A Texas River Shark Tale
the living breathing James Brown
It sure seems to be pure fact that the things caught and all the stories that keep coming out of this dirty murky water are those that put chills up and down the back of your neck anytime you are fishing from Riverside, Texas on to the Gulf of Mexico on the Trinity River. Strange, weird things are always coming to surface all along this river and you might be in store for something completely worthy of your own tale one day if you so take and have the courage to night fish this place. And those eerie, haunting noises that you will hear as you drift downriver are something entirely out of a Jules Verne Novel for sure. But when your heart is racing, you are in the thick of the matter for sure, now aren’t you. So, if you want to hear that which you must, then come along and take a glimpse of one of the strangest nights in my entire life. Oddly, it seems like a hundred years done passed since this one night. A night I can not. A night I will not. No, not ever. A night I will never forget and the next time you are on the waters of the Trinity River, remember this-anything from Riverside, Texas to the Coast is a “Free Ride” for the Gulf Coast Predators and you might find yourself bait for something else. But for me, this is and always will be a very interesting and haunting tale if I might be so bold to say. One I find upsetting sometimes when it comes to me at night and I wake-up in Cold Sweats.
So, here is A Texas River Shark Tale-
It’s easy to search for an embodiment of lies when you hear or learn of any fishing tales, especially here in Texas from us Old Timers. Man, we don’t hear some real whopper stories of the ones that always got away, but what happens when one didn’t get away? And before you finish reading this tale, you gonna think that you was listening or talking to the man on the TV Show-River Monsters. Well, this is one monster of a story for sure and every time I think about it, I still get cold sweats. I know, you can go ahead and call me a Liar now and not later, but a Shark Story Lie at that or will you walk away with Cold Sweats too each and every time you step your feet into a River next time?
Big Don, as everyone called him, was my fishing buddy and he was a fat slob and he’d even tell you he was a Fat Slob too. But he’d been that way most of his life. And like most fat people, he learned to endure all the Fat Related Names people tossed his way. He weighed-in pushing 400-lbs and when he sat down in a John Boat, it sank down till water almost came in over the top every time. Now, I was no small cow-poke at that either. I was sporting 285-lbs on that fateful night and boy howdy, I am still very much happy, I mean God Himself, must have been watching over us and all that sort of stuff and trust me, before we got back out of that River, Big Don and I both Prayed a whole lot. I mean a Whole Bunch. Alright, maybe he didn’t cause I can’t really speak for him, but I did. And I really did when I jumped into the Trinity River on that night with my mind clocking in at 1000-mph with hypertension of feast-ful creatures awaiting to pull me under. But no, they didn’t.
Well, we put in our 16’ John Boat in Trinity River at Riverside, Texas and we had an
(Man, it was old as all get-out and Big Don had to use a starter roper to get the thing started. Not anything like the electric start engines they got now. But it was a good ole thing for sure.)
9-hp old Evinrude Motor on back of it. And yes, we had two wooden paddles also. But we only used them to kill them Water Moccasins that always tried to climb into our John Boat. Hey, I don’t know, I mean I have one clue, that them snakes thought we were a floating island that they had to investigate every time and they did and we killed three on this night. But we shot them with a .22 handgun Big Don carried to kill any alligator that tried to get at us or our string-line of fish.
Well, it was bout one in the morning when we put our boat in and we had two oil lanterns that we hung on these looping poles about six feet in front and in back of the boat to put light on the subject, but to keep those pesky mosquitoes from going after us and going instead at after the light on those lanterns.
Some things are meant to happen, and then it’s your turn. What you gonna do?
Well, we tossed six whole live chickens, yep they was alive alright, and yep, we tossed them out in every direction, about 6’-10’ from the boat attached to 110-lb braided line and 200-lb steel leader lines with the real big bow-tail hooks. About four inches from attaching our steel leader line on one foot on each chicken, we then had our bow-tail hooks attached. These were some special hooks powder coated that Big Don had made in his metal shop. Like nothing I have ever seen anywhere in a store. You haven’t done no real river fishing until you use whole live chickens for bait cause it’s something that you won’t ever forget. Nope, not ever cause the things they do trying to get free is something weird to see and yet, it feeds that “hunter instinct’ living deep inside of all men no matter who they are. Yes, we were Chicken Killers using Live Chickens after Big River Predators. But not really me, I was just the “big-eyed” friend of a real river fisherman-Big Don. Maybe the last real river fisherman on the Trinity River from the Riverside, Texas area. You know, I fished and went out with Big Don, but you know, I just realized, I never once went to his home and I never saw it from the road either. And Old Man Sims who you will be introduced to later was also known in Trinity River Folklore of having caught some amazingly large fish from way back when he was alive. But now, back to the story at hand-
And you gonna pull something like this out of the river? Really? If you do, you gonna be living the real deal in your life.
And we usually tossed over about a cup of chicken blood into the water about once every 45 minutes. The river current would do the rest and take that smell that all those blood sucking predators loved smelling. Man, those big predators loved big bait and we had it tonight.
Whole live chickens and we would hide ourselves under camouflage netting so the big ones wouldn’t make us out. And we would just float and float and float downriver. Man, at night, all sorts of creepy crawling river sounds can be heard of things sliding in and out of the river from the river bank.
Big Don already had a reputation as being a Gator Man having caught six alligators ranging from 6’ to some say 10’. But he said they were never over 8’ to me. Then one of the chickens disappeared and then another disappeared underwater. Two lines went whirling like a big catfish or alligator or a large Gar had them. And one seemed to be different from the others. Then the lines went dead. Nothing was happening and we floated and Big Don and I increased the Drags on the Ocean Saltwater reels. And as we floated, one more of the chickens disappeared and in no time, the John Boat was whirled around and being pulled with the power of an small Outboard motor. Man, this thing had us going and it wasn’t slowing down. Then it stopped after a pull that lasted for six minutes.
“Man, this ain’t the usual for sure. I ain’t never had nothing pull me around like this and then pull the boat too. This is a strange one for sure.” Then the boat took off again and we headed farther downriver and this time, we were being pulled slower, but we were being pulled by a real big predator.
“You think it might be a Gator, Big Don?”
“This ain’t no Gator, Boy, this is one of those things that cometh-up the river from the Ocean. This ain’t no river fish for sure.”
“You think we gonna need to cut the line and let it go?”
And he comes out of the darkness like the headless horseman gonna take a bite out of you.
“If’n you scared, then jump out and I’ll catch-up to you when I return back up-streams. But me, I’m going to follow it all the way to the Big Ocean if I have to.” Then Big Don put a big cigar into his mouth and popped a match-head with his thumbnail and then his face lighted-up and I could see he looked like something like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick with a wild hypnotic look in his facial expression. His eyes seemed to appear to be the pure color of solid black. Man, his eyes were glassy black and I knew that he wasn’t going to let this thing that had our chicken go. No, he would follow it to the ends of the planet if he had to and this man would. He was a Riverman and he was known to be gone for as many as six or seven days at a time on one of his fishing trips. And I didn’t want this to last longer than morning if it would turn out that way and no, it would not.
SO, we just sat there drifting and sometimes still being pulled by whatever was on the other end of that line. But I or my mind was pulling on straws as to what could be so strong to be pulling us like this? A rogue River MONSTER? And if so, what kind? Yes, what kind? And I was starting to think-why did Big Don have to use those Live Chickens. Yes, he’s surely conjured something evil up from all that mud way down below our boat.
“Why don’t you try pulling it in?”
“Nope, this thing has got lots of strength left in it and I’m not going to lose it, no matter what it is. Might as well pull in those other lines now. They just got big gars on them. But this line, it ain’t no gar that’s got it. Did you know now, that we done been pulled down six miles by this one fish or whatever it is?”
“Six-miles. Do we have enough gas to get back that far upriver?”
“I’ve got enough for 12 mile, but not sixteen or more and way this thing is still pulling and our drifting downriver, we might go as far as pertnear 30 miles or more.”
“Man, I was supposed to be at work at 8 tomorrow morning.”
but u can’t go, u got to stay, u stuck like chuck with Big Don
“You done missed that 8. Might be 8 tomorrow night before we get back.”
“I’ll be fired by then.”
“Look, there’s a bridge coming up and you can get out and swim to that fishing camp man’s house and he will let you use his phone and then he can give you a ride on his boat back to me. That work for you?”
“When will I…”
“You need to jump out now and swim towards that porch light over there.” And Big Don pointed to a porch light on the back porch of an old, very old looking house. Well, I had a wife and three kids and I needed the job and I knew how hell-bent Big Don got on these fishing trips and I then stood up and then I jumped over and swam like the Devil might be in the water with me and in three minutes, I was knocking on old man Sims’s Backdoor.
Then I heard the noise of someone inside and he then called to me.
“You better have a good damn reason for knocking on my backdoor this morning. Do you know it’s almost 5 in the morning?”
“Big Don sent me to use your telephone.”
“Big Don, where’s he at?”
“He’s still being pulled downriver by a river monster.”
“A river monster? Where’d ya’ll hook onto it?”
“Riverside and it done pulled you all the way down here?”
“Yes, Sir. Whatever it is, it sure did, but the current did some of it too.”
Then the backdoor opened and a light went on in the house.
“The phone’s over there and make sure you reverse the charges.”
And Old Man Sims pointed to an old rotary dial phone that no one seems to remember now. So, I used it and called my boss and he told me he didn’t like my story and that I had to come back with proof of the river monster if I wanted to keep my job. And then my boss hung-up on me.
“I reckon we both need to get on downriver to where Big Don is. He may need our help by now. What size gun does he have with him?”
“A .22 pistol.”
“That ain’t gonna do him no good. That ain’t nearly enough firepower to take down a River Monster. Over in that corner is my 30’06 and its full of ammo. Grab it, Son, and let’s go see what Big Don done got ahold of.”
Then the two of us walked back to the river’s edge and we turned-over a old wooden boat and under it was a gas can and an old Outboard and two wood paddles. Soon, we had it in the river and in no time, Old Man Sims had the motor on the back attached and he gave it one pull and the motor started right-up.
“And the old man then took off downriver and he was now watching the river up ahead by moon light and we soon found Big Don and soon, the two boats were side by side.
“Tie my boat to your’ens boat and I’m gonna be right here to see what it is that brought you all the way down here. Don, you really hook onto this thang up at Riverside?”
“Mr. Sims, he’s been pulling my boat since Riverside, Texas and I think he’s trying to take us all the way to the Coast.”
“You sure it ain’t no super-size Gar?”
“Ain’t no Gar. This one is an Ocean Monster of some sort.”
“Well, sure seems to me that it’s time to stop and see if we can pull him in. Surely, he’s that tired by now. With all three of us, we ought to be able to pull him in.”
“I’m gonna wait till sunrise so I can at least get a look at him if he breaks free. Can you wait that long?”
“Sure, I can wait. Time is all I got mostly now that my Martha done up and died on me.”
“When did she die?”
‘Yesterday. She’s still back in the shack lying stiff as a board in our bed.”
“You ain’t called the JP yet?”
“Yep, I called him and he was in an all day and night Card Game with the Sheriff. He said that they’d come get her after the sun come-up or one of them ran out of money or livestock. They said she could wait.”
“Livestock? What’s that mean?”
“Well, just like in a Poker House, when you still want to play, you got to bets what you gots and around here, it’s your livestock.”
“Man, that’s crazy.”
“No, that’s real gambling.”
“How’d your wife die?”
“Cancer. She’s been dying of it nearly three years now. I am sorry she is dead, but damn I am glad I don’t have do dig not more of her poop out of her butt no more. Man, that’s some of the hardest stuff a person will come across when they have family dying of cancer. That’s the stuff no one will tell you about. But Cancer is a KILLER, plain and simple.”
“Did she get the Chemo and Radiation?”
“Yep, she had Chemo Twice and Radiation six times and hers was just too aggressive and she waited till it was too late to do nothing about it no how.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
Then sunlight started to make its way through the tree tops.
“Won’t be long now and we can finally see what has been pulling these two boats for so long.”
Then the pulling stopped and the sunlight was now bright enough to show on everything. And suddenly, there was the biggest splashing in the water that the three of us had ever seen. It was a monster action and the dirty Trinity River water went from dark brownish to blood red. I mean, I am telling you, it was PURE RED BLOOD RED. The entire area was red as all get out and worse.
Then what we saw was the large fin of a huge shark that had just taken out a huge bite out of the six-foot Grouper that had taken us down river and now, a Huge Bull Shark was feeding on the Grouper. And then just as fast as the splashing had started, it was all over and then Big Don pulled in remains of the Grouper.
“Damn, the boy foul-caught the Grouper on the top and look at these huge bites that damn shark took.”
Then the big Bull Shark came by for one last attempt at the remaining of the Grouper as Big Don was pulling the remains out of the water. The top bite of the Shark’s teeth hit and skid down along the edge of the John Boat and then the Shark bent back away and as it did, all of us got one last look at a River Monster that wasn’t supposed to be this far inland in the Trinity River, but there and here it was.
Big Don then looked over at Old Man Sims.
“Mr. Sims, you ever seen anything like this before?”
“No, this is my only one, but I have heard some tales down at the Tavern and I thought all them stories were more pure bull shit than Bullshit itself. But the ones telling it were ready to fight if you called them a liar. But dang, I never believed them. Not until now and now, I will be called a Liar too when I tell them this one.”
Then Old Man Sims took out his measuring tape out of an old metal tackle box and handed it over to Big Don. Big Don then measured the size of the bite mark from one end to the other end and it was around 10-12 inches wide. But the exact size slips my memory as the pure size of that huge monster does and will never leave my mind. And did it come up with all the flooding. Yes, the recent flooding that seemed to have lasted forever way back when I had gotten back from Overseas and Big Don was kind enough to take me on this one very special fishing trip. One I took and one I never cared to take again. At least, I never saw Big Don use Live Chickens again. That was a pure quirky River Fisherman’s own treasured secret only he used. And Big Don was a treasure for sure.
And after traveling back up river, Old man Sims put in at his house and so did we so we could get enough fuel to make it back to Riverside, Texas and when we got there, I was completely spun. I mean I was dog-beat tired and I actually not in a hurry to go out fishing with Big Don anytime soon.
But, Big Don passed away and I am sure he spend many, many more days and nights trying to repeat what had happened to us always trying to get that monster Big Shark. A Bull Shark most likely, but who’s to say. When the Trinity River is flooding, I do sometimes take the time to remember our one memorable night and I do wonder what other monsters from the Gulf swim up into the Trinity River looking for easy prey for its belly. But I will always wonder about that night and what would have happened if we had landed that monster. We might have had our names listed on some plague for some form of record. But as it is, it is only more good fishing bull. More of those fishing tales of the ones that got away.
So, the next day, I took the only proof I had to my Boss so I could keep my jog and that was the remains of the Grouper’s body and my Boss shook his head as he looked at it. This man was an avid Saltwater fisherman and he had spent many a night on the Pier’s that jot out along the Texas Coast into the Gulf of Mexico. So, when he saw the Grouper, he saw two things-part of the body of the biggest, largest Grouper he had ever seen and one that had the obvious evidence of a two shark bites on it. And I will always remember what he said-
“Well, at least that’s one that you can’t fake on me Brown, Get to work and don’t ever miss another day like the one you missed unless I am with you too. You okay with that, young man?”
“Yes, sir. That works for me just fine.”
But does it work for you? lol
Another reason why I don’t never swim in the Trinity River no more…EVER! Nope, never ever swim in the Trinity River unless you just plain stupid. lol
God Bless…the living breathing James Brown, US Army Veteran, author of HANDGUN SAFETY, A PANTHER’S FATHER, A PANTHER’S FATHER II, A PANTHER’S FATHER III, AND A PANTHER’S FATHER IV(coming out in 2020).