“Oh, I use a boat once in awhile,” Baitshack Ben admits, “but most of the time I don’t bother with all the expense and trouble. There is plenty of action on the piers and jetties. Besides, I kind of like the atmosphere. I’m out here to catch fish, but I like the people, too.”
Those are familiar sentiments on the saltwater fishing piers dotting the Texas coastline. The fishing is often good, and people are relaxed, friendly and generally helpful to one another — in fact, Baitshack Ben’s moniker comes from his habit of giving away bait. And sometimes that help can come in more dramatic ways.
Only a little earlier, everybody on the end of the pier began hearing the hiss of line flying off a reel. They knew instantly that somebody hooked a big one.
The angler who caught the fish reacted with an instantaneous gut-level yank to set the hook hard, but it didn’t appear to slow the hard-charging fish down much. “Jacko, let him run,” someone yelled. “He’ll break the line.”
Jacko, an intense young man in a ragged Aggies Tshirt, didn’t listen. He pulled back hard, almost bending the rod in half. Everyone looked up to see if it would snap.
Finally, he eased off and began moving in the direction the fish was running, but there were other people in the way. In fact, Jacko’s line was already crossed with another fisherman’s.
They quickly changed places, untangling their lines while Jacko tried giving up more line and yanking back on the rod at the same time. Suddenly, the fish changed directions and seemed to be coming back toward the pier.
“That’s got to be a jack-crevalle,” someone yelled. “They can bite your line right in half.”
Jacko’s line immediately got tangled again, only this time changing places didn’t help. “Cut it, cut it,” Jacko appealed to the other fisherman. When he hesitated, Jacko said, “I’ll give you more leader — just cut it.”
It was cut, but then Jacko’s line went slack. For a moment, no one knew what happened. Then it suddenly went tight again. The fish had passed right under the pier.
“He’s headed offshore,” said Jacko. The problem now was that Jacko was trying to play the fish with his rod in the wrong direction from the wrong side of the pier.
“We can pass it under; we’ve done it before,” yelled one of Jacko’s friends. They tied a rope to the handle of the rod, and someone on the other side of the pier picked up Jacko’s line with a hook on the end of a chain. They passed the rod under the pier.
Jacko grabbed it and resumed the struggle, finally landing his fish. People cheered. It was about a 30-pound jack-crevalle, and it was still fighting mad. Jacko threw it back. They aren’t good to eat.
Saltwater fishing piers attract a wide variety of anglers. Many are occasional visitors or tourists trying their luck.
Many are tr uly dedicated, hard-core fishermen who come f u lly equipped w it h fold ing chairs, ice chests, big tackle boxes and various rods and reels, all of it brought out with some form of pushcart. They stay out on the piers for hours or even days, and they are the ones who catch most of the fish.
Cecil Tackett falls into that category. A tall, easygoing electrician, Tackett and his wife got tired of coming all the way from Fort Worth to go fishing every month or two.
They would fish the whole weekend and then drive home exhausted. So they solved the problem by buying a house in Flour Bluff, near Corpus Christi, just so they could go saltwater fishing more often.
Tackett knows the waters around Bob Hall Pier like a farmer knows his fields. “I’ve caught just about everything,” he says, without a hint of bragging. He has reeled in black tip shark — “they’re good to eat; they’ve got their own f lavor” — pompano, ladyfish, trout, mackerel, drum, snook, “you name it.”
“The fish sometimes run in big schools in different layers of the water,” says Tackett. “The jacks will swim above the sharks. They can come cruising through all at once like a big herd, and then, in a flash, they’re gone. There’s some fish you are only going to catch about halfway down the pier. In certain conditions, you can hook ladyfish and tarpon in the surf area.”
In early February, Tackett and his wife were out fishing Bob Hall Pier in what is probably the slowest time of the year. The tip of his rod nodded slightly, but it was only the pull and tug of the swells.
“Not much happening right at the moment, but you never know,” he said with a smile.
Perry Trial, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fisheries biologist for the Corpus Christi region, agrees.
“With a few exceptions of fish that migrate seasonally up from the south, you can pretty much catch anything anytime of the year on the coast,” he says. “We have people drop by our offices all the time wanting to identify some critter they’ve never seen before.”