Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Cattle Drive Across the Colorado River

We just happened to be here in time to watch the cattle drive across the Colorado. Each year the ranchers swim their herds across the river and let them graze on the south side of Matagorda Island. After they have calved they swim the herd back north, where they load them into trucks for the trip back to the mainland ranch.
Its a local event and so we joined the others in watching the cattle being herded into the water as cowboys and cowgirls, along with boats, guided them safely across. The drive was scheduled for nine am but the tides were too strong and we waited till almost four pm before it was judged ok to bring them across.
The cattle seemed hesitant at first but a lead cow plunged into the water and soon was swimming the channel. The herd then followed and guided by boats and the yells of cowboys and a cowgirl soon made it to our side and then were gathered into a herd near where  some calves were being held in a horse trailer.
The calves had crossed earlier. on a small barge, and their plaintiff moos were used to draw their mothers across. Anyway it all worked as most of the cattle swam the river, and only a few refused to cross. These made a break for freedom but the cowboys on the other side chased them down and with their lassos swirling above their heads, soon roped and corralled the fugitives.
No gators or sharks bothered the cattle as they swam and It had been a safe crossing, as all the herd survived the ordeal. Still, it was an unusual sight to see a herd crossing a river, deepened by dredging, (the last image was taken after I climbed our fifth wheel ladder. Luckily the cattle were downwind and we were spared that part of the experience).
We have been stopped before, by cattle drives in Wyoming, but this was our first time we have seen such a herd swim a river and was certainly worth the watching. Clear skies.

Canoeing the Colorado River, from Matagorda Nature Park

Texas's Colorado river is really almost a misnomer here, as the river has been dredged straight and is really just a simple channel allowing access to the Gulf. At one time it was probably pretty wild but now the river is cut by the Intercoastal, before it reaches its mouth.
Still it's channel is used by birds and so we launched the canoe, to spend a day on the water, with a little birding, exploring, and fishing in mind. It was a really easy launch as we were able to put in right at the Matagorda Bay Nature Rv park. We were clear of shrimp boats, (its a busy channel), and in no time we were across and paddling past brown pelicans and Caspian terns.
Turning toward the Gulf we tried not to disturb the birds, partially successful, and headed out to the mouth. soon we were at the mouth and we stopped for a few images before heading back to a landing at the south jetty end. The land here is private and so the trash that washes ashore is left untouched. Walking between the tide ranges, Renita took some pics of a wrecked sailboat from a past storm.
We shelled a bit and soon she found a beautiful gastropod. Schools of mullet swam in the shallows and it would have been simple to cast my net and get all the bait I could possibly use. Crossing the channel to the north side we stopped and fished a bit, but no fish bothered our live shrimp.
We tried another place, to no avail, and watched as a shrimp boat went by, with terns and gulls wheeling in the sky and plunging into the water for the scraps tossed overboard. Heading back across the way we paddled west as Renita took images of birds and shoreline and I simply enjoyed the slack tide.
Before we knew it the day was over and we headed back to the campsite. Renita's shell turned out to have a fiddler crab inside, which we discovered after it crawled out of its rinsing bowl and took off across the floor. She released it back into the mosquito pond, not far from our camper.
It was a nice day with a little birding, fishing but no catching, and simply a pleasant day canoeing the Colorado river at Matagorda Island. Who could ask for more? Clear skies

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Flounder, Fire, and More of Matagorda Island

I was frustrated at watching my neighbors catch another flounder. They had been busy netting really nice fish and to add insult to injury, had caught a flounder right where I had been fishing. I slid the bobber stop up my line, making the bait drop deeper, and cast again into the surf's first cut.
Bait fish were everywhere and had been all morning. I had watched a fisherman on shore cast net his bait and then catch a nice red fish and of course a flounder. Pulling my line I felt some weight and at first thought I had more seaweed, but then the weight moved and I realized it was a fish. Let it be a flounder!
It came in pretty easy as I was standing on a walkway about fifteen feet above the water. At first the fish seemed headed for the jetty rocks and I feared it would become entangled and lost but I was able to force it up and over and I could see it, a really nice fish.
Fighting the fish with one hand I hoisted the hoop net over the railing. A lady fisherman came over to help and I could see she wasn't use to a hoop net so I was pleased when one of the others took the net from her hand and then held it perfectly as I swam the fish into the net.
I didn't catch any more fish or even have any more bites, but it was ok as a flounder dinner was in our future. Returning to our fifth wheel for lunch a fire truck went by, and then Renita noticed the smoke. We had a grass fire burning out of control, right across the road! The flames were at least six feet high and we watched the fire with a lot of apprehension but the fire was moving in a direction which would cause us to miss it, still.
Having lived out west for thirty five years we know how fast a grass fire can move and even though a tractor was desperately trying to construct a fire lane, the flames were so high that I wondered if they could stop it. It jumped the first attempt to block it but finally the fire fighters brought it under control.
The flames died down and we all felt a relief. Thank you firemen!
I remembered watching a grass fire in Gillette run across a field as homeowners stood their with their lawn hoses. Luckily that one had stopped as the wind had suddenly gone still. That fire had impressed me with how fast a fire can run. All was well and the flames were out so we relaxed and went back to watching some golf and basketball and wondering what to cook for dinner, hmmm fish perhaps? Clear skies

Monday, March 19, 2012

Matagorda Bay Nature Park

I saw a glimpse of pink and turned as three bright pink rosette spoonbills passed by flying toward the Gulf. Not far away greedy brown pelicans were feeding on schools of tightly packed fry, as laughing gulls and Caspian terns plunged into the fray. Too relaxed to move and watch the frenzy up close I simply sat as the pelicans dipped their beaks and then lifted them into the air, expelling water and swallowing their breakfast.
We had finally left Fulton for maintaince and then three days of prepping at a luxury rv park in Aransas Pass. Wyoming and Alaska beckons, but its too early to move far north so we only drove 120 miles to Matagorda Bay Nature Park. There we were greeted by friendly staff and we parked our rig on the edge of the Colorado River,(Texas's Colorado River), where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Setting up, we decided to take a stroll to the nearby Gulf beach and make a circuit of the walkway spit and jetty. Passing do not swim signs we saw several families with small children daring the surf and rip tides and it made us wonder how so many children survive their youth. Passing them the surf was whipped into a maelstrom of pounding waves and I simply shook my head.

A pair of lovers were embracing with a bit too much passion for a public place and we hurried by them trying not to stare,(we don't see many people in the Red Desert of Wyoming). Shells were strewn everywhere and Renita started to hunt for sea glass. I told here we had enough already but it didn't matter and so I also glanced at the surfs edge, hoping for some nice color.

After dinner I set out my poles and even caught a gaff sail catfish, which is pretty good to eat, but I released it as I didn't want to bother myself by having to clean a single fish. I didn't catch anymore but missed several hits by small fish. After having switched to circle hooks the catching has been pretty easy, at least when a big fish bites as the circle hooks the fish without any help. In fact you don't/shouldn't try to set the hook as simply waiting for the fish to do its job usually works and the hook allows for most fish to be released unharmed.

Winding my poles in I walked back to our fifth wheel and putting them away, Molly greeted me at the door. I am sure she was wondering why I hadn't taken her along but she had already had a huge walk with us. A cold front with possible dangerous storms should arrive tomorrow and so we may be house bound and glued to our smart phone, watching radar maps, but that's tomorrow. Clear skies

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Padre Island National Seashore 2012, Seaweed

You cast out and the line would quickly enmesh itself in seaweed. Then the longshore drift would sweep your mess down current and you would began the arduous chore of dragging in a mass of weed and kelp like material. Rebaiting and recasting, your line would stay clear for about a minute and then you would soon began anew the dragging process.
Arriving at the PINS Visitor Center we learned that he beach driving was poor, (not really as the rain had packed the sand), and that there was lots and lots of seaweed. We decided to try driving anyway and although the tide was still high we were able to follow tracks alongside the shore and it wasn't really that bad. There were lots of tree trunks and sea weed but we didn't have to worry about getting stuck!
After driving a few miles south we stopped at a break between cars and started to fish, or at least tried to fish. I soon gave up in disgust and ate my lunch while Roy kept casting and cleaning. I watched in amazement as he caught two whiting and then a pompano! As pompano is my favorite fish I finished lunch and waded back out into the surf.
I watched Roy cast out and determined he was throwing into the second cut and switching poles I actually missed a bite. Rebaitng, my line started to become entangled in seaweed when the fish struck and then took off on a drag burning run. I knew it was a nice fish and here I was using a tiny circle hook.
Working the fish in I had to stop and grab handfuls of weeds, tearing them off my line. Then I would tighten my line and hope the fish was still there. I had forty pound power braid and a twenty pound mono leader so I felt pretty good about the line holding, as long as it wasn't a shark.
Actually gaining ground I saw the color of the fish and realized it was a really large legal black drum. Renita came down to watch and eventually I was able to drag the fish onto the shore. Measuring twenty five inches it was the largest slot sized black drum I have ever caught, (black drum must be between 14 and 28 inches to keep), I held the fish up for an image and then put it on ice. Finally a fish!
We didn't catch much else, another whiting was added to the cooler, and too soon it was time to leave. The drive back had the inevitable wait at the ferry, (Spring break is here and the place is packed), but it wasn't too long and the new ferry's really helped move all the cars across. Home and cleaning fish and then dinner at Los Comales but that's another story. This day was all about pompano and seaweed and a big black drum! Clear skies.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Roller Coast Ride That Lasted for Eight Hours, Deep Sea Fishing

It wasn't just the swells, it was the chop on top of them that made the boat toss and turn so much. Before long the deck hands made the way to the front deck and helped an elderly couple who had gotten sick and couldn't move from their seats. Next to us a younger man suddenly bolted to the railing and it wasn't pleasant. The cabin was quickly filling with folks who wished the ride was over instead of just beginning.
The shows were all over and so now it was time to relax, which meant fishing. Pam and Roy were visiting us from Iowa and Roy said he had regretted not going deep sea fishing last year so we booked on the Kingfisher for an eight hour trip. Arriving early we paid and signed in, before loading aboard. Anticipation was high as two fellow fisherman told us they had caught their limits the day before and that someone had caught a fifty eight pound grouper.Personally I couldn't care what kind of fish I caught, I just hoped to catch some fish and the kingfish were biting.
Arriving at the spot we saw another charter boat, the Scat Cat, with its deck lined with fisherman. No time to sight see and we took our places along the railing and let out ninety feet of line. Before long my pole tugged but the fish didn't get hooked. Roy was luckier and he started to fight a nice kingfish. Running to the boat it dove with a powerful run and the hook pulled out.
Rebaiting a thawed Spanish sardine, Roy had no sooner let out his line when another hit and he battled the fish to the side of the boat where the deck hand reached down and gaffed the fish. The deck hand sliced Roy's initials into the fish's skin and then hurried to gaff another fish.
I waited patiently but no fish took my offering and so I simply passed the time waiting and watching other fish hoisted aboard. Returning to the same spot we started another drift but only two fish were caught and so the captain moved us to a new location. There I hooked a fish but it pulled free and then I had one cut my line with its razor sharp teeth.
Lots of people had limited and here I hadn't caught a fish yet. Meanwhile a young man hooked his second and let yell with a yeehaw and you know I have never liked young people. Another drift with no fish in the cooler.
Starting our last drift I had resigned myself to no fish and also to the fact that I hadn't gotten the Mal de Mer. I had barely let out when a fish took my sardine and ran as kingfish do. The initial burst of speed is about forty miles an hour as they thrust their powerful and streamlined shape with heir broad crescent shaped tail.
Finally stopping the run, I reeled the fish to the boat and after a sudden dive I was able to raise it to the surface where the mate performed his coup de gras. I had a fish aboard! In the time it takes to write this I put out another bait and this one too was quickly taken by another greedy kingfish. In less then ten minutes I had gone from no fish to a limit and it was good to relax a bit as the school ran to the boat in a feeding frenzy.
The fish were so close that you could actually see them take the bait and I was snapping some images when the captain yelled shark! I had forgotten about the shark pole at the back and another fisherman grabbed the pole as an eight foot shark hooked itself.
Moving to the stern, the shark made powerful dives and runs and it took about fifteen minutes before three men gaffed the fish. Watching a large animal die is never pleasant but it was a legal shark, and caught in US waters so I simply stood there and thought of all the shark meat.
Time was up and the captain announced,"Reel in". The ship turned west and headed back. The ride was with the swells and it was so much easier  though the people in the cabin didn't seem to brighten up any. It was quite a change by the time we got to the dock as they were all up and almost smiling and they had all survived the roller coaster.
I never did get sick and I never have. Perhaps I am just lucky but it may be also due to the fact that I had taken a ginger root pill before we left. I know that it worked for the people on the tv show, "Myth busters". Taking the obligatory images we watched the fish cleaners, an all women crew, make short work of turning the fish into fillets.
It had been a good day and Roy was able to take the deep sea fishing trip off his bucket list. I still have one more trip to make as I want to take the overnight trip where the boats fish for tuna. That however is for next year's winter visit and so we headed back to the Blue Lagoon Rv Park with a cooler full of iced fillets,(Watersedge has been bought and undergone a name change and manager change). Clear skies.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Gulf Coast Gem and Mineral Society's 50th Show

The Gulf Coast Gem and Mineral Society formed in 1953, two years after I was born, and here we were sharing a booth with one of the charter members. We felt honored, to say the least. As the doors opened the crown quickly swelled and the first day of the show was on!
The day before the show Roy and I had volunteered to help move the display cases from storage and as we got there was Dick. He is eighty seven years young and there he was helping to push a cart laden with cases onto the trailer. Arriving at the Robstown Fairgrounds we were able to back in and the setup went as easy as you can expect, with fifty years of practice( I know the numbers don't add up but the society didn't have its first show until 1962).
We helped Dick unload his cases for his booth and I scattered Sweetwater moss agates on our two tables before setting up our own display. This year our theme was about our prospecting in Wyoming and we had aventurine, snowflake jade, and lepidolite, all rocks that we had found and then sawed polished and cut. All were rocks we have written about in this blog.
The next day we got up early and headed to the show. Renita and I were kind of old hands at the setup, but it still took us about an hour to get the tables ready. We had added several new displays including one in which people pick out a stone and then we make it into a custom  ring It was our first show in which we were using two tables and it was the most expensive we have ever paid for a place.
Quickly the show packed as the club had a near record crowd. Strong winds had made outdoor activities impossible and the club had really made a push in advertising and promotions. The day went fast as we were packed with people admiring our art and we barely had time to walk around and purchase some much needed equipment, rocks, and tools.
When the day ended we had achieved a best day ever and the show was a success! This is in spite of all the money we had spent ourselves and the cost of the tables. All the other vendors we talked to were all pleased with the days crowd and the willingness to spend money.
Too soon the alarm went off, ok we don;t really use an alarm as I an an early riser, and we headed for the second day of the show. Being as it was a Sunday it started off slow, and we had time to visit with other club members and meet some of the Rolling Rocks, rock club members form other cities in Texas. We were invited to show at the Houston show, and while we can't attend it this year it sure is an interesting possibility.
Our sales were slower than the first day but we did have a custom order to wrap a piece of brindled turquoise. While we didn't sell any of our new bracelets we did have lots of people who admired its beauty and weight. Made from some pink jade in graphic granite, its one rock we found near Jeffery City, Wyoming.
It contains so much silver we can't afford to make more then one at a time so its more of a custom order piece in which we will make one special from each persons wrist measurements.
The day ended and we were tired as we loaded our displays and helped to tear down the clubs cases and supplies. It was the best show ever for us and got us thinking about next year, as we were told we were going to be offered a contract for sellers,(we had gotten in this year on Dicks contract as we helped him and his daughter in law Teresa with their breaks and sales. Time to take a break from rock and go fishing! Clear skies.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

2012 Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, A Crazy Day of Dodging Wildlife!

The turkey struck the sliding door with its beak, and then strutted before attacking its image again. It even gobbled its frustraion that its reflexion wouldn't retreat from the fight. Again and again we watched it while it refused to concede defeat, it is spring time after all!
So Pam and Roy arrived for their yearly visit, and they suprised us by showing up in their new to them motor home. It has been a few busy days as they fixed some systems but it is so nice to see how happy they are with their rv!
We decided to take a break, us from rock and them from repairs, and we headed out for a picnic lunch at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Of course we hoped to see some whoopers, a few alligators, maybe a new life bird, and basically just a fun day viewing wildlife. We got more then we asked for!
Arriving, we checked the bird list and headed for Jones Lake. Now it has been dry here and so we didn't expect anything biut there was a small pond of water and some very large alligators. No birds, other then circling turkey vultures, but oh my were those gators big!
The next stop was the observation tower and we were surprised to see that the ANWR had built a new tower that is handicapped accessable and has even added another elevated trail. It was so nice to be passed by a gentleman in a wheelchair who plainly was happy to be able to climb the tower and see the whoopers.
Besides the whoopers, the bay was filled with twenty one oyster boats, and circling and harvesting oysters for the Fulton Oyster festival starting tonight. Suprisingly there weren't any shore bids along the trail but at least there was some water where it had been bone dry.
We drove the eleven mile road and soon Renita yelled at me to stop and then back up. What I had mistakenly identified as a mockingbird was in fact a loggerhead shrike and it posed nicely before flying away and displaying its narrow white wing bands,(loggerhead shrikes are also known as butcher birds as they catch and impale grasshoppers on barb wire femces and tree thorns, saving them for a later meal).
The next stop was at the Bay View area and there we were greeted by swarms of mosquitos. We basically ran to the beach and then back to the car and Renita only stopped once so I could image the bugs on her back side.
One of our favorite stops is the Heron Flats Trail and there an alligator was waiting for us to leave the safety of our car. I grabbed my camera and headed out to get a good image as it watched me and then walked to the water, before swimming into the reeds. A much larger gator was sunning itself next to the trail, hmmm maybe we should be more careful when we walk!
Our last stop of the day was in front of the Visitor Center and there we watched the turkey strut its stuff. Renita got tired of the display and went to the waters edge where she found three more alligators enjoying the spring like day.
Heading home we all felt tired but refreshed from the day at the wildlife refuge. It was a good day when Teddy Roosevelt decided that we needed to save such places for future generations. Let us hope the politicians will speak for the birds and trees and gators, and yes even the mosquiitos. Let us hope there continues to be a place for them all! Clear skies.