Adventure & Finally Retirement: Part I

Jim Dailey


Jim Dailey was born at St. Joseph's Hospital Houston, Texas in 1938. Jim's father was a thoracic surgeon and served in the US Armed Forces during WWII. His father moved them to California during the war and they returned to Houston in 1946. Being devout Catholics, Jim was educated in parochial schools and then began his college education at Notre Dame.

Jim says, "As a youngster all I cared about was hunting and fishing, that's what led me to my career in fisheries biology." Leaving Notre Dame, Jim also attended University of Texas and the University of Houston before serving in the United States Navy. After the Navy, Jim attended Texas A&M and graduated with a degree in wildlife science and fisheries in 1968.

"I had a job before I got out of school," Jim told me. "When I left A&M I moved to Palacios and worked for Texas Parks and Wildlife as a biologist for 30 years. I retired in 1998 and I guess I'm right back where I started, all I do now is hunt and fish."

Jim Dailey's contribution to Texas coastal fishing is considerable. Jim joined the TPW team when modern fisheries management was in its infancy and helped forge many of the strategies and procedures that are the backbone of today's management programs. Thanks to Jim Dailey and others like him, we enjoy some of the best fishing to be found anywhere on the gulf coast.

Come along and let's listen to some of his tales of the way it was.

Early days fishing and working for TPWD...

I'd have to say I got started fishing as soon as I was old enough. Being a medical doctor, my dad was very dedicated to his work and very busy most of the time. I learned to strike out on my own and I'd fish anywhere there was water and I thought there might be a fish or two. That may be one of the reasons I enjoy fishing the way I do today. I have always enjoyed chasing them and finding them, that has always been the biggest challenge for me. Buffalo Bayou right there in Houston does not look like much today, but that was one of the places where I learned to fish.

We had a place down at Freeport and my dad kept a big boat there. We did a lot of offshore fishing every chance he could get away. Of course we always fished the beaches and any other place we thought we could catch a fish. We fished a lot around Freeport and Surfside Beach.

We used to love to drive the beach. You could drive almost the whole Galveston beach and we loved it and caught lots of fish. San Luis Pass was really an awesome place to fish back then and it still is. Trout were the big thing with us, we'd catch reds too but trout was what we were after. It really was kind of crazy, our fascination with trout; back then we had just incredible numbers of tarpon and we hardly ever fooled with them. We'd try to break them off if we accidentally hooked one.

Speaking of tarpon, it is hard to describe how many tarpon we had. People who never saw them look at you like you're crazy, but it's true. You could expect to bump into a school anytime you got around a pass or the mouth of the Brazos in the summertime. I remember the few times when we did actually fish for them, we ran down Quintana Beach to where the Brazos hits the gulf. We used those great big wooden Lucky-13's, the kind with three big hooks on them. We'd see the tarpon rolling out there and just tearing the water up, then when they got close enough we'd cast to them with those big old wooden plugs. I've busted lines and hooks and even rods, those were some really big tarpon and they would just go wild when you hooked them.

Those schools had been coming there for a very long time and when they quit coming it was a shock to everybody; we couldn't understand it. A good friend of mine, Bill Provine a biologist who is still with Parks and Wildlife, came down to study it as the river was one of his areas. Bill made his study and said the river was dead; there weren't even any bacteria in the water. Releases from Dow Chemical moved the tarpon out and they never came back. They've cleaned it up but you don't see the tarpon like they were then. They get some small tarpon that come into the canals there at Dow but nothing like the old days. We'd go in there to get specimens when they needed them but they were all juveniles, no big ones.

There is just so much that has changed and so many things about these estuaries that man and development have changed over they years. A good example is right where the headwaters of Coloma Creek come up to TX Highway 185 between Seadrift and Port O'Connor. One of our guys that worked at the Port O'Connor Field Station was cast netting for bait in that ditch one day. He pulled out a net full of baby tarpon. Steve Morowitz was the biologist there at the time and that fellow worked for Steve, he called us to come and look at them. There were a slew of them in there and they moved some of them down to the hatchery at Corpus Christi for a study project but I think they ended up dying. Overall, the tarpon is little understood even to this day.

Getting back to the early days let me tell you how I got here I was graduating Texas A&M in May 1968 with a wildlife degree that included fisheries and I needed a job. I went to Austin and I interviewed with three division chiefs. There was a position open at Palacios and I had a job lined up before I got out of school. I had one technician named Lex Sutton working for me in the beginning and he was really good and a great help to us. Lex had been a commercial fisherman and knew more about the bays than perhaps anybody I've ever met. There was one biologist ahead of me at Palacios and that was Bob Calura. After several years Bob transferred over to the new Marine Fisheries Research Station that was being built. Later on they named that facility for Perry R. Bass. Bob stayed up there and I stayed on the bays as the bay biologist and ran that field station until I retired. Bob Calura stayed at the Research Station the rest of his career and was one of the best biologists that ever worked in the department. Their work formed the basis for the management methods and procedures that are in use today.

I'll tell you how different things were; back when I arrived there were three houses on Matagorda Peninsula between the Colorado River and Green's Bayou now look at what you have out there. Then going the other way, apart from a couple old military shacks, there was the Matagorda Club and one other house and that's all you had from Green's all the way down to Decros Point. If you knew what it looked like before all the building took place it would really tear your heart out to see it now. I would say that the way the Matagorda Island was taken from the Hawes family was a bad deal, but when you compare Matagorda Island to Matagorda Peninsula today, I'd say the Feds taking the island was probably the best thing that could have happened to it. It saved Matagorda Island.

Continued next month...