Have you ever been obsessed with something? I don’t mean like, gee, I’d like to have one of those. I mean like having an itch you can’t quite reach and that won’t go away. For more than 50 years, I was obsessed by speckled trout.
I know the speckled trout isn’t the biggest fish on the coast, or the hardest fighter, or the most persnickety about lure presentation. But be that as it may, you’re not allowed to laugh until you haven’t caught one for at least 50 years.
My obsession with my Moby Dick of inshore saltwater fishes is an inevitable byproduct of a depraved childhood. Most children who were toddlers in the early 1950s were nurtured by adults who read proper literature like Peter Rabbit and Bambi to them. Not me. I scrunched beside my grandpa in his big recliner and listened to him read magazine articles written by card-carrying reprobates like Corey Ford, A. J. McClane, and Russell Annabelle.
I might have overcome that inauspicious beginning were it not for the fact that in the mid-1950s, my grandpa discovered that winters were warmer in Corpus Christi, Texas, than they were in Delphos, Kansas. As a result, my most formative years were spent inundated with tales of fishing for speckled trout along the Gulf Coast. My pre-teen self swore a blood oath that I, too, would one day catch a speckled trout.
Fifty adventure-filled years later, I was a full-time outdoors writer, but I still hadn’t caught a speckled trout. Finally, fortune smiled, and I was able to stretch a four-day writers conference in Lake Charles into a full week. Three whole days with nothing to do but fish!
On my way south to link up with my guide, I checked my personal items list off on my fingers. A long-billed cap with side and rear fabric flaps (check), one pair of for-what-they-cost-they-better-be-good sunglasses (check), one bottle of sunblock (nope). But not to worry. This was October, and I’d been spending most of my time outdoors for months and, besides, nothing could take the edge off this day.
It was a fantastic day to be on the water. The sky was cobalt blue, the breeze was a mere zephyr, and the temperature was perfect for the white long-sleeved shirt and trousers that’s my trademark year-round fishing attire.
I have no idea how many fish I caught, but it was what folks up this way call a passel. I do remember that by the time the guide and I finished cleaning and packaging them, I was thinking more in terms of a gunnysack full. (Note: The guide didn’t ask for my help. I volunteered because: a) I wanted to learn the best technique; b) I’m a really nice guy or; c) I somehow managed to hit myself in the head with a shark billy on the ride back to the dock.
At long last, I’d closed another link between myself and my first and best mentor. I climbed into my Jimmy, tossed my cap aside, and adjusted the rear-view mirror, so I could see myself grin….What the…?
I moved over so I could see myself in the side-view mirror. As the man in one of my all-time favorite country songs said, “You should have seen it in color.”
Have you ever done any serious welding without a helmet? Of course, you haven’t, or you wouldn’t be reading this. But imagine working with a light source brighter than the sun while wearing a mask the size of the ones some swimmers use in races. That’s what my face looked like.
I watched the first crack in the skin over my nose pop open and begin to ooze. That was also the first time I’d felt any discomfort. But it sure wasn’t the last. I know this is a cliché, but by the time I’d driven back to St. Charles, my face felt like it was literally on fire.
In retrospect, I should have paid more attention to my skin. But on the other hand, a passel is a whole bunch of speckled trout!