W hen You Visit Rockport, it’s not hard to see that the area has gone through a major event.
The words most uttered after seeing our area are: “I knew you had a bad storm, but I had no idea how bad it really was.”
Others are speechless. The hordes of debris trucks, reclamation equipment and the constant grind of grapplers, shredders, and maintainers send the message loud and clear. We are in the process of healing, rebuilding, and will be for quite some time.
Even storm-hardened veterans who have visited our wounded town from areas such as Dade County Florida, say it’s as bad as they’ve seen. An EF5 tornado survivor who came to share his story of rebuilding and recovery said it was like the worst tornado you’ve ever seen.
It doesn’t stop after a mile or half- mile—it goes on for more than 40 to 50 square miles. When you go into our restaurants and stores, you will see most locals are dirty and tired. They live with the dirt. They work in the dirt and these dirty conditions that come with rebuilding. They have their meals in the dirt, but at night shower the grime off, say their prayers, and pray for strength in the coming days, often cursing the force that keeps them going.
A trip down the Hwy 35 corridor through town actually looks almost familiar. Much progress has been made, and every day small steps give us glimpses of the old Rockport.
The bays look, for the most part, normal and visitors glancing across them would be hard pressed to see anything to suggest a CAT4 hurricane had hit our area. They see the beauty and peacefulness of the waves and it soothes them.
We, however, see and know what’s beneath. What we see and feel is the confusion of a community not able to predict its future, a community eager to laugh, devoted to family and dedicated to rebuilding. The words that come to mind—”Persistent Harmony.”
I have fished the waters since the storm and spent many hours making detailed notes of the changes. Some of the changes are subtle, others are drastic and defy explanation.
As I ease my Haynie (my boat) along, I am ever cautious. Reefs I marked have shifted as much as 30 to 40 yards. Others are bigger. Many haven’t moved at all, and some are completely gone.
The Haynie, thank God, runs well. As I make my way I see dark shadows looming from the depths. I investigate—pieces of roof tops, car hoods, car doors, a china cabinet with dishes still in it, children’s toys, the remains of family pets, cattle and wildlife.
My eye catches a movement not far off shore. It’s a hog that seems to be struggling in the water. I ease closer and see its back legs were crushed. It’s been alive probably for weeks, dragging itself along the shore line with crabs feeding on its paralyzed hind quarters.
No animal, even a feral hog, deserves this kind of demise. I only have a fillet knife. So, I dispatch the animal as quickly as I can and send it into the murky depths of the ICW. I will carry a gun from now on, for it’s not the only injured animal I find.
As I make my way to Carlos Bay, I quickly realize the map I have in my head is for the most part, irrelevant. Much has changed.
The waters that have nurtured me and my way of life are healing, as well as and much more quickly than our community. It has become a changed entity.
Well, of course it has, what other option was there? I can feel my Haynie rise over some objects. Its tunnel hull rides on the water, protecting my hull from submerged objects in skinny water.
Many of the cuts through reefs and between islands have changed. Many of the landmarks I use to set up on fish are gone. I realize my GPS at this point can be dangerous—it simply records where things WERE not necessarily where they are today. A three-yard shift in a well-known GPS-recorded cut can spell a busted hull, ruined prop and lower unit, and God forbid, injuries for those on board.
I was as at home on these waters as I was in my own living room, maybe even more. The beauty was still there but the back-of-my-hand familiarity I was so comfortable with had deteriorated. Of my 300-plus, GPS-marked spots, many have shifted and some are gone altogether.
As unnerving as this was, the bays seemed cleaner than before, the water quality better. I saw bait fish in most places and the salt grasses seemed new with much vitality.
This day I was going to fish, for we wanted fish to eat and our freezer was completely empty. After a long trailer/boat tow I found a few croakers and a quart of shrimp. The black drum should be biting, and we enjoy their delicious filets.
My black drum spot seemed intact, the same—and yet somehow different. On my first cast, I put the rod in the rod holder, knowing it would take a while for the drum school to lock-in on the scent; besides, I needed some coffee.
Reaching for my thermos I heard the squeal of my old Quantum Kinetic reel (given to me by a dear friend and fellow guide, Danny Goyen, as a present. It was still my favorite comfort reel). The rod was bent double, and the drag was a steady scream.
Man, I love to hear a drag squeal!
This was NOT a black drum, it was too fast. Many years on the water have enable me to tell, with about 95 percent accuracy, what type of fish I’ve hooked by the feel of the action on the rod. This was a big red, but never—and I mean NEVER—had I caught a red in this spot.
Netted, the red measured 31 inches and was quickly returned to the water (I seldom keep oversized reds). The 21- and 24-inch reds are the ones I like to eat. I hurriedly made cast number two, and again the coffee was calling my name.
This time I almost lost the rod as I went to place it in the rod holder. The transition from hand to rod holder can be and has been the demise of a lot of good rods and reels. If you place the rod in the holder with your fingers you’re asking for a lost rod. Keep a full grip on the rod until it is fully anchored in the bottom of the rod holder.
Cast number two, red number two, this one 23 inches. I could taste the throat meat already—one of my FAVS!
“There are no reds here EVER” I said out loud, “not in 25 years!” My coffee by now was cold, and I couldn’t care less. Cast number three, this time the Quantum reel and Falcon rod never left my hand.
The next hit, I was pretty sure, was gonna pull my Haynie off its power pole anchor. Cast number three, red number 3; 25 inches.
“I think, therefore I am confused,” was the look I had on my face. I slowed my mind down, finally got some coffee, and put my Oakley sunglasses on.
Now I could see the small reef I was fishing wasn’t small anymore. It was three times its original length. Mostly sand, mixed with shell, the reef, obviously piled upon by the storm and its surge, was now a different habitat than before.
I eased the power pole up and drifted down a few hundred yards and anchored. Cast number four was an 18-inch black drum.
Five black drums later I made another move—this time to the new end of the reef. Five casts, five trout, all in the 17- to 19-inch range. I don’t know what I don’t know.
I told myself this deserves further investigation. Having plenty of fish for my wife, me, our grown kids and grandkids, I fished a few more reefs and fishing spots with similar results. The location had changed and the species had changed.
My mind shifted to details—trying to see what other differences our bays now embraced. The differences were vast, especially when one looked close.
Deep water reefs were now shallow water reefs. Shallow water reefs were either gone or now too shallow to fish. There were deep water reefs where none had existed before.
When I use the word “reef,” I mean a shoal or bulge in the bottom, not necessarily oyster shell) where none existed before.
When I think it through, it makes complete sense—shallow reefs pounded by 170-plus mph winds and no telling what wave height, were either wiped away or stood their ground and became very shallow areas.
Deep water reefs were filled in, becoming shallow reefs. The new deep-water shoals/reefs were probably small outcroppings not large enough until the storm forced enough shell, mud and sand upon them to become habitat-potential reefs.
Mother Nature finds a way. The old bay I had grown to love was still partially there, but it was forced to change its dynamics in some areas. This meant only one thing—it was time for me to reacquaint myself with an old/new friend.
B ecause of the inherent danger, I will only write about the bays I personally have investigated, so I ask your patience. As time moves forward I will be able to navigate/fish the others I normally write about.
As of this writing, hotels are re-opening, other businesses continue to re-open and restaurants are returning. Some may open and then must close because of things outside their control. More bait stands are offering limited bait, open one day, maybe closed the next.
For now, bring a cast net as backup. Thank you for supporting us as we rebuild.
St. Charles Bay: Stay in the middle of the bay while navigating. There are a few black drums at the mouth of Twins Creeks with peeled shrimp on a light Carolina rig the bait of choice. Cavasso Creek has some flounders in the back-area, close to Hwy 35. Shrimp, either frozen or live if you can get it, is best bottom-fished on a light Carolina Rig.
Carlos Bay: This bay for the most part, is clear of debris. Drifts across Carlos Lake are good for trout and a few reds, using live shrimp under a subtle popping cork.
Mesquite Bay: The bay has a few hazards, but they are very visible. That doesn’t mean it is completely clear. We continue to mark the hazards as we find them. The east shoreline is a good spot for reds free-lined using finger mullet. The mouth of Cedar Bayou is a good wade for trout, using soft plastics in new penny and electric chicken colors. There are a few gators in this area, but they do not seem to be a nuisance.
Copano Bay: In my opinion it is still hazardous for those not familiar with its structures.
Ayers Bay: I traversed the bay but spent very little time in it. It looks remarkably clean in the areas I could see. Proceed with caution.
Aransas Bay: The northeast side close to Goose Island has some hazards, especially close to the shorelines. Midbay looks pretty clear, but go slowly and be ever watchful.
Live Oak Point: The area just off Live Oak Point is the place to be. Use cut mullet free-lined or on a light Carolina Rig for reds. Free-lined live shrimp are good for trout here as well. Goose Island State Park is open to for launching boats ONLY.
Email Capt. Mac Gable at [email protected]