Published on October 13, 2020

Getting fishing lessons at Christmas Bay

By Roy Edwards
The Bulletin

In the late 1960s, my job’s work schedule of four days on and four days off gave me at least 2 days a week to go fishing while everybody worked.

One of my favorite fishing areas was Christmas Bay, located on the north side of the Blue Water Highway, just west of San Luis Pass.
Texas Parks and Wildlife had designated it as a nursery bay. That meant no commercial shrimping, fishing, oystering, or crabbing was allowed. As a result, Christmas was the only bay in the Galveston Bay complex that had a well-established seagrass bed around the shoreline and in the shallows on the east end.

Oyster beds were everywhere across the bay. The bottom was a combination of hard sand and hard mud. All of these factors made Christmas Bay an extremely productive ecosystem; fishing could be outstanding.

About noon Thursday in early August, I went back to my car at the county boat ramp to rest up and grab a hamburger from Sy’s bait camp. I iced down a nice stringer of Specs, Reds, and Flounder and started towards Sy’s. As I crossed the boat ramp, a Jon boat with two older fishermen came in from the bay.

I stabilized the boat and helped the lady out of the bow onto the dry ground. The man was struggling with an ice chest, so I asked if I could help. That ice chest was heavy, and there was one more just as heavy still in the boat.

“Looks like you had a good day,” I said.

“Not bad. We’ve been at it since daybreak,” he said.” “Take a look”.

They had two 72-quart ice chests full of iced down Golden Croakers.

“Sir”, I said, “I have got to ask you. How in the world did you catch so many Croakers without filling your boat with Hardhead Catfish?”
“Well, son,” he answered, “we drift fish for them. Croakers are attracted to a moving bait, but Hardheads are too lazy to chase one. We normally catch at least a hundred Croaker to one Hardhead.”

I helped move the ice chests into the shade of their camper, and we all went to Sy’s for cold drinks and hamburgers. We started talking, and this is their story, as told to me.

“We are both retired and live in Michigan. We come down to Christmas Bay every year about this time. We love to fish and eat fish. We bring our boat down and live in our camper for a couple of weeks. We buy five pounds of fresh dead shrimp from Sy at daybreak and run the boat into the wind until we get within casting distance of the grass line at the far shoreline. Then we turn the boat broadside to the wind and drift toward the opposite shore. We peel and head the shrimp, throwing the shells and heads behind the boat to set up a chum line.

We use a simple bottom rig with light wire hooks and cast into the wind. The drifting boat keeps the line tight. Then just hang on to the rod ‘cause the croakers hit like a ton of bricks. Most of the time, you don’t even have to set the hook. We drift until we get close to the grass, fire up and do it again until we get tired.

“This afternoon, I will set up a folding table and start cleaning fish. I scale them, head and gut them, cut off their tails and remove the dorsal and anal fins. The wife takes the cleaned fish, processes them into seal-a-meal bags and puts them into our small freezer. The next day, we move the frozen fish from the freezer to one of our three 120-quart ice chests. A layer of frozen fish, a layer of ice, and a light layer of Ice Cream salt. When we get all we want, we head for home.

“Once home, we have a routine for processing the fish. My wife thaws a couple of the seal-a-meal bags, adds spices and cooks them in the pressure cooker. This makes the bones soft, like in canned salmon, so we eat bone and all. When she finishes a batch, I run them through a meat grinder and then press them into patties with a hamburger press. Then we coat the patties with a seasoned cornmeal breading, separate the patties with precut wax paper squares, bag them and freeze them.

“When we want fish, we plug in our Fry-Daddy and drop in a couple of patties, toast a couple of slices of bread and add mustard, mayonnaise or ketchup, maybe a slice of cheese, and always a slice of purple onion. It’s the best fish sandwich you will ever eat.”
I decided that I had to try their fishing method.

Next week: Drifting Christmas, part 2.

(Write Roy in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)