Gulf Coast Fisherman Magazine Vol 41; No. 4 - FALL 2017 - Page 34

Fishing Friends Forever W e all have them: grandfathers, fathers, uncles, brothers and cousins who took us under their wing at early ages, instilling in us the love of gorgeous sunrises, the salty fragrance of the sea and grand adventures as each new day unfolded. Grandfathers head the list, with fathers a close second. Our fathers took us fishing until we reached manhood and moved away. In middle age, we took our own children fishing to continue the cycle. Count yourself lucky when grown children return to their roots and take their fathers fishing. When they do - FISHING FRIENDS FOREVER - holds special meaning and may stir emotions that had long lain dormant. But aside from family, there are plenty of others who qualify as fishing friends forever. In my case, I’ll begin with Captain J.H. “Coonie” Rouse, skipper of the old Buccaneer in Biloxi. On my first trip with Captain Rouse I was a skinny 10 year old. A huge jackfish slammed my Captain Action spoon and lifted me out of my chair and propelled me across the slippery deck toward the stern rail. In that instant I knew I was a goner, but wouldn’t let go of the rod. Just before being pulled overboard, a strong hand grabbed my belt and saved me. It was Coonie who had just come down from the flying bridge to assess things. “Thanks, Captain,” I said, gasping for breath, while line screamed off the reel as the jack ran strong and deep, “I’d have gone over for sure!” “Hell, boy”, he growled, “I wasn’t worried about you, I just didn’t want to lose that expensive outfit you’re using!” That was Coonie’s persona, gruff and demanding at times, but as I soon learned, had a ready smile, and heart warm and soft as butter. Fifteen years later, I was again 34 G U L F C O A S T F I S H E R M A N aboard the Buccaneer with cousins down from Evanston, Illinois. We had already caught a boat load of Spanish mackerel and two fine kings, when late in the day Coonie slowly backed the Buccaneer up to the Farewell Buoy off Horn Island. “Alright, guys” he shouted, “There’s eight or nine cobia swimming around that buoy. Let’s see how many we can catch!” We caught six of the nine, losing two at boatside and leaving a small one “for seed”, as Coonie put it. Hanging those big fish on the rack above the cleaning table caused quite a stir on the dock. They ranged from 31 to 67 pounds, and cameras were clicking. Flash forward to the 1980’s when I was with WLOX-TV in Biloxi and starting to crack the magazine market. The Biloxi Charterboat Captains Association asked me to help them promote Gulf Coast fishing and I happily volunteered. We designed bumper stickers such as “BIG ONES BITE IN BILOXI”, erected signs and lobbied the coast and state tourism commissions for help, although their main pursuit was - and still is - golf. The 18, or so, skippers met one night a month on the dock alongside Coonie’s newest boat, the RON-JON. While he prepared dinner in the galley, which might be crab soup, shrimp creole, gumbo or jambalaya and, of course, French bread... and beer, I would sometimes show fishing slides with my carousel projector and screen until Coonie yelled “come and get it!” Looking back, those were really great times and I was honored to have been part of it. Wes Cantrell and I met while in the U. S. Naval Reserve in Gulfport, At the time, he was a top salesman for the Lanier Company (think copy machines). I taught him how to track and gig flounder and was at his side when he caught his first speckled trout on an artificial lure - a beautiful four pounder. Because of his promotions and transfers, we lost track of one another for 25 years. When we met next for dinner, I asked his wife, Bernadine, if he was still with Lanier? “I su