4/11/17: Someday soon I will write a book set in Port Mansfield Texas. The only thing that distinguishes this salty piece of land from its' humble origin as an isolated fish camp on the Laguna Madre is the fifty and sixty-foot sport fishers docked in the marina. Otherwise not much has changed in this place where the fish, the fisherman, and the whitetail deer all blend together to live in harmony. The characters and stories are endless, and every year in April we return for a three to four day stretch to soak it all in.
Todos Locos Invitational Fishing Tournament is aptly named for the great group of guys that put it on every year and the dicey weather patterns of South Texas in early April. Wind is the mother lagoon's answer for weekend warriors like me. It seems that the nicest days are always when I'm sitting behind a desk, and by the weekend God has turned on the fans full blast. This first weekend in April was no exception. It is no doubt a blessing to this already over-pressured fishery.
Getting to the flats from the Port Mansfield Harbor means crossing a stretch of deep water where the intercostal waterway comes to a "T" in shallow running, tunnel hull boats. Add 40 mph gusts to that equation and things get sporty in a hurry. With the prevailing southeast winds, going out can feel like you're sitting on a jackhammer, and coming in feels more like you're stuck in a washing machine.
Predictable to form, the weather cooperated on Friday morning, but by Friday afternoon, the winds of change were coming. We found some good fish in a lagoon in the back part of the bay that morning and planned to return to that area the following day for the tournament. The getting there meant running in six inches of water for a long stretch prior to setting down in the lagoon. By Saturday morning, the aforementioned dreaded wind had literally blew ALL of the water out of this back bay overnight. By the time we knew we weren't going to make it to the Lagoon there was no turning around. The picture above is what happens when you run out of water and stick a 21 foot tunnel hull Shallow Sport in the mud. Congratulations to Wes and Kyra Hudson for building a boat that will run in almost no water and for selling them to guys like me who will put that theory to the test. I once heard about shallow water fishing, "if you're not pushing, you're not trying." Well, in this case we were trying really, really hard. Convinced that our day was over, the only thing to do was drink a beer and fish the lagoon, only 50 feet from where we ran aground.
The good news is that thanks to Captain Charlie Buchen, airboat Captain "Fred" of Port Mansfield, and my wife, as much as I begrudgingly admit it, help was just a phone call away. The even better news was that, while we waited for our airboat rescue, we discovered that the lagoon was chock-full of fish. Apparently they had retreated to the two to three foot depth of the lagoon as the wind blew the water out of the flats on either side. The result was big fish with nowhere to go for the immediate future; in the moment we could relate.
We had almost forgot about our predicament by the time the airboat arrived and pulled us out. The only down side was that Captain Fred didn't take longer to get there; we still hadn't filled out our stringer with two flounder. In retrospect we should have left one of our guys there to hike out once the mission was complete. Either way, the day was saved and we even managed to make it back to weigh in with a respectable, albeit not a winning, stringer. Many thanks to Will Caruth and Ryan Meyer, Team "Stuck It" (If that isn't ironic I don't know what is) for toughing it out with me and more importantly for splitting the $600 airboat ride. 'Till next year Todos.
2/5/17: The 8th annual pilgrimage is officially in the books. Last weekend I made the trek west to rendezvous with the Flying Burros once again. This trip included an extra stop in Marfa for a book signing at Marfa Book Company in the Hotel St George. Tim Johnson, the owner of the book store, was gracious enough to host me, on short notice, for the afternoon.
The best thing about a nine hour road trip by oneself out west is the opportunity to think and reflect. The worst thing about a nine hour road trip by oneself out west for an overactive OCD brain like mine is the opportunity to think and reflect. An extended period of time dedicated to only my thoughts and worries, with only Guy Clark Pandora and ESPN radio to serve as a distraction, had the potential to provoke levels of anxiety that typically only come with that nasty hangover in church.
Not this trip. I left myself plenty of time to enjoy the ride. The only stop was at the Pecos River crossing, where with a brisket sandwich and cold beer, I took in the rugged beauty of the landscape and began my step back in time. The Texas Historical Commission sign reads, "The Pecos is where the mythic wild west begins..." and while staring down the steep canyon walls towards the river, I couldn't help but think of days gone by.
I also managed to get a little work done while making speed on highway 90. West Texas, the inspiration for the first novel, proved to be helpful once again. The project I'm working on has been in development even prior to The West Texas Pilgrimage, but I haven't been able to pull it all together from start to finish. It actually started as a non-fiction documentary, but has evolved into a novel, which I hope will be more entertaining. I think I made some major progress in the storyline somewhere between Langtry and Sanderson.
Pulling into Marfa a little early for the book signing, I went and had a drink at Hotel Paisano, the old "Giant" headquarters, which is totally worth the stop if you "happen to be out that way". Marfa Book Company is a great store run by even better people. I really enjoyed the event and the discussion.
The rest of the weekend was as memorable as the seven before it. With Snow on Friday night and bluebird skies for the hike in the National Park Saturday morning, we were once again blessed with incredible fortune when it came to the weather. I don't think it is a coincidence; the odds of having that kind of weather in West Texas in January for that long of a streak are slim to none. Someone is looking out for us. If the weather isn't proof enough, the fact that no one has been killed or caught speaks volumes.
The one lesson learned was that seventy miles into the park, and as you are embarking on a Gringo Honeymoon to Boquillas, is a bad time to realize you left your passport in Marathon. I debated winging it and trying to pay a coyote to get me back across up river, but given the political climate on the border thought better of it. God willing, there's always next year. Until then, I'll just have to hear Robert Earl Keen sing about it.