By Roy Edwards
In the 1980s, Billy Rogers and I had access to one of the few beach houses located east of the swing bridge on Sargent Beach.
Although the house was one of many just a few years before, the eroding surf line had dumped most of them into the Gulf of Mexico. As the beach eroded, the surf line moved back until the steps into this house were accessible only by using the step ladder. The first row of support pilings were awash at high tide, but we had a place to cook, sleep, and take a shower.
Billy, singer Kenny Roger’s brother, and I went down Friday afternoon. The wind was blowing, and the surf was rolling, so we decided to fish that night for surf run redfish. Using dead shrimp, we caught some croaker for cut bait. Then we went up to take a nap. We got up around 11 p.m. to try for bigger game. I baited with a piece of cut croaker, and Billy used the head of a small croaker.
Nothing happened for two hours until Billy got a solid hit. The fish moved steadily west, paralleling the beach while line peeled off Billy’s reel. He kept tightening down the drag on his Ambassador 5000, but the fish never slowed until all the line was gone and the line broke.
Naturally, I started to kid Billy: “I’ve been showing you how to fish for 15 years, and you ain’t learned nothin’ yet. I thought you knew how to use a drag. Maybe you should go back to catching minnows so I can have some bait.” And on and on.
Billy took the good-natured ribbing until we went upstairs and went to sleep. We fished Saturday for more croaker bait. About midnight, I got a hit. Same song, second verse, and my Ambassador 6000 was stripped. This time, I took the verbal abuse.
The next weekend, Billy’s brother-in-law, Robin Taylor, came down to fish with us. On Friday night, Robin hooked into something, and his reel was spooled.
On Saturday, Robin went through the closets and found his Dad’s old, heavy surf rig. A super stout 10-foot rod with an old medium-sized Penn reel, loaded with at least 40-pound monofilament. As Robin rigged his tackle, he told us in minute detail how he was going to show us amateurs how to handle a big fish.
About midnight, Robin got a hit, and his line started towards Corpus Christi. Robin kept the rod tip high and tightened down the drag. The reel started smoking and locked up. The line buried into the spool. Then the spool bent and pulled loose from the reel housing, sliding up the rod, knocking off the rod guides as it went. The three of us just stood there, amazed.
The next weekend, Robin’s father, Mr. Bob Taylor, joined the crew. He brought with him a borrowed big shark rig. It had a big offshore brass reel loaded with 100-pound mono mounted on a Marlin series rod, the tip of which was as big around as my thumb. He had a shoulder harness with clips that attached it to the reel and a fighting belt so that the butt of the rod would not bruise his stomach. Mr. Bob was going to show us boys how a real man caught a really big fish.
About 1:30 Sunday morning, he set the hook with a mighty grunt, and his fight was on.
Mr. Bob kept tightening down on the drag, but the line kept peeling off the reel. He leaned back about a 45-degree angle and was being dragged down the beach. He dug into the sand with his heel, leaving a pair of parallel lines about 3 inches deep. After being dragged down the beach about 50 feet and losing several hundred yards of line, he said, “One of us has got to stop.” And he flipped on the strike drag and locked the reel.
Another 10 feet down the beach, the line broke, sounding like a rifle shot. Mr. Bob’s backside hit the beach with a thud. I can’t write down what he said, but a Marine Drill Instructor would probably have understood.
We had enough monkeying around. The next week, Billy and I went to the Academy Army/Navy Surplus store in Bellaire. (Yes, they have since changed their name.) We bought 100 yards of parachute shroud line and two dozen 12/0 forged steel hooks - BIG, strong hooks. Then we made up our super trout line.
This would be our fourth weekend of monster fishing. We had yet to see a fin, a tail, or to even hear a splash, but we were optimistic.
On Saturday morning, Mr. Bob and Robin joined Billy and me at the beach house. We caught a croaker for bait. We backed down Mr. Bob’s old, cut-down VW beach buggy into the powdery sand about 15 feet above the high-tide mark, set the parking brake and put the gear shift in low. We wedged a driftwood log under the frame behind the oversized rear tires. Then we tied the end of our trout line to the buggy’s trailer hitch.
Before dark, we laid out the line on the beach and baited it with a croaker head. We tied the other end of the line to a six-foot anchor chain attached to a heavy boat anchor. As an afterthought, we tied 20 feet of rope to the anchor chain and attached a crab trap float so we could find our anchor. We put the anchor in an inner tube, and I swam it out until the line was taut and directly behind the dune buggy. Anchors away! NOW we’re fishing!
Nothing happened, so about 3 a.m. Sunday morning we went upstairs to sleep. At sunrise Sunday morning, Billy (the morning person) shook me awake and said, “Come out on the porch. You ain’t gonna believe this.”
The dune buggy had been dragged backward over the driftwood log, through the soft sand, across the beach. The rear tires were sitting in about 10 inches of water. The crab float was moved from straight behind the buggy to about 60 degrees to the west.
Billy was right; I didn’t believe what I saw. We went down to the buggy and held the line to determine if anything was there. No movement, no nothing.
I got the inner tube, swam out to the crab float, and retrieved the anchor. We pulled our trout line in and laid it out on the beach. Two hooks were broken off about a half-inch below the eye. Three hooks were completely gone – no eye, no nothing – and five hooks were bent almost straight.
What was the Sargent Surf Monster? We never found out, but two strange things happened.
The next week, two wade fishermen were fishing in the surf about 100 yards east of the house when a Manta Ray – a.k.a. Devil Fish – came out of the top of a wave, flew through the air, and did a belly flop landing between the fishermen. They estimated that the ray was between nine and ten feet wide. Was the ray, as some biologists believe, trying to dislodge its oddly shaped egg pouch, a.k.a Devil’s purse – by belly-flopping? Did it get tangled in our lines as it cruised the beach?
A week after that, a shrimp boat working close to the beach got a Goliath Grouper in his net. The fish was estimated to be over 400 pounds.
A month later, a hurricane toppled Mr. Bob’s beach house into the Gulf. What WAS the Sargent Beach Surf Monster? Is it still there?
(Write Roy in care of The Bulletin. Email: email@example.com. Or write to: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)