T his past spring and summer three boater/anglers went missing. In two of the instances I knew the anglers involved.
Two were seasoned veterans of our coastal bay area. If you have frequented my writings, you know I can get quite preachy about safety where boating and fishing are concerned.
“Here comes mother mariner; she’s gonna watch out for us all,” is just some of the good-natured jibing I have received over the years. We are an independent lot, us anglers, and that goes two-fold for guides. I know preaching safety is akin to getting in someone else’s business, but in this case I am compelled to, especially if it can prevent an injury or God forbid another missing angling man/woman.
These tragedies have a life lesson for all of us if we will just listen. As one gets the details of an accident it’s usually easy to see where mistakes were made, but in the above cases nothing glaring, or at least nothing I don’t see almost every day here in this boating mecca, stood out.
Mysteries often surround a missing boater/angler but when looked at closely it often comes down to over looked safety items. No life jacket, no kill switch (or it was not attached to the boater).
One clear theme comes across almost every time—they were out alone. Two of these good souls I knew. I had met them multiple times at tackle shops and bait stands. They were avid anglers, not prone to do anything stupid or dangerous.
Neither Homeland Security, the FBI, nor the NSA have anything on serious anglers when it comes to secrecy. When a hot fishing spot is found, we protect it as if it’s our first-born child.
As is often the case we fish these spots alone. It’s just what we do. If you are not an angler, I doubt you would understand. Fishing alone is part of the deal.
Is it smart? No!
Is it safe? No!
Is it necessary?
It just is, and we all do it from time to time. This article is based on data from multiple tragedies, shared with me where missing boaters were concerned and perhaps to look at such tragedies from a different angle.
A loved one has scheduled a trip with a friend, but as is the case sometimes, the friend had to back out. A solo trip is now in the making. All the preparations are made the night before and with much excitement the angler is out the door early that morning.
The loved one usually knows about what time the angler will return, or as is rarely the case, a float plan has been provided with an estimated return time. No real concern is considered. After all, this angler is a seasoned old salt and knows more about the bays than most.
Having never run into trouble in 20 plus years, a level of confidence has been earned. One must live life to the fullest and the angler is no exception—he/she deserves it. This is what they retired for. This is their dream so lead, follow, or get the hell outta the way.
As the day unfolds it’s more of an afterthought by the loved one that the angler is safe, as “they always have been.” When the arrival time comes and goes, there’s no need for alarm, but by God they could have at least called!
The clock is now ticking, and every hour that goes by means a real butt chewing is inevitable. On one side of their heart and mind they are upset about the lateness, but on the other side there is an unfamiliar fear that is now growing. Could something be wrong, could something have happened? “I hope it wasn’t boat trouble,” the loved one now tells herself.
Perhaps he/she went somewhere else after fishing. The angler is now three hours late and it becomes a pride thing as to who is gonna call whom first.
There is no excuse for not calling, especially with the supper plans they had made. The cell phone was cost more than $700, a good one. They had moved to another cell plan to ensure reception out on the water the angler likes to fish.
To heck with pride! The calling starts. The loved one calls the angler, no answer. Calls again, no answer. Sends a text, no answer. It will be dark in less than two hours. Friends are now called to see if they know the whereabouts of the now very late angler.
No one knows. The loved one doesn’t want to raise an unwarranted flag, after all this has happened before, but truly never this late. The anger is rapidly fading, and a gnawing fear is creeping in.
One must do something even if it’s wrong. Checked the favorite watering holes for famished anglers, but to no avail. The sun is dipping toward the horizon. Fear grows that something has happened, so friends are now called to help.
Check the boat ramps. Friends are on it. They know the boat ramps the angler normally uses. The angler’s vehicle and trailer are found at the second ramp. The loved one is now gripped with fear for the wellbeing of their loved one.
“It could be motor trouble,” a friend says trying to help.
“But there has been no response to any of my phone calls or texts!”
“We should call 911,” another friend reluctantly advises.
At this point the loved one needs help because they can only think the worst, and they need others to help think more clearly.
The call is made; a dispatcher takes the call and starts a line of questions, which seem incredibly NOT relevant. After what seems hours the dispatcher sets in motion a chain of actions that involve the local police, the Coast Guard, the TPWD and EMS if warranted.
The gnawing fear is now REAL, and the loved one feels horrible for being angry with the angler.
The term “missing boater” is now used when just 10 hours ago the missing was saying, “see you later” as they departed for their fishing trip. After many possible scenarios are exhausted, a search is now underway.
If hell has a voice it is now one a loved one will hear. Every minute is agonizing, minutes turn to hours. The thoughts keep coming.
Is there more the loved one could do? What are they missing? This is a nightmare. They pray someone will wake them, and it will all go away. Friends and loved ones gather for support, and the clock is still ticking.
In the deep recesses of a fearful heart they know time IS NOT their friend. Hours now turn to the next day. The search is exhaustive. Please let the phone ring and it be the angler’s voice so all this will go away, the loved one thinks.
The Coast Guard, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and local police are all in the search. Days now pass, and the loved one knows some data chart somewhere suggests that after a certain time frame the chances of their loved one being alive are not good.
A thought creeps in—maybe even a resolve that this is not going to end well. The rescue teams are tired,and one can tell they have now moved from a rescue to recovery mentality. As a final indication, the rescue teams suspend the search.
There is still hope, but it’s just a small part of the will not to give up hope. The days go by. How does one continue to live?
Closure is needed one way or the other for the loved one to face reality so life can go on. The phone rings, the angler’s body has been found.
The loved one sinks to their knees, and the loss is almost more than they can bear. How could something that started so special turn out so horrible?
God, what did we do wrong? the loved one asks. How can… how do I go on? The identification process is a nightmare of its own. The loved one knows their life partner is no longer there.
Not to sound like broken record, but listed here are recommendations all boaters who frequent our area would be wise to embrace:
• Let someone know where you’re going to be and when you’re to be back (a float plan).
• Have and wear a PFD.
• Use a kill switch and make sure it’s attached to your body while underway.
• Check the weather beyond the duration of your planned trip in case you are delayed.
• Have a marine radio. Don’t depend on a cell phone.
• Have emergency contact numbers where you can get to them easily.
• Have a GPS and hard maps—These do not make one a navigation guru, and underwater hazards are seldom marked on these maps.
In my humble opinion, it goes without saying, “LOCAL KNOWLEDGE IS ESSENTIAL FOR SAFE AND SUCCESSFUL NAVIGATION” And Please PLEASE PLEASE slow down. Our bays are not a race track.
This article is dedicated to those who have lost their lives in pursuit of that which they loved.
May God bless their families.
COPANO BAY: Black drum bite is good just off the Bayside shoreline. Fresh dead shrimp on a light Carolina rig is best here. Mission Bay has some nice red action. Finger mullet works best here free-lined. Please use caution navigating this bay.
ARANSASBAY: Drifts down Traylor Island are good for trout using free-lined croaker. The potholes in this area hold fish. Early morning is best. The mouth of Allyns Bight is a good spot for trout and reds using free-lined live shrimp.
ST. CHARLES BAY: Drifts across Little Sharp Point are good for reds using Berkley Gulp shrimp under a bubble cork. Little Devil’s Bayou is a good spot for black drum and reds. Finger mullet free-lined is best for reds here and fresh dead shrimp under a silent cork work well for blackdrum.
CARLOS BAY: The islands around Cape Carlos Dugout is a good spot for trout using free lined croaker. The south side of Cedar reef is good for reds early morning using mud minnows or finger mullet free lined.
MESQUITE BAY: Rattlesnake Reef is a good spot on high tide for reds and some black drum using free-lined live shrimp. The west shoreline just off Bludworth Island is a good wade for trout using Berkley Gulp Shrimp, worked just off the bottom. Hop the bait by raising your rod tip. Most strikes come as the bait is falling.
AYERS BAY:Ayers Reef late evening on high tide is a good spot for reds using finger mullet on a very light Carolina rig. Second Chain is a good spot for slot reds using cut mullet or menhaden free-lined.
Be mindful and respectful for private property and when in doubt ask permission. Wades in this area with Berkley Jerk Shad or free-lined live shrimp can produce trout as well as reds and black drum.
Here’s Wishing You Tight Lines Bent Poles and Plenty of Bait.
Rockport: A well-kept secret is an area south of FM 881 just off the Rockport down town shoreline. This area is littered with piers and under water reefs, as well as some sand shell.
Email Capt. Mac Gable at [email protected]