DOGGETT AT LARGE by Joe Doggett

PIKE ON THE EDGE by Doug Pike
March 25, 2017
EDITOR’S NOTES by Chester Moore
March 25, 2017

Far Bend Fever

B ack in the spring of 1983, Guinder Edwin Velasquez-Clark guided me to my first fly-rod tarpon. We were fishing out of Archie Fields’s old Rio Colorado Lodge on the northeastern coast of Costa Rica.

Guinder was young and cocky, and it was understood up front that the opinions of anyone with four names and a hyphen would dominate the confines of a 16-foot aluminum skiff.

He pushed the skiff from the rickety wooden dock, cranked the balky outboard, and ran about 200 yards down the muddy flow of the Rio Colorado when the engine abruptly stopped. We drifted.

Oh, great, I thought, we’ve already got motor trouble. 

Guinder pointed at the current. “We are here, señor; why aren’t you casting?”

“Here? The camp is right there. We’ve haven’t gone anywhere.”

“Well, if you prefer we can run way up around the far bend to another spot, but this hole is one of the best on the river.”

And so it was. A school of tarpon in the 50- to 100-pound class was stacked in the slack current. In three hours during that first session, I jumped and lost five fish by swinging heavy, bushy “whistler” streamer flies on an 11-weight sinking line through the hole. My fly-rod tarpon game admittedly was rough, but this was 35 years ago. 

The sixth fish, a modest one, stayed stuck and Guinder released it. I relate the incident because that was one of the very few times in a long and traveled angling career that the hot spot was in the back pocket of the launch ramp. Almost always, the privileged water is, well, “up around the far bend.”

Even if it’s not, that’s where we suspect it is. Such is the genetic makeup of serious saltwater anglers. No matter if you ride in a boat, fly in a plane or drive in a vehicle, or combine all three, the water you cannot easily reach is somehow bound to be better.

That’s just the way it is, the mindset we follow.

For example, during the 1970s I fished numerous times with Houstonian Ray Fiveash at his remote Rancho del Mar camp about 60 miles down Mexico’s empty beach below Matamoros. The simple shack sat on a high dune on the north side of Third Pass.

That small pass was one of several cuts from the surf that fed the sprawling Mexican Laguna Madre. Back then, the so-called Middle Passes were a fabulous frontier for wading for speckled trout, redfish and flounder, maybe even snook and tarpon.

Rancho del Mar sat beyond significant level-wind competition, and you would think that should suffice. But Fiveash burned with the “Far Bend Fever,” and the goal of every expedition was to reach the surf at Sixth Pass, maybe 15 or 20 miles farther down the beach. 

To do this, Fiveash and his partner, Popo Flores employed various amphibious attack vehicles to ford the several intervening passes—first a military “duck,” followed by a monstrous Air Gator airboat, finally a custom-built articulating marsh buggy. The rig, “La Machine,” was equipped with giant tires with great treads that could churn like a paddle wheeler through soft sand and across deep guts. 

And, most trips, the effort was justified. A rich green tide on the south side of Sixth could answer every promise that plugging ever made. Trust me.

Another old timer, Rudy Grigar, also burned with the Far Bend Fever. The self-proclaimed “Plugger” lived in Houston. During the 60s and early 70s, he fished out of a small bay house in lower West Galveston Bay. When that area became too crowded, he relocated to Port O’Connor.

Back then, Port O’Connor was Far Bend country. Not many Houston-area anglers even knew where the dusty, salty little commercial fishing settlement was—much less how to fish it. You pretty much got live bait and went to the “big jetties” and free-shrimped for specks and reds. Or, you might chunk a fast-sinking Bingo plug across the deep jetty currents.

Not Grigar.

He waded with spoons (this was during the pre-plastic “tail” era) and the occasional topwater plug, and his Far Bend philosophy carried all the way to Panther Point. That desolate spit in San Antonio Bay off Matagorda Island is located about midway between Port O’Connor and Rockport—even now, not easy to access.

Grigar usually would camp in his old Whaler at Panther Point. That was a wretched experience for those of us partial to motel keys, bug-proof screens, and reliable air conditioners, but he almost always waded into impressive strings of specks and reds.

When Port O’Connor started drawing serious trailer-traffic fire, the Plugger made his final stand on the uninhabited Chandeleur Islands, the fragile crescent of sand, shell and grass about 30 miles off Louisiana and Mississippi. His body of work there with a gold Johnson Sprite has become legend. Again, trust me.

These are two classic examples of salty fishing careers dedicated to going beyond the far bend. The obvious reason for this obsessive push is to reach lightly pressured water, but I submit that a deeper yearning is at work. The hard-core coastal angler cannot gaze at an open horizon of beckoning water without wondering what might be waiting.

Of course, the effort might be a bust. In fact, failures and fiascos often rule. But it’s awfully rare to find the best fishing within an easy cast of the nearest launch ramp. 

Going around the far bend can be a high-stakes gamble, and the players of wind, tide and fickle fish are among the most treacherous. But you never know when Old Man Gulf and Lady Luck might stroll arm-in-arm around the corner.

Top off that tank and deal them cards!

 

Email Joe Doggett at [email protected]

 

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