Dear friend and longtime contributor to Texas Saltwater Fishing Magazine, Billy Sandifer, passed away March 30, 2018. I doubt anybody will ever replace him. I say this not only for his great respect for nature and deeds in marine conservation, but equally because the hardscrabble upbringing that forged him hardly exists anymore.
You could say he was orphaned when his mother abandoned three-year-old Billy and his infant brother to the care of grandparents who scratched for a meager living on a small farm near Agua Dulce.
Billy’s adolescent years on the farm produced a tough kid who hopped a bus to Montana with only the clothes on his back to punch cows and ended up serving multiple tours for Uncle Sam in Southeast Asia. Thousands of US servicemen were exposed to a dangerous defoliant called Agent Orange during that conflict; Billy was one of them and suffered greatly from it as he aged.
Billy returned home a troubled young man, but it was no longer home. Today it’s called PTSD. In his own words, he simply did not fit anywhere in society. The best he could do was try to survive on the fringe.
The ragged fringe for Billy was down the Padre Island National Seashore where he camped for nearly two years in solitude, except for a friend named Decker. Billy and Decker both suffered drug and alcohol addiction during that time, trying to escape reality.
Decker didn’t survive. Billy was dragged off the beach suffering severe bronchial pneumonia and placed in a Corpus Christi hospital. Billy overcame pneumonia and whipped his addictions cold turkey.
Billy’s life was never one of comfort or leisure. He worked variously as a bouncer in a biker bar, on Gulf shrimpboats, and cast-netted mullet to sell to bait camps in the off-season. He lived under the SPID causeway bridge for a time in an old Cadillac automobile.
Billy had an enormous passion for shark fishing. He made a pact with “Brother Shark” during a dangerous encounter with a great hammerhead, “I vowed if you do not kill me I will no longer kill you.” And he stuck by it. His love of the sea and fishing eventually led him to become a fishing guide.
Beginning as both a bay and beach guide, he eventually concentrated on the beach despite nearly starving, because it satisfied his soul in a way the bay could not.
Billy leaves two great legacies. The Big Shell Beach Cleanup and a metamorphosis of shark fishing mentality in Texas.
Billy never sought fame or accolades. In his own words, “I started the Big Shell Beach Cleanup simply because nobody else cared enough to do it.”
His mentoring and conservation leadership in shark fishing spawned a generation of catch-tag-release anglers who continue to live by his teachings. His shark tooth necklace a vivid reminder of his old ways.So long dear friend. If there is an eternal reward for conservation deeds well done, I pray you are enjoying it.