God promised Noah that He’d never again destroy every living creature on earth by a flood, and God put rainbows in the sky as a sign of this promise. (Genesis 9, Chapter 10, verses 9-13). But God never said He wouldn’t have Mother Nature occasionally kick us in the crotch as a reminder of what we’re doing to our planet. And the winds began to blow.
On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey struck the popular Texas Central Gulf Coast directly in the heart, making landfall at Rockport and Port Aransas/Aransas Pass with a 12-foot storm surge and Category Three fury. Before Harvey, Rockport was considered an up-and-coming tourist spot in the grand scheme of the Texas Gulf Coast, as was neighboring Port Aransas. Three of the bonds that bind the two communities: 1) They’re small enough to still have a village personality; 2) They’re big enough to have good hotels, condos, and restaurants; and 3) They have some of the best inshore and offshore flyfishing along the entire Texas Gulf Coast.
Clyde rolled into Houston just after the biblical flood subsided, piloted by Danny Scarborough and Dylan Kaminski-Ditzel. Whether it’s a “Hey Bubba, watch this!” moment, or a genuine drive to save people and property, Texans tend to head toward disaster as often as they turn away from it. Hence, I caught up with Clyde in Aransas Pass, where his goals were twofold. Goal number one was to get an eye on the devastation while listening to local guides and outfitters. Goal number two was to test the fishery, taking its pulse after a full-frontal attack. Clyde arrived in the comatose coastal community just as the curfews had been lifted. Yet Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) vehicles were still roaming the streets at night, looking for looters and other villains that had descended like buzzards to pick the last bit of meat off the bone. Out-of-state license plates were DPS magnets, while locals got the benefit of the doubt.
As Clyde drove the debris-strewn streets of Rockport, longtime guide Chuck Naiser was the first to bring some sobering context to what we were seeing.
“I started walking this island in 1967 and knew every inch of it,” Naiser said. “But all that is changed now. It’s just not the same.”
Naiser stayed with family during the storm, and when he came back, his house was intact, but his beautiful oak-covered yard wasn’t. “We’re not bad off,” he said. “It’s the people who had nothing to begin with, and now what little they had is gone.” He told the story of helping a Texas Parks & Wildlife employee move his entire life—all his possessions—out of his destroyed house and onto the curb. “Everything he had was on that curb,” Naiser said.
Most of the people who live through flyfishing speak in a like mind; there’s the bad news, and there’s the good news. And there’s agreement that the people who helped support the economy—the day-to-day workers who made little money and had few possessions—are gone. The glue that holds these coastal communities together was water soluble, and whether it was a waiter at your favorite restaurant, someone stocking the grocery shelves, or a convenience-store worker, their homes are gone and so are they.
Capt. William Townsend (driving) and Capt. Ken Jones, heading for reds.
The numbers from the Federal Government estimate 40 to 60 thousand jobs disappeared with the storm, and Harvey’s cost by October had surpassed $118 billion, creeping up on the cost of Hurricane Katrina and firmly in second place all-time.
Dave Hayward, general manager of the Swan Point Landing Orvis store, summed up the breadth of the disaster: “Our friends and customers in Houston were calling and asking if there was anything they could do for us. And a few hours later we were calling our friends and customers in Houston to see if there was anything we could do for them.”
Flyfishers are eternal optimists, though, and guides like Captain Ken Jones see a silver lining. “We’ve had a bunch of guys here burning up these flats for years, running in six inches of water just because they could, running to find fish (instead of poling skiffs). Now those guys are gone.”
There’s bad news…
Jones says that all the screaming around in flats boats would fracture the redfish schools and turn acres of fish into smaller pods of five to maybe twenty.
“We didn’t have fishing pressure,” Jones said. “We had boating pressure.”
Fellow guide and friend Captain William Townsend echoed that sentiment, saying he had already started searching deeper into the back-marshes of the Laguna Madre in an effort to escape the weekend warriors in their custom, shallow barges, with blaring stereos and girlfriends attached.
…and there’s good news.
He thinks things can only get better. “So much of the infrastructure that housed those people, gassed up their cars, and fed their faces, has vanished overnight,” Townsend said. “It can’t help but make a difference.”
Guides are suffering some cancellations, but all of them that I spoke with said they were hanging tough and making the best of it, dealing with FEMA, insurance companies, red tape, and their own personal rebuilding.
Clyde did get a taste of salt, but our efforts were mostly futile until I managed to do an old fashioned ride-along with Captain Townsend, hitting some deep back-marshes where weekend warriors fear to tread. It was a difficult go anyway, as there was still a surplus of freshwater in the system, combined with the fall equinox adding another foot to the flats—giving the redfish a larger playground and deeper running room. All the captains agreed though: October in Texas still means redfish. It’s arguably the best month for redfish on fly in Texas, and they expected this year to be as good as any other.
I parted ways with Clyde when Danny and Dylan left to escort him toward New Orleans, where they were passing the baton to his next driver. Hopefully that person finds a more joyful journey. Clyde did pay due respect to the wrath of Harvey, though, and he even saw some tails at the end of a dark Texas tunnel. To drive Clyde, one must share the optimism of the Lone Star State, as perfectly expressed by Naiser: “I came back to my home, and it was in a place I’d never seen before. But I tell people: ‘The bad news is, we now live in Bolivia. The good news is, it’s full of Texans.'”