Saltwater Sportsman - - Backcast - IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY STEVE HAEFELE BY DOUG PIKE

Cliff Webb has spent more than half his life — and he’s no young­ster — as a pro­fes­sional guide on Texas’ fa­bled Baf­fin Bay. Near the end of a con­ver­sa­tion about some­thing else, I asked if he had any funny sto­ries to share — and then I lis­tened. For a long time.

The “re­cur­ring theme” cat­e­gory, he said, in­volves in­ex­pe­ri­enced wade-fish­er­men try­ing to grab fish that they, them­selves, hold out of reach.

“They’ll reel it up al­most to the rod tip,” Webb said. “They’re hold­ing 7 feet of rod and got 4 feet of line hang­ing off the tip, and they keep try­ing to hold the rod far­ther be­hind them with one hand and reach out with the other to grab the fish.”

One of his fa­vorites in­volved three po­lice of­fi­cers. It was the high­est-ranked of the three, all wad­ing with their guide, who chased his hooked trout while the oth­ers watched in amuse­ment.

“He stretched out both arms as far as they’d go in op­po­site direc­tions,” he con­tin­ued. “When he still couldn’t reach the fish, he kept walk­ing in cir­cles to­ward it like that was go­ing to get him closer.”

The lower-ranked of­fi­cers were sworn to keep that episode a se­cret. I was not.

A reg­u­lar client Webb nick­named “Day­dreamer” is a good fish­er­man but eas­ily dis­tracted.

“Clouds, birds, boats. He’s al­ways look­ing around, but he hardly ever looks at his lure or his rod tip,” Webb re­called.

One morn­ing, Day­dreamer was sit­ting on the bow, the toes of his flip-flops sus­pended just above the wa­ter as the boat drifted for­ward. His jig was closer to the boat than Day­dreamer re­al­ized when he lifted his rod and un­know­ingly hung the hook point in the dan­gling bot­tom of his shoe.

He took an­other half-turn on the rod han­dle, and the line came taut.

“There’s a nice one, baby!” Day­dreamer hollered back to his guide as he set the hook.

The point lodged it­self firmly into the foam, and Day­dreamer yanked the shoe right off his own foot.

The third can­di­date for col­umn fod­der was, like a few of my old wa­ter­fowl clients, a bit of a brag­ger, al­ways show­ing up with some­thing new, and also quick to tell ev­ery­one what he paid for it.

“Check out this new rod,” he told Webb as he climbed on board one morn­ing. “Four … hun­dred … bucks. Best there is.”

Webb knew what it was. He had half a dozen of them at the house. He held his tongue and of­fered a com­pli­ment.

As they drifted across clear, shal­low wa­ter, the rod per­formed to ex­pec­ta­tion. One red­fish after an­other was whipped into sub­mis­sion by its light­weight strength.

“Check it out,” Webb said ca­su­ally to his cus­tomer. “That’s one of the big­gest blue crabs I’ve ever seen in this bay.”

Just a few feet off the port bow, perched atop the rock like it was king of the hill, was a fat blue crab. (Ev­ery­body sees this com­ing, right?) Won­der­ing how fast that crab might scut­tle away if pro­voked, the client poked that crab right in the eye with about $20 worth of the $400 rod.

The crab was nei­ther im­pressed by the rod nor amused by the in­tru­sion. It re­sponded by thrust­ing for­ward a pin­cer and snap­ping off about 2 inches of pay­back.

Webb has many sto­ries. If you ever meet the guide, ask him to tell you two: the one about our un­prece­dented speck­led trout trip in 1995, only be­cause it was his and my best-ever … and the one about the ex­otic dancer.

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