We have returned from a month-long trip to the huge state of Texas. It seems as though we drive and drive and when we look at the map we are still in Texas! On this trip we join Tom and Rosemary Twesme in their extended-cab Chevrolet pick-up. It is a bit crowded in the back seat but that lends itself to many laughs.
We break the trip into three travel days and two nights.
Traffic in some of the larger cities that we pass through, including the Dallas/Fort Worth area and Austin is extremely heavy and sometimes moves at a snail’s pace.
Our goal for this trip is to escape the cold and snow and, for Tom and this writer, to fish. This year the weather was not as warm as in previous years and often the cold and extremely windy conditions prevented us from fishing. Therefore we looked for other activities.
One activity in the area that attracted a lot of attention was “Big Foot.” “Big Foot” is an enormous oil and gas-drilling platform. Two years ago we were able to witness the lower portion of this rig as it arrived on a special ship. It had been constructed in Korea and, after a two- month trip, passed through the shipping channel at Port Aransas, Texas, on its way to the shipyards at Ingleside, a short distance from Corpus Christi.
During the last two years the top section of the platform, consisting of the living quarters and the processing equipment, has been completed.
The entire height of the big rig is about the height of a 30-story building. Each deck is the size of a football field. There were about 1,600 shipyard workers and sub-contractors plus 300 Chevron employees working on “Big Foot”.
We had been fortunate to be able to participate in a boat tour up the ship channel to Ingleside where the rig was being completed.
The cost of this rig was $5.1 million. The major owner of this project is Chevron. Once installed in the Gulf, 225 miles south of New Orleans, it will process 75,000 barrels of oil and 25 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.
On the morning of March 14, 2015, “Big Foot” was escorted through the shipping channel at Port Aransas by eight tugboats in the dark of pre-dawn. Conditions such as wind, tide and weather in general had to be perfect in order to start the rig on its journey. We were not the only inquisitive people that morning as the areas along the shipping channel at Port Aransas were filled with hundreds of onlookers at 4:30 a.m! Rumors had been circulating that “Big Foot” would come through the channel early in the morning so we joined the crowds at that early hour.
Being from Wisconsin we knew very little about the oil and gas drilling operations in the Gulf or the huge platforms that are used. Since we had seen the lower portion of the rig come in two years ago this was especially thrilling for us to see it begin its journey out into the Gulf, even before dawn.
As previously mentioned fishing was a priority on this trip but always with an eye out to insure our safety while fishing. Even on those days when weather conditions were not good there were still some fishermen out on the jetties trying to catch sheepshead.
The daily chore, prior to fishing, involved driving to a bait shop that was on the far side of the ship channel after checking the weather report. If that was favorable and not too foggy we would get in line, which was eight to ten deep at the bait shop. We purchase the bait shrimp either by the quart or the pint. The only difference between shrimp for bait and table shrimp is the size.
Once we purchased our shrimp we would either fish on one of the jetties or meet Gary Taylor at the boat landing.
As mentioned several weeks ago we spent our time fishing for sheepshead. I have described sheepshead as crappies on steroids. We have also described the fish that we catch from salt water as better fighters than the fish we catch in fresh water.
As mentioned before the minimum size for sheepshead is 15 inches. The local example of this is the Rainbow Flowage. On the Flowage the minimum legal length is 15 inches. Like the Rainbow Flowage we catch many sheepshead that measure just a bit less than 15 inches. One day three of us caught a huge number of those fish but ended up with one sheepshead less than a legal limit of five fish for each of us.
The early spring we are experiencing here in this area is very different from the spring of 2014. Hopefully this early spring will help the deer herd as well as the grouse.
Longtime Northwoods outdoors enthusiast Roger Sabota writes a bi-monthly column for the Star Journal.