For boaters, cold fronts can be widowmakers

Robert Sloan

Last Sunday morning, the perfect storm blew through Southeast Texas, one that could easily sink boats.

“I got up at 7 a.m., went outside and the wind was dead calm,” says Sabine Lake guide Jerry Norris. “The forecast was showing that the front would be moving through around noon, or maybe a little earlier. We had been catching a lot of trout on the north end of the lake, and it was tempting to load the boat and head out. But having been caught on the water with a cold front moving through, we decided to cancel the trip and set up for another day.”

A little after 9 that Sunday morning, the wind shifted from the south and came out of the north with a vengeance.

“I was at the marina tending to my boat when the front hit,” says Norris. “I thought it was blowing at about 40 miles per hour. It would have been very bad news to be on the lake right about then. Several years back I was on Sabine up around Madame Johnson’s Bayou. It was me and a buddy, and we were catching lots of nice trout. We could see the front coming but opted to catch a couple more trout. Suddenly, the wind hit hard out of the north, and we had to run all the way back to Sabine Pass. Within no time flat, the boat was holding water, and it was all I could do to keep the bow up and the waves out. If we had stopped, the boat would have gone down.”

That’s the type of situation that boaters get into during early fall and winter all over Texas. Mike Barnes, a long-time duck hunter, told me a story about him and a few buddies getting caught on West Matagorda Bay while coming back from a hunt.

“We had a light south breeze coming in, then things got real calm, and within a few minutes the north wind cranked up with waves up to around 5 feet. We had our waders on and were not wearing life jackets. Then the motor died and I thought we were next. We had a great hunt, all was good and the next thing you know, we were in a life-and-death situation. Long story short, we got the motor running and got back in. All of us knew we had escaped certain death if the boat would have capsized in the cold winter water.”

Last year there were more than 35 boating fatalities and hundreds of boat accidents and injuries on Texas waters.

While boating accidents can be caused by a variety of circumstances, including drinking while boating, surviving an accident on the water boils down one important precaution: wearing a life jacket. U.S. Coast Guard statistics show that drowning was the reported cause of death in three-fourths of recreational boating fatalities in 2015, and that 85 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

“Life jackets are important and they save lives – bottom line,” said Tim Spice, TPWD Boater Education manager. “If you are uncomfortable around the water, you should have a life jacket on, and if you’re under 13, it’s required by law.”

State law requires that a personal floatation device is available for each occupant of the boat, but only children under 13 years of age are mandated by the law to wear one while the boat or paddle craft is underway or drifting. Despite this law, last year in Texas more than 560 tickets were issued for children not wearing a life jacket.

Big Thicket National Preserve announces fur-bearer trapping season and permitting process

Superintendent Wayne Prokopetz announced Oct. 23 that Big Thicket National Preserve will be issuing 21 fur-bearer trapping permits for the 2017-18 Texas fur-bearer trapping season that runs from Dec. 1, 2017 – Jan. 31, 2018. Fur-bearing animals include badger, beaver, fox, mink, muskrat, nutria, opossum, otter, raccoon, ring-tailed cat, skunk and civet cat (spotted skunk). Limited permits will be available for designated trapping areas:  Beaumont Unit, 4; Jack Gore Baygall Unit, 7; Lance Rosier Unit, 7; and Neches Bottom Unit, 3. 

Note that coyotes, bobcats and feral hogs are not considered fur-bearing animals.

Fur-bearer trapping permits will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis starting Nov. 1 at the preserve headquarters adjacent to the visitor center, 8 miles north of Kountze at the intersection of FM 420 and Highway 69. Permits will be issued by appointment only.  Appointments may be made by telephone at (409) 951-6823.

Everyone who traps fur-bearing animals in Big Thicket National Preserve must have a Big Thicket fur-bearer trapping permit.

You must show your current Texas Trapping License to obtain a Big Thicket fur-bearer trapping permit. Trappers must show the locations of their trap-lines on a map provided by the preserve. 

The deadline for returning the fur-bearer trapping harvest cards after the 2017-18 season is April 1, 2018.  There will be no grace period.

Robert Sloan is the outdoors editor for The Examiner. E-mail your favorite photos or hunting and fishing experience to sloan288 [at] aol [dot] com for possible publication in the paper.