A Shrimpers Story

  • Vernon Bates was my best friend, mentor and advisor. Almost the same age as my father and I respected him like my father. There are several young guys from Palacios that he took under his wing and I was lucky enough to be one of them. Hard to explain the relationship almost brotherly not really fatherly and not like a buddy you chase girls with with the age difference and all. I hung out with him worked as a deckhand on his boat and even called him at night on the telephone to try and get it out of him where the shrimp would be the next day. He usually told me I couldn't get up early enough to keep up with him. I got some real good advice from his cousin one time he said you don't want to be behind him in the bay you want to be beside him and watch don't ask questions. We worked together and a lot of him rubbed off on me over the years he even taught me how to sew nets and most importantly rig them to work right. Texas Monthly took some pictures of his deckhand I need to see if I can find them he was a heck of a character. He worked on my boat a couple of seasons when Vernon was out of town and I worked with him in Galveston Bay on Vernon's boat oystering one winter. He was a good old man almost blind from cataracts but never quit. He came back from Durango Mexico one time and said he had my inheritance. A key chain with a scorpion in acrylic that said Durango on it and one for my dad. I still have it somewhere I hope I can find his picture his face looked like a gravel road from being in the sun his whole life. A pretty good read and not too long.

  • @bigfoot Nice story. I hope he is still out on the bay having fun.

    Here is a short Texas Parks and Wildlife Video about Chester Smith and the bird sanctuary on Sundowner Island in the bay. I worked with a fellow who is married to his grand daughter. Tim is the Warden for the Island now and it has been re-named Chester Island:

  • @shakeyhand We always called Sundown Island Bird Island. It's down by the jetties going into the gulf close to Port O Connor. All along the Alcoa ship channel there are man made islands from dredging the channel we refer to them as the dumps because that's where the dredge pipe dumps spoil. There are literally thousands of birds nesting there from Chester's to the end of the channel going into the Alcoa operations. I had my boat in Port Lavaca for several years shrimping on both sides of the ship channel and downwind from those islands were pretty strong smelling. When we would pick up our trawls the sea gull attack would be on. Screaming, squawking and dropping bird dooky bombs and if you didn't cover up your catch they would devour it in a few minutes. I have had gulls take shrimp out of my hands while sorting them on a culling table they get so aggressive. Pelicans just land on the boat and don't mind waiting I would save a bushel of trash fish just to feed them the darn gulls would steal their fish right out of their mouths. The DDT made the egg shells thin so when they nested the eggs would crush and it about wiped out the brown pelicans that were native to salt water. We also had white pelicans but they migrate back and forth from fresh to salt water. When we had our bait camp an old crippled up gull adopted us. He hung around the store and we hand fed him for several years. He must have gotten in some fishing line one leg was gone about half way down but it didn't slow him down. As soon as my mom would come out of the house she would whistle and he would show up from nowhere and get his treats of shad and croakers. I guess old age got him it didn't show up one spring and my mother had kept two of its feathers he shed in the bait house where the shrimp tanks were. She put them in a frame and kept them and I had them until both of my parents passed.

  • @bigfoot Sounds like we spent a lot of time in the same area. I worked at the Austin Airport in the early 70's and got my pilots license there. I used to rent a Cessna and fly down to the abandoned WWII airfield on the island (I think it was called Pierce Field) and then spend the night on the beach by a big driftwood fire. I don't think the fire helped much with the mosquitos but fortunately I always carried a can of DEET. I had to buzz the airfield once to get the cows off of the runway and the flying club that I rented the plane from was curious how I managed to coat the bottom of the plane with cow patties...

    Those dredge islands were always appearing and dis-appearing from trip to trip. They have replenished Bird/Sundown/Chester Island many times. There is a sand bar (actually part of the flood tidal delta) that forms where the Alcoa Channel crosses the Intracoastal and they have to dredge it often so they are glad to pump it onto the island.

    I guess everything was pretty aromatic down there. When the wind would turn to offshore early in the morning, I could certainly smell cow patty field across the dunes.

  • @shakeyhand The Hawes family owned all that land the air base was on and ran cattle on it for many years. When the war broke out the land was condemned and taken for the war effort. The DOD made a deal with them that after the threat of any war they would release the land back to them. Well, the government didn't hold up their end of the deal and would only lease them their own land for grazing rights with term limits They pulled the last cattle off of there a few years ago. It was an island so they had to be barged across the intercoastal canal or swam them across. That was the country club of the Air Force and now is under either the Department of Interior or Texas Parks and Wildlife and is a park. The Hawes were left empty handed.