Full Circle

Full Circle
Dustin Hickey highlighting the business end of his first tiger shark prior to release.

The roots of land-based shark fishing run deep in the Lone Star State. For some 70 years, generations have shared their great love and cheerful passion for the sport with their children. Many memories have been made via family fishing adventures on the strip of sand forming our precious coast.

For some fathers, no brand of joy surpasses handing down the fishing torch to their adventurous offspring. In both the teaching and learning of the fundamentals and the raw encounters with nature, we find threads that bind families who share a love for the outdoors. I've witnessed this firsthand.

While my daughters are still quite young, they'll likely follow in some of my footsteps. Soon enough, I'll experience a more expanded version of this phenomenon. With any luck, the story of my clan will come to resemble that of another outdoor father/son team who have treated me like family for over twenty years.

I know plenty of outdoor enthusiasts. My occupation and travels have rewarded me with some great friendships. Of all the people I personally know and call good friends, none has lived off the land and water more than Dwade Hickey, who accompanied me on my first hardcore beach trips, when we made journeys down the island together.

I discovered some of my earliest adventures on Padre Island National Seashore while fishing with Dwade and his son Dustin, who at the time stood about knee-high to a heron. Even at that size and in those early days, we could all see he would follow the outdoor path in his father's footsteps. Now, a couple decades later, the stars have aligned, and the time has arrived for passing down their family torch on the sands of Padre Island.

Dwade inspired me to pursue tiger sharks. When we first started fishing together, he'd already beached three large tigers, before I ever caught my first. In those days, from his home in Pleasanton, Dwade would plan his weekend adventures and show up at the coast, rain or shine. I remember one of our first serious sharking years when Dwade, Curtis Mai, and I fished four consecutive weekends in a steady monsoon, making the best of the situation.

Fishing was and is my true calling. Until I met Dwade, I never did any hunting; in fact, I had never even been on a real ranch. Dwade is a more versatile outdoorsman; he has an extensive resume, including everything from hunting guide to snake wrangler. I remember discovering several cages of rattlesnakes in a shed behind his house, during the weekend of his wedding.

Numerous and varied are the stories this man could tell. Dwade educated me about the details related to the hunting world. We stalked deer, trapped hogs, wrangled rattlesnakes. I was intrigued with this previously unknown world, especially the ways in which details related to it correlate with the sport of fishing.

Once Dwade's obsession with coastal fishing fully blossomed, he moved with his family to North Padre Island, just a few blocks from me. Fishing fever then engulfed him. The lifestyle is different down here on the island, relaxing but expensive. Like many of us, Dwade fished as much as he could, but still worked various jobs to support his family.

Soon after his move to the coast, his serious, multi-day expeditions down the beach became limited. The long drought he experienced without catching a big tiger shark, or any really large shark, became a running joke in our circle of friends. Eventually, I got three tigers to equal him, then surpassed him with five, then ten, then twenty, before Dwade was able to rejoin the race.

In 2016, I was with Dwade when he caught a 10' 6" mako, which at the time was the largest mako ever landed on a Texas beach. Dwade kept the title for about a month, until I landed a slightly larger one. The man did have his mojo back, though. Late on a summer night, two years later, Dwade accomplished a feat which had eluded him for all his life, landing an impressive great hammerhead, which measured nearly 12 feet.

In August of this year, my old friend and fishing buddy struck again, this time, most appropriately, on a sharking adventure with Dustin, who's now in his twenties. Prior to their trip, the Padre shark action had been on fire. The large tiger sharks were hungry and feeding. Hammers were still around too, regularly demolishing baits. Even the big bulls were devouring our largest baits.

Both Dustin and Dwade asked me for suggestions about where to go and when. Due to unique and unpredictable patterns, the fish I had been catching far to the south had started moving northward. I tipped them off to an area I thought they should try, and they headed to the beach to write their own story. I could never have predicted the epic way their adventure unfolded.

Conditions were quite favorable to run baits via kayak, as is the norm this time of year, though not so much in 2022, with its consistently intense winds. Given the immaculate window of opportunity they caught, something good was bound to happen; action materialized soon after they deployed their baits.

On most every trip we sharkers take, our end goal is to catch the biggest fish around, most often a tiger or hammerhead. While plenty of big sharks were in the area, nothing is guaranteed, but both Hickey gentlemen had a good feeling about the events to come.

As fate would have it, this would be their day. Dustin struck first, landing a 10' 6" tiger. This shark alone would've made the trip a success, not only because of its size, but because it was Dustin's first tiger. They released the monster and salvaged the used bait, re-rigging and re-deploying it.

Next, Dwade hooked and landed a 9' 3" tiger of his own... ending his long tiger drought. But the father/son duo was not done yet. Within hours, an ecstatic, adrenaline-fueled Dustin managed to land the third big shark of the trip—a massive, 11' 7" tiger. It's safe to say Dwade could not have been more proud. In essence, he had passed the metaphorical sharking torch over to his son. After many fun and fruitful family adventures, father and son had combined their passions, shared the rewards and seen their outdoor lives evolve full circle.