The heavy fog the weather service had predicted never materialized and the night was crystal clear. There was no moon and the Big Dipper appeared so close it gave me the impression that I could just reach out and grab it by the tail, give it a big yank and straighten it out. The wind had laid off at dark and the sea had calmed to two rows of two foot surf, alive with dancing emerald phosphorescence. Mother Nature's nocturnal light show in the surf zone is one of the greatest wonders of coastal Texas.

There was a chill in the night air that seemed to be creeping into my tired ol' bones. The fire was not a large one but it had a grand set of glowing coals and I positioned my chair where I could enjoy watching them and the phosphorescence. I was the only human on the last 55 miles of Padre Island National Seashore and the realization of my solitude brought peace to me; as it always has. The call of Brother Coyote sounded in the stillness and I savored the sound as a special treat as it is rare to hear his cry above the wind so typical on Padre.

As I stared into the coals I got to somehow thinking about Decker. Len Decker and I shared fires and fished together for fourteen years prior to his death in 1992. Len was a veteran of numerous tours in South East Asia with the Airborne Rangers and he was the surviving, original platoon sergeant on "Hamburger Hill." He was quick to laugh and quick to fight and we took turns getting each other into and out of trouble of various sorts until he died. His family and I shook his ashes at the 25-mile post in the Big Shell.

My mind immediately went back to a late February day twenty-six years past, down south of the Port Mansfield jetties, on South Padre Island. Len and I had set up a shark fishing camp on the beach south of the jetties. Dickie and Mary Spenser had joined us in their small camper trailer. Temperatures were in the 60s during the day and 50s at night and the wind was minimal but the water was the color of chocolate milk for 400 yards offshore. Five foot breakers covered the nearshore bars.

Neither of us could succeed in getting a bait across those bars, even with minimal inflation in the life raft, and the water was icy cold. We donned knee-high wet suits and swim fins and left just enough air in the life raft to keep the shark leader, sinkers and bait afloat. We each held on to the life raft and leader with one hand and paddled with the other while kicking with the swim fins, very effective actually.

When we saw a really big wave approaching we would go underwater and use our bodies as ballast to hold the life raft steady and we were both amazed at how well it worked and how quickly we could cover distance working together. We cleared the muddy water and stopped to catch our breath and evaluate the situation about 600 yards offshore.

We were debating whether to drop the bait or continue farther when I felt the sandpaper skin of a shark drag across my right calf. Momentarily I felt it rub across the calf of my left leg. I never said a word or let on what happened to Len at all. I felt pretty sure of what was going to happen next and it was simply too good of an opportunity to spoil it prematurely.

He got to fussing about my taking so long to make up my mind and we were looking at each other across the raft. All at once his eyes got huge and he lunged straight up in the air about two feet and yelled. No sooner had he settled back down into the sea than he repeated the entire maneuver, and when he came up this second time he looked at me and screamed, "Think porpoise! Think porpoise!"

I said, "My God, Len, a dolphin has skin as smooth as a baby's butt and this guy is sandpaper city."

By that time both of us had laid the upper half of our bodies across the life raft and were doing our best to extend as much of our legs and swim fins as possible into the air behind us.

"Len," I said, "It appears this shark is hungry. If it's ready to eat lets feed it the bait we brought out here rather than various of our body parts."

I slipped back down into the sea while explaining my plan. I let the bait and about seven feet of cable leader down into the water beneath me and then wrapped the cable around my left hand three times. We talked about the dangers of my hand getting fouled in the cable and I told Len I would just have to risk it.

I took a death grip on the life raft with my right hand, planning to set the hook with my left. Once the shark was hooked I would let the leader go and join him lying crossways on the raft. We would then vacate the area ASAP.

I felt a gentle bump on the bait which was quickly followed by two others and then the shark took it. When the cable tightened, I did everything possible to set the hook manually and immediately cleared my hand from the coils of cable before the shark could make a run. Joining Len crossways on the raft we hastily paddled shoreward and shortly we began to laugh as Dickie ran to the shark rig on the beach, waving his arms wildly.

We arrived on the beach and I unceremoniously cranked in a 6' 4" sandbar that was far too small to be sporting on the heavy tackle. I grabbed my three pound shop hammer and thumped it between the eyes for five minutes, reward for having scared us so badly. Dickie butchered it so everyone could have fresh shark steaks for supper.

That evening at supper it smelled good enough to eat and everyone seemed to be enjoying it. Somehow though, I no longer had any taste for shark meat. I took my plate up on a sand dune and watched the full moon come up over the eastern horizon and pondered the situation. How lucky Len and I were that one or both of us weren't injured or killed. How it could just as easily have been a large and more dangerous species of shark rather than a sandbar. How I have spent so much of my life hoping a shark doesn't eat me and, then when it doesn't, I repay it by thumping it between the eyes with a hammer and eating it.

Somehow there was something terribly ironic and ludicrous in the whole scenario and I realized that, for me, such actions were no longer appropriate.

And so, by the light of a full moon, I cut a treaty with Brother and Sister Shark. If they would not eat me I would not eat them. For twenty-six years now the sharks and I have kept that agreement.

Fishing is about so much more than simply catching. Fishing is about camp fires, camaraderie and communing with the Natural World. It is filled with wonder, wonderful memories, and the grandest of friendships.

I heard a song recently with a line that said, "Fishin' is fun; and if it ain't fun then it ain't fishin'."

Life is a hoot if you'll let it be.

Editor’s Note: This story is reprinted from our archives. Our longtime writer and dear friend, Billy Sandifer, is suffering badly at present from the debilitating effects of exposure to Agent Orange during his military service in Viet Nam. Please join me in prayer that Billy will weather his present storm and regain strength to continue his writings soon.