing a favorable forecast.
   One look at the emerald waters of the Ship Channel told the young men they'd made the right choice.
  
   'A good day'
   Nearly every generation was represented on the boat.
   Another passenger, a middle-aged man facing me during the short boat ride, smiled and nodded, gesturing toward a glowing red sun cresting the dunes of San Jose Island. I took a picture.
Photo by David Sikes
After spotting frantic schools of menhaden and other baitfish breaking the surface, Emery Wolfe figured he'd try natural bait to catch whatever was causing the stir.

   Another passenger, Alfonzo Gamble, sat quietly to my left and watched the water. I imagined he was thinking about the hundreds of times he'd done this before. But more likely he was dreaming of good fortune to come.
   My comment on the weather drew a smile.
   "It's perfect," Gamble said. "Should be a good day."
   Turns out the Alabama-born Vietnam vet, a retiree from the Army and the U.S. Postal Service, has been coming to the North Jetty since 1970. He enjoys the relative solitude, compared with the oft-crowded South Jetty just across the Ship Channel. And the fishing is better to boot, he said.
   I know this to be true.
  
   Lures of the fish
   After a smooth docking by a capable new Jetty Boat pilot, Gamble and I set up to fish not far from each other, me 100 yards from the beach and him a little farther down, near where the double row of rocks begins. We were fishing the island side.
   I watched Gamble catch a nice trout on a live shrimp under a cork, then another and another, all in the 16- to 19-inch range.
   "If this keeps up, I'll be done in time for the 10 o'clock Jetty Boat, before the winds kick up," Gamble said.
   I hadn't brought live bait. Instead, I was alternating between topwater lures and soft plastics.
   I'd heard Spanish mackerel were schooling near the jetty, feeding on the accumulations of baitfish near the surface. Around this time last year, I first experienced the rousing thrill of watching these toothy bullets collide with a surface plug.
   Baitfish, foam and often my lure would erupt like so much shrapnel with each blow up. Once, my Top Dog leapt two feet into the air, as if trying to escape the mackerel's jaws.
   I always lose more mackerel than I catch, often because of severed line. But they're fun to watch and boy, can these fish pull. Maybe someday I'll tie on a steel leader to boost my success.
   Usually, the lures that are cut off float back to the rocks, where they're easily retrieved.
  
   Quick hit, quick miss
   I left Mr. Gamble and walked toward my usual starting spot at jetty's end. There are a couple of pockets that usually pay off on either side of the rocks at the tip.
   I chose the farthest one on the surf side.
   With barely a breeze, it was easy to cast far, though doing so wasn't necessary. Strikes usually come within 20 feet of the rocks.
   But still I heaved a pumpkinseed/chartreuse Bass Assassin into the distance and let it sink.
   Wham! Just as I said, a powerful hit at the base of the jetty.
   The fish dived deeper, then hung a right toward open water. Rod held high, I was helpless to stop it, although I fancied I could.
   I glanced at the 12-pound-test line shrinking on my spool and wondered if I'd even get a look at what I had.
   Snap. Guess not.
   I reeled my empty line and quickly re-rigged a 20-pound leader, jighead and another Bass Assassin. Same color, of course.
   I flung it again and let it sink, like jetty expert Charlie Zahn had taught me. Twenty-three, 24, 25; I usually let the lure sink for about a 25 count depending on my location.
   I began to retrieve. When I approached the spot of the previous hit, I slowly bounced the lure into the underwater crevasse.
   Wham! Same result.
   Could I have found a school of bull reds? Or jack crevalle? Or what?
   Again, the powerful fish turned toward the open gulf, and again, it broke me off.
  
   Casting to the foam
   Fingers trembling, I hurriedly tied on another lure and flung it, not as far this time. I reeled to the spot and let it sink.
   Before it got 10 feet, another fish picked it up. I felt its strength pulse through the line and in my hands. I don't believe the fish even knew it was hooked. It was no use. It would not slow down.
   My line snapped.
   Humbled and frustrated, I shouldered my backpack and walked to the other side of the rocks. I didn't have the equipment - or the appetite - for disappointment to continue.
   I turned my attention to the channel side, where baitfish activity was unequivocal over the shallow rocks. I immediately got a blowup from a trout on my Top Dog. It was a small one, but a good sign, I thought.
   Wolfe, one of the young men from Taft, scaled a high rock nearby and began casting into the channel, joined by his partner, Mayfield.
   The stage was set for one of the more spectacular scenes in nature.
   Like a colossal sequined paddle wheel, thousands of frightened menhaden arched over the aqua plane before us. The sparkle and flutter was breathtaking.
   There was no time to reflect on the beauty.
   I shot a glance toward Wolfe and he at me. We cast in unison into the foam.
   I was about to throw again when I noticed Wolfe's rod was bent and Mayfield was racing in the opposite direction.
   Within seconds, Mayfield returned with a long-handled net. Landing fish on the rocks is tricky without one.
   I watched as Wolfe skillfully maneuvered the fish away from sharp granite and toward the net, using the waves to his advantage. A timely scoop and it was done.
   The boys celebrated briefly over the fat trout, in the 23- to 24-inch class.
  
   Caught, released
   I stuck around a while longer, but caught nothing to rival Wolfe's prize. So I continued my routine, stopping to fish wherever the rocks allowed good access and fair footing.
   It was a while before my efforts paid off. About a 22-inch trout rose from the surface, with my lure in its mouth, shaking like a tarpon. It was quite a show, but one that ended too quickly when the fish's teeth sawed through my leader. One of these days, I'm going to buy a net.
   I always bring along plenty of tackle.
   Several casts later, I snagged something heavy.
   This was no trout.
   It was no ordinary fish.
   I could feel the end of my line rising to the surface. I prepared for the creature to break the surface and leap. Could this be my first tarpon?
   Nope. It wasn't even a fish. It was a sea turtle, a beautiful green sea turtle.
   It drew a breath and dived with desperate resolve. I didn't know what to do.
   Should I try to land the 20-inch reptile and unhook it? Or should I tighten my drag and let it go free?
   I'd never been faced with this decision.
   Before long, I realized the first option was unlikely. The turtle was too large to land, especially on the jetty rocks.
   So I cranked down on my drag and broke her off.
   When I turned around, fellow angler, Richard Shults was rushing toward me with a net.
   "Thanks," I said. "But I won't be needing that."
  
  


 




 

 
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