Coastal Morning Memories

As the weather heats up, so does the saltwater fishing. Be there at dawn. It’s such a spiritual time. And such fine fishing.

The Bible uses the phrase, “…in the cool of the morning” in several places. That always calls up many cool mornings when I was thankful I was alive. And all the more thankful that I was out in the summertime atmosphere in the “cool of the morning” instead of during the middle – or most – of the rest of the day, that I wrote about last month.

It’s early September, now. The “Dog Days.” I thought as a kid that dogs went mad in the summer heat because it was so hot. I know I’ve come close a time or two, myself. I better understand now that animals roam more in the dry, parched Texas, looking for food, water, and maybe somebody to play with, although it may be too hot for even that. The reason dogs are thought to go mad is that as more animals venture farther from home, they are more apt to encounter other animals, some of which may be carrying the rabies virus. That leads to spread of the dread disease, and hence the term “Dog Days.” But the ancient Romans had another explanation. They figured that the star Sirius, was the cause of the hot weather, and sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of the Dog Days to appease the rage of Sirius. Now that makes a lot of sense. But I prefer my explanation. So do my two brown dogs.

But back to memories, I guess my first one was a cool, calm morning at Gilchrest, a beachside community between Port Arthur and Galveston. A friend and I had caught a few whiting and a couple of croakers on dead shrimp – probably out of a frozen package we bought at Swede’s. The surf was just a pleasant series of small swells that would gently lift you up, suspend you for a second or two at the crest of the swell, and then calmly set you back down on the sandy bottom. We waded out to the third gut in the lake-like calm of the surf that morning, and were in water about chest-deep. Do I have to tell you that we were in the seventh grade, or is that obvious?

As one particularly large swell picked me up and then cushioned me back down, I got a glimpse of the next swell, illuminated by meager rays of the morning sun trying to peak through the clouds. In it was a large fish, about five or six feet long, and with funny, almost handlebar-like protrusions coming out of its head on each side. It was about ten feet away when I saw it. I didn’t need second look to know what it was. A HAMMERHEAD! I turned and must have run on top of the water. And the shark must not have been too hungry. I’ve been told that the best thing to do when a shark is that close is to remain still. Right.

Other, more pleasant mornings on the coast, found me looking at the everpresent coastal clouds, backlit by the sun rising behind them -- what many of us call a “Jack Cowan sunrise,” in honor of the late, famed and talented oil painter, John P. Cowan, who memorialized the Texas coast at dawn with masterpieces of his friends and fishing companions stalking schooling redfish or marauding spotted seatrout.

We called them “specs” back then, before we knew that speckled trout had another name. And before Cowan rose to the pinnacle of seascape painters. His morning clouds were so perfectly understated that you could smell the salt air by just looking at them. And if you listened, you could almost hear a laughing gull beckoning for a handout, or hear a gold spoon gently slip into the bay water ahead of a school of reds. And driving down Padre Island from Malaquite Beach to the Mansfield Channel with Billy Sandifer is an unforgettable experience. Actually, going anywhere with Billy is unforgettable.

My wife, Vicky, says her favorite memory is camping on Bird Island on the Padre Island National Seashore, and getting up and wading into the water with her baitcasting rod without even dressing because the water looked so “fishy” right at dawn. She was wearing a just-long- enough t-shirt that read “Becoming an Outdoor Woman.” I’m still in the doghouse over the picture I took from my bedroll.

Now’s the season to fish the coast. As the weather heats up, so does the saltwater fishing. Be there at dawn. It’s such a spiritual time. And such fine fishing.

John Jefferson Photography

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