Article written by David Sikes
October 24, 2010
Corpus Christi Caller – Times
PORT ARANSAS — Miss Ann’s 16 cylinders rumbled patiently in her new berth, dispatching subtle ripples through still waters at Island Moorings Marina this past weekend.
It was a cool dawn with barely a breeze, promising the kind of gulf conditions that cause even the queasiest anglers to leave their seasick remedies behind.
The slips at Island Moorings were unfamiliar surroundings for the handsome Miss Ann, a well-traveled, vintage, 33-foot Bertram sportfisher owned by Bill L. Olson, Houston publisher of Texas Outdoors Journal magazine. On board for this trip was Olson’s son Billy, who ably assumed deckhand duties, and his angler friends David Roe and Daniel Bowman.
This would be the maiden voyage out of Port Aransas for the Miss Ann and the first time in years any of us had fished for red snapper in October. The ever shrinking federal snapper season has been a summer thing since the species was declared overfished about a decade ago. But dramatic management measures have yielded positive results. Anglers still must abide by a two-fish daily limit. But for the first time in years the fees recently raised the annual harvest quota on red snapper.
And you may recall last month when federal fisheries managers decided to reopen snapper season in federal waters to compensate for a lack of fishing during the BP oil spill.
The Fisheries Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined that recreational anglers had caught only 1.1 million pounds of this year’s red snapper allotment, which was set at 3.4 million pounds.
So the agency is providing anglers a shot at catching the remaining 2.3 million pounds during a 24-day extended season that started Oct. 1 and will run through Nov. 21. To maximize recreational opportunities, snapper fishing in federal waters during this period is allowed only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Judging by the smiles and piles of fish at offshore outfitter docks in Port Aransas, the return to fall snapper fishing has been bountiful. And as a bonus, anglers willing to endure the longer party boat trips are returning with a good mix of snapper and blackfin tuna.
What could be better?
That’s easy to answer. How about fishing in single digit winds with seas less than a foot. Throw in a few good friends and a comfortable boat and you have the makings of a remarkable fishing day.
I should mention that the classic Miss Ann has a patron saint. Ask either of the Olson boys and they’ll tell you that each voyage aboard the Miss Ann is blessed by her namesake, the late wife of Bill and mother of Billy.
Ann Olson succumbed to brain cancer in 2006.
She was a vibrant professional woman who enjoyed fishing and hunting and family. With Bill, Ann cofounded the Houston Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, securing her place among Texas conservationists.
But Ann’s legacy embarked on an unexpected path when Bill got the urge to resurrect a 1987 Bertram about a year after his wife’s death. He bought the boat in Georgia from a man who had been called unexpected overseas on business for an extended stay. The boat needed some work. But it was a quick sale, probably the result of Bill’s newfound carpe diem (seize the day) attitude that had emerged from his recent loss. Soon, the boat had a new name and new life.
It would have been too much trouble to trailer her home, so Bill decided a family adventure was in order.
Here is where Miss Ann’s mission became clear. Bill could have hired someone for the job. But instead, three generations of Olsons — Bill, Billy and Bill’s dad, Sam L. Olson — bonded during a nine-day, nearly 2,000-mile voyage along the East Coast, around Florida and across the open gulf to Texas. The Miss Ann brought them together and then ferried them safety home.
Following a face-lift and major engine work, a renewed Miss Ann came home to Port Aransas where her patron saint continues to bring together the father and son she never left.
This past Saturday, the elder Olson beamed from the flybridge at the humor and harmony on the deck below. He motored out about 40 miles to a rocky area called Hospital. I couldn’t help but wonder whether the irony of bringing Miss Ann to Hospital occurred to her captain. I didn’t bring it up.
Billy rigged lines and set out five baits at various distances for the inaugural troll.
Within minutes three of the reels were squealing. We were hoping for wahoo or maybe blackfin tuna. Instead we had hooked three bonita or little tunny. We kept two for bait and released the other.
We trolled for a while between Hospital and the Aransas Banks, continuing to hook bonita when finally one of the reels sang with a higher pitch.
David Roe, an inexperienced angler who has not fished since he was a boy, grabbed the rod as Bill reined in Miss Ann’s 488 horses. The mystery fish certainly was not a bonita, judging by the strain on Roe’s face and the stubborn yank on his line.
Billy Olson coached while calmly playing the role of level wind so the line on Roe’s reel would be evenly distributed. The teamwork paid off handsomely with a 17-pound prize, a blackfin tuna.
We were about 42-miles out.
Where there is one tuna there usually are more. We assumed additional tuna were well below the surface. But those aggressive bonita wouldn’t allow a bait to get past them.
So we left in search of snapper, stopping a couple times along the way to set out lines where we saw birds and surface activity.
At about 22 miles from Port Aransas, the Miss Ann idled up to a platform with an audible warning siren blaring intermittently. Five boats clustered around the legs of the rig. I spotted three small snapper being caught and released as we approached. The Miss Ann had no intention of joining the crowd.
Bill steered the boat well to the left of the platform and began scanning his depth finder. We were at least 150 yards from the rig when Bill maneuvered the boat to a standstill.
“OK, drop ‘em,” he shouted.
Two of us hooked up immediately. Mine was about a 10-pound red snapper, a good sign.
For the next 45 minutes we yanked snapper from this spot. Most were in the 10- to 12-pound range.
This didn’t go unnoticed by the anglers aboard the other boats. One by one each of the boats backed off from the rig and lowered their lines.
After everyone aboard the Miss Ann caught a limit of snapper, Billy filleted one of the bonita and Bill steered the boat up to the legs of the rig.
We wanted to try for a grouper with bigger baits.
But it was impossible to avoid the snapper. So Bill turned the bow westward and the Miss Ann brought her satisfied crew safely home.
Federal red snapper season is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 21.
Charter boat opportunities Port Aransas
For smaller charter boats (33-foot and smaller) fees generally range from $900 for two anglers; $1,000 for four; and $1,100 for six.
On larger private charter boats, fees generally range from $1,500 to $1,600 for an eight-hour trip with up to six anglers.
To book a trip, contact the Texas Charter Fleet at 866-893-5338 or e-mail info@TexasCharterFleet.com.
Party boats offer more affordable trips with a less intimate atmosphere.
Deep Sea Headquarters (800-705-3474) offers daily eight-hour trips for $85 and 12-hour trips on Wednesday and Saturday for $105. Snapper are off-limits on the Wednesday trips.
Fisherman’s Wharf (800-605-5448) offers a nine-hour snapper trip each day of the season for $85. And on Saturday they’ll offer an 11-hour snapper trip for $100 and a 12-hour overnight trip for $100.
Dolphin Docks (800-393-3474) has daily 8.5-hour snapper trips for $86 and 12-hour night trips on Fridays for $105. Dolphin Docks also will offer a 12-hour day trip from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday for $105. Ask about Dolphin Docks’ longer trips (depart Friday and return Sunday) during the season.
David Sikes’ Outdoors columns run on Thursday and Sunday. Contact David at (361) 886-3616 or firstname.lastname@example.org