It has been difficult for me to find the words needed to adequately describe the year 2020. To be honest with you it’s been much easier to simply ignore them. “Keep your head up and just keep fishing”, I tell myself. I suppose at some point in time I have to acknowledge the presence of turmoil in this world. Without going into details and specifics I think we can all agree that this year has been strenuous. My hope is that the year 2020 is a wakeup call to the world. Change is needed. Change is happening. We are in the middle of a revolution regarding all walks of life. It’s easy to become caught up in the mayhem to the point that we forget how to live. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Fishing is my salvation. If I’m guiding, fishing with family, with friends, or alone, I find peace in it. My job is to help others forget about turmoil, if only for a few minutes. I’ll keep it simple and leave it at that.
In my 15 years of being a fishing guide in Rockport Texas, this has been by far one of the strangest. I never thought the day would come I couldn’t take people on fishing charters. In April of this year public boat ramps, restaurants, bars, hotels and vacation rentals in Rockport Texas were forced to close due to Covid-19 restrictions. Talk about baffling! It was so surreal that none of us wanted to believe it. Unforeseen events and spontaneous eruptions of instability will always be a part of life. That is something we can be certain of. The only answer is to keep going and make the best of the situation. Continue to do what one loves despite the distractions.
I remember the first day that I decided to try fishing during lockdown. With no public boat ramps available my friend let me borrow his private ramp for the day. Driving toward the boat ramp I passed a few folks with strange looks of disbelief. “Did you see that? That guy is going fishing during a pandemic! What’s this world come to? How irresponsible of him!” I chuckled at the looks but couldn’t help but to feel as though I was actually doing something wrong. It didn’t take long for me to lose that feeling and it was quickly replaced by another; eerie solitude. I didn’t see another boat on the water that day despite the beautiful spring weather. It was like something out of the Twilight Zone.
I’ve never been a fan of fishing on the weekends because of the crowds; however, it’s part of my job. Just another obstacle to overcome. It’s interesting to compare how the fish behave on weekdays vs. weekends. I happened to be out on a Saturday, the first time I fished during lockdown. The entire bay was mine, not another angler in sight all day and the fish reacted accordingly. This continued every few days for the rest of lockdown. I’d get bored, and being caught up on everything I figured I’d just go fishing. I wasn’t making money, I was losing it. It didn’t matter though, I was having fun.
That’s when the cities came; a flood of people tired of lockdown. As soon as restrictions were officially lifted, the flood gates opened and the people from every major metropolis, city and town in Texas flowed into Rockport. Boats, kayaks, RVs and barbeque pits, most trailed by flapping Trump flags created a highway parade every weekend for months to come. Not just highways, any public entity or ground that was open looked like the Fourth of July with no major holiday in sight. People were camping at the boat ramps. You could say it was a stark contrast from the peaceful days of lockdown. I could tell that folks were tired of the situation.
People wanted to get out and fish. Lockdown, isolation and confinement fueled the “great escape” from metro to vacation getaways like Rockport TX. I was spoiled in April by peaceful waters and it didn’t take long for me to realize why I liked the “quiet sleepy” Rockport. Still, I felt blessed to have a job and as always, I worked around my annoyances. You might be wondering if I was concerned. Of course I was and I still am; however we have learned a few things about this invisible beast. Of all the fishing guides who I know, not a single case of covid-19 can be directly tied to a fishing charter that I am aware of. UV light, high relative humidity and fresh air might have helped, I suppose, but this is all speculation. As of today, Aransas County has officially reported about 400 cases with only a handful currently active. The facts are the facts. I see light at the end of the dark tunnel.
“The only thing to fear is fear itself.” President Franklin Roosevelt said it best. Run and hide, or face the threat that encroaches? The answer was easy for me, business as usual with the recommended precautions. Despite the calamity, 2020 has been a great year of fishing. Very seldom did I ever feel as though the fish were under quarantine. Redfish, speckled trout, black drum, and many other species took advantage of the beautiful weather Rockport TX had this year. The lack of fishing pressure during the weekdays provided myself and my clients with their own personal playground. I can’t tell you how many times people asked me, “Where is everyone else?”
Today is December 1, 2020. A few hours ago I was chasing a school of oversized redfish and drum. The conditions were not in our favor. The tide was gone, full moon, light winds, clear skies, high pressure, water temperature 52 degrees and air temperature much colder than water. Sometimes on post-cold front days like today something strange happens over the bay, in the sky. It usually begins by swatting a sticky silky substance from your face. Then you notice something white dancing with the wind at the end of your fishing rod. Against the infinity blue atmosphere, stringy white puffs sail from north to south through the sky, eventually landing on something. It’s a strange occurrence that happens from time to time when conditions are perfect…Spider migration.
Spider migration is actually not something that I get excited about. Spider migration sounds irrelevant and crazy with regards to fishing, but its not. An old timer once told me, “Spider webs flyin, fish ain’t bitin.” Crazy superstitions are taken seriously in my profession for good reason; they seem to be true more often than not. Exceptions always exist, like today. Even on the most difficult days of fishing, the fish are eating somewhere, spider webs or no spider webs. We ended up catching and releasing several oversized redfish and drum unharmed while keeping some of the smaller tastier ones for dinner. My friends ate well and did not waste. My grandfather always told me, “Waste not, want not” and “Moderation is the key to success.” Old men are wise, I know he didn’t tell me that without reason.
With the year 2021 approaching, I am excited and optimistic with regards to progress and change. The legendary Cedar Bayou has been open and closed periodically for centuries by both natural and man-made causes. Prior to Hurricane Harvey in 2017 it was dredged open for a few years but silted in after the storm. With additional funding and grants Cedar Bayou is slated to be reopened in 2021. The natural pass that connects the Gulf of Mexico into Mesquite Bay provides the water exchange needed to support multiple ecosystems. It’s not just Cedar Bayou that experiences benefits. Migratory marine species find the water exchange productive and conducive for spawning. Every adjoining bay system receives a trickle effect of productivity. It’s a river of life that flows through desolate sand dunes.
The hustle and bustle of long hot salty summer days exist as nostalgia for me. Winter is beginning to set in. I can’t help to think back to all the beautiful days that I spent on the water fishing with great people this year. Despite the hurdles and inconveniences of life, I can honestly say that it has been a year of smiles on the water. I remember one customer, terminally ill, not sure how much time he had left. His enthusiasm and the look in his eyes told me that he wasn’t a quitter. He booked for next spring, I hope to fish with him again. Another customer, 85 years old, fished and caught his first fish ever. It’s never too late to try something new. It’s never too early either. I took a 3 year old earlier this year who caught on faster than most adults. I look forward to the New Year and new beginnings. If you are interested in catching some fish and making memories just give me a shout. I live for it.
-Capt. Johan Coombs
“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone else.”