As I reached the top of the stairs leading to my attic, I paused as I usually do to survey the many things I need to eventually clean up or get rid of while searching for a particular box that lies somewhere in the jumble. Unable to locate it in a few minutes, which is normal, my focus drifted and I began rummaging through a container of old photos, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia. One of my favorite boxes contains a bunch of random newspapers from many years ago when I began my guiding career. I have to actually tell off on myself for this one because it’s just funny.
For years I bought various newspapers, but only on Thursday, because that was when the outdoor articles were published. I would buy a Houston Chronicle, Houston Post, Beaumont Enterprise, Port Arthur News, and Orange Leader every Thursday and everything except the outdoors sections went straight in the trash. I lived and died with every word from Joe Doggett, Doug Pike, Shannon Tompkins, Ed Holder, and others of that era. I was probably the least politically informed person walking the planet but I could tell you a whole bunch about fishing and hunting.
Amongst all those publications, I put the most stock in my local paper and basically anything Dickie Colburn said or wrote. Thursday mornings at 6:15 AM I would be glued to our local radio station, KOGT 1600, where Dickie would give his report on the weekly show called “Let’s Go Fishing” with the great Richard Corder and eventually Gary Stelly. Between the story in the Thursday paper and the radio report I was all in, I had the “Gospel According to Colb!”
As a young guide it was always a feeling of confidence to look up and see Dickie fishing in the same area I was fishing – it meant I was doing something right. I remember the first day I ran into him on the water, we were in East Pass chasing trout under birds and we were both fishing solo. For some reason the trout kept coming to the surface right in front of my boat no matter which way I turned. After a while I hollered at Dickie and invited him to ease in closer so we could both catch fish and that’s exactly what we did. That trip happened thirty years ago and not much has changed; I still hold Dickie in the highest regard and I am beyond thankful to call him my friend and mentor. He has had a far greater influence on me than he probably knows.
As I continued digging through the box of newspaper clippings I found the first-ever mention of my name in print related to fishing and it was in one of Dickie’s columns. I guess you could say my guiding career had gotten off to a questionable start as I had begun to associate and fish with what I would now call some “less than reputable” folks. Dickie pulled me aside one day and took the time to give me some truly life-changing words, he said, “Son, all you have in this world is your name and reputation, so protect it by always doing right.”
Those words hit me like a ton of bricks and I made an immediate about-face that landed me in a brand new world and I could not have been more fortunate. Dickie and I began to fish a lot together and my learning curve absolutely went through the roof. The days that we spent digging around in the river and on Sabine Lake saved me countless hours of exploration as Dickie showed me more in a day than I might have learned in years on my own.
I recall a day we anchored in the Sabine River looking for redfish. We got set up on one side of a small point that jutted out from the shoreline but we couldn’t buy a bite, which was quite a surprise to Dickie as he’d been on them in that spot like clockwork. After about thirty minutes of nothing he pulled the anchor and moved the boat about 20 yards so we could reach the other side of the submerged point and we began to catch fish on virtually every cast. That small adjustment made all the difference and, had I not known how the fish related to it with the tide condition we were experiencing I would likely have not caught a single one. It was truly an eye-opener for me, the way Dickie understood and worked the structure so precisely. Lessons I learned while fishing with Dickie still serve me well to this day.
The desire and ability to pass along fishing knowledge to others so they may succeed is a special gift. As guides, we have opportunity to share such knowledge with many fishermen who are starving for anything that can enable them to become better anglers. Many times it’s the little things like showing someone how to tie a proper knot or perhaps throw a cast net to collect bait that help the most. One of my favorites is teaching youngsters to use a baitcast reel without backlashing. Some of the biggest smiles I have seen from proud dads is when they watched their children pick up this technique and become proficient. I’m not real sure if it’s the fact that their child learned a new skill or that dad now has more time to fish instead of undoing all that tangled fishing line. Either way brings happiness, so it’s all good.
At this point I had almost reached the bottom of the box that I had been reminiscing over and was somehow reminded of another lesson Dickie taught me, and it had basically nothing to do with fishing and everything to do with priorities. At the time of the lesson my guide business had really taken off and I was fishing a lot, especially considering that I also worked a full-time job. Fishing was well on its way to taking over my life and it was time for a reality check…time to pump the brakes a bit.
With a dead-serious look on his face, Dickie said, “Son, don’t ever let me find out you passed up anything relating to your family to take a fishing charter with people you may never see again. If you pass up a little league game or event with your wife for a charter, you and I will have problems. You only have so many days with your family and those fish aren’t going anywhere. Be smart. Take care of your family and go to church. Doing the right things will take you far in life.”
Talk about serious impact, I understood everything he said and I have done my best to live by those words. That kitchen table talk probably ranks as high as anything we ever talked about and I will always be grateful for that advice.
To this day I still consult Dickie about a variety of things, knowing that he always has my best interest at heart. There are few things at this point in my life that are as rewarding as spending a day on the water with a good friend and every chance I get to fish with Dickie I take it.We spend a lot of time in different water now that I chase redfish in the marsh the majority of the time while Dickie still patrols the big open water of Sabine Lake. When opportunities present themselves that we may be able to share the boat together the days usually end up special. It’s always a great day to share a boat with another guide but another thing to share it with the one who taught you how to be one. As long as Dickie will keep teaching I’ll keep listening.