Back in the summer of 1977, shortly before I was set to graduate from Texas A&M and be commissioned as an Ensign in the Navy, I had a small "problem"
I had to take the last 2 courses for my major during the summer after most everyone else had graduated and been commissioned in May 1977 because right before my Junior year ended, the Navy changed the mandatory “ROTC required classes” to add a History and a Government/Political Science – 1 was offered at only 1 time in the fall and the other only 1 time in the spring. And they happened to fall right on top of 2 Major required classes offered in a similar manner.
My choices were
a) Take one or the other set of classes my Senior year and then take 1 class each in the following Fall and Spring semesters
b) take the ROTC mandatory classes my Senor year and Major classes over the summer in Galveston, graduating only 3 months late
Now I ask you – as a young man on the verge of charging forth into the world of adulthood, would you pick to
A) waste a year in school
B) spend a summer fishing nearly every day, playing in the surf, chasing girls, drinking beer, and ultimately getting to watch Star Wars (episode 4) THREE times on the first day it was shown since you and your friends were the only 5 people in the theater that day?
I chose “B”. I spent the summer of 1977 taking 4 classes, instead of the minimum 2. Why 4?? First, because I could,
and second, the extra 2 classes were field classes where I could go fishing every day.
I also had a couple of paid gigs for a couple of professors.
That summer there were only 7 students living in THE dormitory on Pelican Island, TAMU-Galveston. Yes, back them the university has exactly 1 dorm with about 20 2-person dorm rooms. We only had two guys and 5 women. We all had individual dorm rooms. The dining facility was 20 yards from the dorm. Three meals a day, except Sundays, when we were on our own for supper. We just had to let the cooks know the day before if we weren’t going to eat the next day. The cooks in the kitchen for the dining hall had it easy with us. Most of the time we told them to not worry about supper for Fridays and Saturdays – that we could just scrounge. So they’d leave us all kinds of sandwich fixings in the Dorm Common Room refrigerator. And get the night off to go home early.
“What Went On – Part 1”.
With 1 of my field classes, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, I supervised a group of students dragging nets through the open surf, between 2 jetties and in the back bay (Galveston Bay). We would start the open beach site at 0730, try to be at the jetties site by 0930 and the back bay by 1130. Then off to class at 1400.
The first net was 450 feet long. We’d walk the net out 150 feet, deploy out in a 150 line parallel to the shore and then walk the end sections to shore.
Then we’d all pull like heck catching every fish that could be caught by 1 inch mesh netting. When we got to the shore, we would sort every fish by species, and weigh and measure every fish, rapidly throwing as many as possible back into the water.
Then we would do a follow up drag using a 50 foot ¼” mesh seine to gather smaller fish. Any fish larger than an inch or so in girth was ignore and thrown back without measurements as they would have been caught in the larger mesh net and counted that way.
For study purposes, we would extrapolate out area strained to try to maintain similarity of areas samples. A 450 foot ¼” mesh seine would have need King Kong and Godzilla both helping us pull.
The purpose of the study was to track fish species and size over time. It was interesting to be catching small baby mullet in the bay and watch how fast they grew and to track when they left the bay and started showing up in the open surf/jetty areas.
The “worst” days during that summer was when the mullet “re-invaded” the shoreline surf when they hit 10”-12” and about 1# each. There was a 2 week period where we would pull in the big net and ha.ve upwards of 1000 mullet. We would “recruit” anyone that could walk and breath at the same time on the beach to help pull in the net. Those days, we “sampled” the mullet – We counted them into 5 gallon buckets, weighed the buckets and dumped fish back into the surf as quickly as possible. We would individually weigh and measure 50 fish to use as an estimate. Lots of fishermen got free bait those days.
I only ran the study for 3-1/2 months, but Dr. Landry kept the study going for another year to get a 15 month picture of fish development rates and species presence/density levels. The study mimicked one done about during the 1950s along Corpus Christi beach/bay habitats.
One of the cool things about the work was if we caught any legal sized Southern Flounder, Atlantic Croaker, Pinfish or Black Drum, we could keep and eat them.
Finally, we get to the knife content of this tale – I would gut the fish on the beach with a plastic handled “fish knife” I bought for $1 at 2nd hand store in back street Galveston and thrown them in an ice chest filled with “free” ice from the kitchen. When I got the fish back to the dorm/kitchen after class, I’d use a couple of the cook’s butcher knives to clean the fish and then put them on ice in the kitchen refrigerators. The cooks would do something with them for supper or lunch the next day.
We had fresh fish for lunch at least 2x/week and sometimes 3x for supper. Fried, grilled, poached, baked, steamed, boiled, broiled - if there is a way to cook a fish, we had it. The kitchen management folks were confused at first because the kitchen wasn’t going through their budget as fast as was expected. Once they figured out what was going on, they got really happy as I was able to save the university kitchen budget $2k - $3K that summer. In 1977 dollars. They used the “unused funds” to buy some needed stuff for kitchen upgrades.
More tales to follow.