Come to Santa you big, beautiful redfish!”
As my camera fired away, it was hard not to laugh as Marcus Heflin dressed in full Santa gear battled a bull redfish on a 15-foot surf rod at Sea Rim State Park near Sabine Pass.
It was not funny because of absurdity, but because I kept envisioning some kids pulling up on the beach with their family seeing Santa with a rod doubled over.
Just for the record Heflin does not usually fish in a Santa costume but he fishes a lot. And he does wear a Santa suit during the Christmas season. In fact, he and his wife Debbie serve as Santa and Mrs. Claus for children throughout Southeast Texas.
As Heflin hauled in the 40-inch-plus inch bull you see him holding on the cover of this issue, he couldn’t help but laugh a bit himself. “Ho! Ho! Ho! Back to the surf you go,” he said as he handed the fish to his friend to release into the sandy-green waters of the Sea Rim surf.
Heflin is the founder of Christian Surf Fishing Adventures, a group he started to serve the Lord and his fellow fishermen.
“I proudly serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and I wanted to reach people for Him. I thought about how he told Peter he would be a fisher of men, so here we are,” Heflin said.
For nearly 10 years, Heflin has hauled his trailer full of fishing gear down to Southeast Texas area beaches and offered free fishing for anyone who shows up. He typically posts a message on social media, gets his friends to share, and is greeted with people ranging from teenagers to senior citizens and from greenhorns to experts.
“I think everyone should have access to fishing. That is one reason we do what we do. You can show up, and we provide bait and tackle and show you how to catch fish from the beach. We catch everything from croakers to sharks, but we sort of specialize in bull redfish.”
When asked how many bull redfish he has caught and released Heflin said, “many hundreds if not thousands.” that’s not including the hundreds we have put other anglers on.”
Heflin has had many health challenges including diabetes, a series of strokes including a severe one. Instead of buckling under the pressure, he rose up and decided he needed to help those who needed some help.
“We’ve had powerful testimonies of how the Lord has helped people on our trips. Even just from a practical standpoint, it has been amazing seeing people who have never fished get hooked. And a lot of people who maybe gave up on it because they thought it was too expensive get back into it,” he said.
At the request of park warden/superintendent Nathan Londenberg, he holds monthly surf fishing clinics for Sea Rim State Park. These clinics have been popular enough to extend into winter. “We were just going to do summer, but it looks like we’ll go beyond the fall into winter which is fine by me,” he said.
Fishing in state parks does not require a license and for those who maybe want to try out fishing for the first time or get back into it, it only costs $3 per adult (children 12 and under free) to get into Sea Rim for example.
“Our state parks all across the state are great places to fish whether you are after catfish in freshwater or bull sharks in the surf,” Heflin said. “Many people nowadays have trouble paying the bills so fishing often gets pushed to the side. We are honored to get to help them out.”
Heflin is not doing this out of abundance but at times scarcity, yet he always manages to keep a smile on his face. During the Christmas season, he and his wife Debbie put smiles on many children’s faces. “We just love doing the Santa thing. It is so wonderful to talk with children and see how pure and innocent they are,” Heflin said.
I have seen them greet dozens of kids at a low-income housing. “I always point them to the true reason for the reason and try to give them all an encouraging word,” Heflin said.
Whether it is visiting children in the hospital or making house calls, it is all part of the Heflin’s calling. “Helping people is important to us,” he said.
And so is teamwork. Not only are Marcus and Debbie a dedicated Christmastime team, but also he has a number of anglers who help him out with his surf fishing adventures. “I could not do it without my friends who help me out when I get tired and help make Christian Surf Fishing Adventures something positive,” he said.
The photo shoot for this story went unusually smooth as a cold front hit the area the night before, leaving a cool autumn breeze blowing against the surf. I did not expect Heflin to be fully adorned when I arrived, but upon seeing him watching the lines in his gear, there was no doubt he embodies the idea of Santa.
When my daughter Faith came home from school that day, I had one of the photos up on my computer screen.
“Dad, what’s Santa doing holding a fish?” she asked.
Heflin has been Santa for her since we adopted her from China and she eagerly awaits his annual visits.
“Well baby, Santa likes to fish and he is pretty good at catching the big one.”
“Cool!” she exclaimed.
To contact Marcus Heflin call 409-659-9437 or email [email protected]