Glory of the Silver King
The Golden Age of Tarpon Fishing
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Texas A&M University Press
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I first became aware of this unfinished manuscript when Texas Parks and Wildlife writer Steve Lightfoot asked me to read it and let him know what I thought about it. I am sorry to say I did not know anything about Hart Stilwell then, but I was intrigued by the title and by the fact that Steve thought I would find it interesting. ...
Introduction: Finding Hart,
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It was fall 2002, and an early evening red harvest moon rose in the mouth of the harbor. A landscapist, with easel and palette, could not have centered the moon more precisely than nature was doing at that moment. It was late October, and the first light norther of the season rolled in with a sea mist obscuring the brilliant white ...
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The year was 1934 and it was not a very good year. It was the depth of the Big Depression . . . the year was lousy. I was standing on the flat, sandy bank of the Rio Grande near its mouth. The Rio Grande flowed into the Gulf of Mexico then. It does now—on those rare occasions when it flows. Much of the same water moves ...
Chapter 1 The Sport of Presidents
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There is at least a fragment of logic in this designation. A president-elect, Warren Gamaliel Harding, and a president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, were responsible for calling attention of the American public to the tarpon. Few Americans knew there was such a fish before newspapers in the land flashed that famous FDR ...
Chapter 2 The Fat Lady
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I had a silver queen, not a silver king, on my line. A fat lady, as tarpon fishermen say. The female is broader in the beam and thicker than the male. She is not as likely to wear herself out lunging into the air again and again. She dogs it . . . sometimes on and on. The human female is not the only one that knows the survival ...
Chapter 3 King of Tarpon Rivers
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The place is the Panuco, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico at the city of Tampico. Although I had run into some spectacular tarpon fishing in Mexico, at and near inlets into the huge Laguna Madre of Mexico, I had not fished the Panuco. One reason was money—the depression was just winding down, largely because of the ...
Chapter 4 Noble Experiments
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After that water haul on the first day of fishing, Dave and Hurt and I joined several other rodeo contestants at Felix Florencia’s tackle store for the customary afternoon bull session. I cautioned my companions about saying anything that might wound the feelings of Felix or some other Tampico resident—I mean about criticizing ...
Chapter 5 Mystery Tarpon
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Dave and I felt a little uneasy as we slid the cartop boat into the Rio Grande and cranked the motor. It was wartime, and pilots of the Civil Air Patrol had a way of buzzing anything or anybody they spotted as they guarded our frontier. I never did find out what they were looking for. Nothing came across the river where we were except ...
Chapter 6 The True Believer
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Eric Hoffer hadn’t turned out that pile of pseudophilosophy at the time Hurt and I went back to the Rio Grande, in 1942, but I can say this for Hurt—he is the kind of man that will quit being a “true believer,” Eric Hoffer style, and face reality even when it doesn’t fit into all his preconceptions. And he doggone sure was no believer ...
Chapter 7 Conquest of the Panuco
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They laughed when we sat down at the piano. They didn’t laugh when we began playing tunes on a fishing line. No kidding, you can play tunes on a fishing line if it’s tight enough. I fished for several years with a screwball trumpet player who loved to thump out little tunes on the line. He tightened or eased off tension to get different notes, ...
Chapter 8 Bay of the Iguanas
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Carmen is “around the bend” of the Gulf of Mexico, a short distance east of the southernmost tip. The Mexicans call the waters there Bahia de Campeche—Bay of Campeche. Americans call it the Gulf of Campeche. The coastline at Carmen runs east and west, and I never adjusted to that, not even on later trips. I’m too firmly conditioned ...
Chapter 9 New Bay—Crazy Fish
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All fishermen know what happens when man builds a big new lake. Fishing is wild. And all fishermen soon learn what happens when the manmade lake grows old, at ten to twenty years: Fishing goes to hell. But few people have ever explored a huge, brand new bay that was created (I probably should say opened up) by nature, not man. ...
Chapter 10 The Lamps of Mexico
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Dr. Roy B. Dean, one of my companions on that first journey to Carmen back in 1947, was at that time a practicing orthodontist in Mexico City. He retired ten years later. Doc could do things with metal—part of his professional skill. So after his first trip to Carmen, one that he and Bink made only a short time before ...
Chapter 11 The Little Children at Play
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Then there was the day when we met the babies—tarpon ranging from eight to fourteen inches. The introduction took place at a small arroyo extending inland from the Laguna de Tamiahua, a bay that starts at Tampico and extends south about sixty miles along the coast. It would be nice to say that we learned something that day ...
Chapter 12 Landlocked Tarpon
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The biggest surprise of my tarpon fishing career came one day when I was serenely casting for black bass in the still, clear water of a resaca near my home in Brownsville. The word resaca is applied to old bends in the Rio Grande but no longer a part of it. The river did a lot of channel cutting and changing in its lower ...
Chapter 13 Manmade Tarpon Holes
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It is difficult to imagine finding something new in tarpon fishing after twenty years of ranging the home waters of this fish. But I found something new, and only a hundred miles from my home at the time, Houston. It would be better to say that I was led to this new kind of fishing by Felix Stagno, Houston guitar player and tackle ...
Chapter 14 Rollers on the Rocks
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A big swell would lift our sixteen-foot outboard rig high in the air, then deposit us in the trough, eight or ten feet lower. Then another wave. And a mere forty yards away were the twenty-ton granite blocks that formed the jetty. Rollers ran on into them, after slipping under us, then—CRASH! And spray flew over the few anglers stupid ...
Chapter 15 Where the Twain Shall Meet
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If you had watched Hurt Batsell and me that day, you might have concluded that we had been in the sun too long. Casting lures into water so soupy that a self-respecting mud turtle would abandon it. How could a fish that feeds by sight, not smell, locate a lure in that muddy water? But if you had hung around for a spell, ...
Chapter 16 Farewell to the Rio Grande
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We went across the river to Matamoros and had cabrito and guacamole and tequila at our old stand, The Texas Bar. Of course Hurt didn’t go with us. He won’t eat cabrito and he doesn’t drink. Even the tequila brought back memories—from way back, when I was in my teens. I recalled the delightful experience of getting a dime ...
Chapter 17 Bring ’Em Inland
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While I was writing the previous chapter about my farewell to the Rio Grande, I got to thinking about those landlocked tarpon in my resaca at Brownsville more than thirty years before. Then I was suddenly brought up short by a story in the paper about a man landing a fifteen-pound striped bass in a Texas lake. ...
Chapter 18 Where Do We Go Now?
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And so we come to the Big Question: Should the title of this book be Decline and Fall of the Silver King? Or is there a chance we might check the decline—maybe even give the tarpon a nudge upward? What man hath wrought, man may not be able to “unwrought.” And if you can’t find that word “unwrought” in your dictionary, ...
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Image Plates follow pg 33
Page Count: 152
Illustrations: 23 b&w photos. 19 maps. Index.
Publication Year: 2011
Series Title: Gulf Coast Books Series, sponsored by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi