It Goes with the Ter­ri­tory

EV­ERY PRO­FES­SION HAS ITS OC­CU­PA­TIONAL HAZ­ARDS

Saltwater Sportsman - - Table Of Contents / Departments - DOUG PIKE

Of­ten­times, it’s not what you know so much as who you know. Ev­ery time vet­eran Baf­fin Bay guide Cliff Webb gets deep-stuck by a fish hook, which hap­pens to him more of­ten than most, he’s es­pe­cially glad to have be­friended next-door neigh­bor Stephen Leblanc.

Leblanc is a para­medic/fire­fighter for Cor­pus Christi — thanks for the ser­vice, Stephen — who’s con­tem­plat­ing a sec­ond ca­reer af­ter re­tire­ment as a bay guide.

“I can’t count how many times I’ve been hooked,” Webb said. “It’s sort of like be­ing a bee­keeper. Ev­ery now and then, you’re go­ing to get stung. But I call Stephen, and he hooks me up … er ... un­hooks me up?”

This past sum­mer, while wad­ing the Texas surf at dawn, a fat speck­led trout was close to hand when it jumped against a tight line and ex­pelled the top­wa­ter it had eaten. The lure flew di­rectly at Webb. He re­acted in­stinc­tively to keep the plug out of his face — and took two barbs deep into a raised, horse­hide-thick hand.

Leblanc was off duty that day and met Webb on the beach. He re­moved the hooks, glanced at the wa­ter, grabbed a rod and stayed long enough to catch a few trout of his own.

Two sum­mers past, with a hus­band and wife aboard Webb’s boat, the wife hooked a fat red­fish on a Mir­ro­dine XL. The big fish slipped Webb’s grip as he brought it aboard, and one of the tre­ble hooks got buried in the guide’s knee. The fish flipped a sec­ond time, came un­pinned en­tirely, and punched a barb of the lure’s other hook in Webb’s op­po­site knee.

“We’d just got­ten started, and fish­ing was great,” Webb said in ex­pla­na­tion of his next move.

Rather than race back to port, he snipped both hooks just be­low their eyes — and kept fish­ing.

“It didn’t hurt that bad … ex­cept when I bumped my knees against the con­sole,” Webb re­called.

That af­ter­noon, he limped to Leblanc’s house.

“You been drink­ing at all to­day, Stephen?” Webb jok­ingly asked the medic. “No? Then I’m go­ing to pour you one. Check this out.”

Webb got numb­ing shots in both knees and watched the trained medic deal with yet an­other of the pro’s “work-re­lated” ac­ci­dents.

Leblanc re­mem­bers Webb, who he con­sid­ers tough as nails, mak­ing this com­ment as the sec­ond hook was pulled free. “Thanks again, Stephen. You know what? I think that numb­ing stuff’s start­ing to work now.”

Even Webb’s dog, Al­lie, a duck­grab­bing Labrador re­triever, ben­e­fits from the re­la­tion­ship. While she splashed through shal­low beach wa­ter one morn­ing, a fish­er­man un­know­ingly cast his lure di­rectly in front of her.

“She caught that line across her ch­est and kept run­ning, and the guy just let it come tight,” Webb re­called. “Got her good. She kind of knew what had hap­pened and sat still un­til Stephen got there.”

Along their road as neigh­bors and friends, Leblanc and Webb have fished and surfed to­gether of­ten. Leblanc trea­sures that friend­ship and what it’s done for him.

“Cliff’s been re­ally gen­er­ous with his knowl­edge, re­ally en­cour­aged me to be a guide af­ter I re­tire,” said the fire­fighter. “Hope­fully, I’ve learned enough to keep my­self out of those sticky sit­u­a­tions he gets him­self into some­times.”

“Hmmph,” Webb fin­ished with a smile. “If he’s go­ing to be a bee­keeper …”

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