The Saltwater Magazine for Gulf Coast Fishing!


The Bait Hook


  by Jim Martin

There's probably a thin line between fishermen having inflated ego's and that "extra something" that makes them unforgettable. Nearly all of us can relate to living legends that sailed the seas or prowled the waterfront.
Biloxi charterboat captain H. L. "Mac" McQueen could be counted among the group. For almost half a century, Mac and his beloved Belvedere was a fixture along Biloxi's waterfront. As a youngster, he was my tutor and for most of my adult life I was in awe of his fishing savvy. The man could flat find fish. He could also regale you with stories that left you in stitches.
One of his favorites involved a client who took him to task on his posted "no fish, no pay" promise. To make a long story short, everybody on the boat caught fish that day - except the guy who was paying for the trip. If the fellow took the middle chair, the port and starboard rods would snap tight. Switching chairs didn't help either; the guy was simply snakebit. At four in the afternoon, Mac ordered the rods racked and made for port.
A quarter-mile from the dock, his worried mate came topside to report the guy was stinking drunk and boasting that since he, personally, hadn't caught a fish, no way in hell was he going to pay for the trip.
Red-faced and seething, Mac told his mate to take the wheel so he could go below and "straighten things out."
It didn't take long. Going straight to the fish box, he took out a slimy 30 pound cobia and at point blank range, hurled it at the guy who, startled, bear-hugged it in self-defence.
"All right", roared Mac, "You've caught your damned fish. Now pay up!"
Mac passed away in 1994 but his presence, I suspect, will be alive for many years to come.
My friend Blaine "Porkie" Alleman who lived in Gulfport before fishing around the bend recently, will always be remembered fondly. He caught specks like he had made a pact with the devil. I fished with him on a regular basis but could never top him. Typically, using live shrimp and popping corks and standing side by side in waist-deep water, he would outfish his competitors on an average of five-to-one. No one could explain this phenomenon and after awhile, no one tried.
He made a true believer out of me when I told him I needed a picture of a large jack crevalle for a photo assignment.
"Be on the beach tomorrow morning at eight sharp", he said without expression, "And make darned sure there's film in your camera."
I arrived at 7:55 and while stepping from the cab of my pick-up, saw him backing out of the water, rod bent to the breaking point, herding a huge jack into the shallows. My goodness, I gasped, were my eyes deceiving me? I thought only icons like Babe Ruth were allowed to "call their shots"
As I grabbed my camera and sprinted to the action, Porkie threw a glance my way and shouted: "Dammit, you're early; I said eight a.m.!"
That photo, incidentally, appeared in a national fishing calendar and for the month of January, 1988 - immortalized him.
On most saltwater locales, the "in thing to do" after you've made your last cast, is to have your ashes scattered over your favorite fishing hole. If it's a grieving widow who didn't like fishing - or more likely the time her husband devoted to it - the trip will be short and perfunctory. In rare instances, a minister, priest or rabbi may say a few words. Very few.
But in the best of circumstances, "scattering the ashes" is more of a party-atmosphere ritual. The poor fellow may have died on the coldest grayest day in January but the agreed time to do the deed will invariably fall in fine weather at the very peak of the fishing season. Count on the cobia run being in full swing or boiling acres of huge redfish. At the very least there should be an endless procession of starving Spanish mackerel, bonito and jacks eagerly waiting to sacrifice themselves.
Back in the mid '90's, a fun-loving group from Orange Beach set out to scatter the ashes of a fallen comrade but toasted him so much, they soon forgot their primary mission. They might have yet fulfilled it had not their gung-ho captain run smack dab into several thousand bull reds gorging themselves on red minnows blasting the hapless baitfish into smithereens.
It wasn't until wearily docking that afternoon that they remembered their failed obligation.
"Well, Hell!" One of the glassy-eyed anglers was quoted as saying, "I guess we'll just have to go out again tomorrow!"
Who among us have not dreamed of achieving immortality, not in the sense of ancient mythology but just to be remembered for something. Perhaps an act as simple as taking your son or daughter fishing.
And so I was drifting in thought one recent Sunday when I told my wife that instead of being buried in the family plot, maybe I'd like to be cremated and have my ashes scattered in the sea.
"What!" she said in that betrayed hurt way wives can summon up at a moments notice. "I always assumed we'd be buried side by side ... You are joking, aren't you?"
After a lump-in-the-throat pause, I said, "Sure, honey; why we'll even go pick out a double headstone someday if you wish."
No sooner had she left the room, shaking her head, that my imagination started working overtime again.
The deep gully at the end of Fairchild's Wharf would be the place I'd choose. My youngest son, Bill, a strapping Coast Guardsman stationed in Corpus Christi, would officiate. But it would have to be done on a clear June morning with the sun just peeping over the horizon with a strong swelling tide running ... The kind that tickles the hair on your legs. And there should be laughing gulls about and the fragrance of ripe watermelon in the air emanating from tub-sized slicks. That would be nice ... And not take a lot of time to do it either. But if he wanted to make a couple of casts with the prized floaters I had left him, that would be alright. No, it would be better than alright.
But not this June ...

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