Larry Case: Agony and ecstasy on the Texas coast

Outdoors columnist Larry Case recently took part in a whirlwind hunting and fishing trip on the Texas coast. From left are Lt. Game Warden Kevin Glass of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Trigger, Case and Dave Miller from CZ-USA firearms.
Outdoors columnist Larry Case recently took part in a whirlwind hunting and fishing trip on the Texas coast. From left are Lt. Game Warden Kevin Glass of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Trigger, Case and Dave Miller from CZ-USA firearms.

"Who naught suspects is easily deceived." - Petrarch

The whole thing seemed to start innocently enough. When I got the phone call from Dave Miller, I honestly did not suspect a thing. I had just arrived at my fortress of solitude in the hills and was looking forward to a few days of chasing turkeys and squirrels and maybe getting a little writing done. (Maybe.)

Mr. Miller, as you may recall, is my shotgun buddy at CZ-USA. He is the shotgun product manager and exhibition shooter for the firearms manufacturer and shoots a shotgun like most of us wish we could. Besides being a master class clay target shooter, last year he set a Guinness Book of World Records mark for the most clay targets broken with a shotgun in one hour, a mere 3,653.

Need I say more about his qualifications?

Anyway, he proceeds to tell me a last-minute opportunity has come up for a trip to the Texas coast to duck hunt and fish for redfish - big redfish. So I told him, "I don't know Dave, I will have to think about that - OK, count me in!" Boom, just like that, I am on a plane to Houston to meet him.

Little did I know at that very moment a clandestine meeting was going on in a dark, smoky room in southern Texas. (OK, I might have made up that part about the smoke, but it was dimly lit.)

"OK, guys, here is the skinny on our next job," said Vence Petrenella, one of our hosts.

Petrenella is conservation and wildlife manager for Silver Eagle Distributors and hunts and fishes all over Texas. Assembled before him was James Prince, manager of the Shoalwater Bay Club, a private resort in Port O'Connor; Tim Soderquist, a regional director for Ducks Unlimited; Randy Risher, president of the Risher Companies, a fitness and fitness equipment business; Lt. Game Warden Kevin Glass of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

"Dave Miller from the gun company CZ-USA is coming down to duck hunt and fish for bull reds," Petrenella told his band of co-conspirators. "He's bringing some guy with him who is a retired game warden (nods to Glass) and claims to be a writer. Miller wants this guy given the 'A' treatment."

"You mean " Prince spoke up.

"That's right, absolutely wear him out hunting and fishing," Petrenella shot back.

"Does Dave Miller think this guy can take it?" Risher said, trying to show some concern for his fellow man.

"Don't know, but we are going to find out," Petrenella said with an evil little chuckle.

So you get the idea of what I was walking into.

Dave and I drove down from Houston, and our first stop was at the beautiful Spread Oaks Ranch near Markham, Texas, where we met Petrenella and Soderquist from Ducks Unlimited. I barely had time to unload my suitcase into a lovely ranch house when they grinned and said, "Let's take a ride!"

I'm not sure if there is a race-track competition for utility task vehicles (think of the John Deere Gator), but if there is, Soderquist will get my vote for driver of the year.

Friends, I have ridden on some fourwheelers and UTVs and such. Remember, I was a game warden and we did those kinds of things. Generally, though, if we were running in the pitch black before dawn, we would occasionally turn on a light to keep from going over a cliff or into the odd gator hole. In this case, it was 90 mph and don't bother with the brakes.

I just held on and figured, "Oh well, this must be how they do it in Texas!"

It was a beautiful morning, and on the duck hunt we took a few teal and a beautiful drake bufflehead. Petrenella and Soderquist apologized for the lack of birds, but Dave and I had no problems. Late that morning, we headed back toward the house for a hunters' breakfast, and other than a brief encounter with a cottonmouth, it was fine.

I didn't care how fast we drove in the daylight, because I figured now I could see anything we were going to hit.

I figured on relaxing a while after the meal, but oh no, Petrenella said we had to load up and get on down to Port O'Connor on the coast. We had to be down there in time to go fishing that afternoon. No rest for the wicked.

As we approached the quaint little fishing town of Port O'Connor, I realized my dream of always wanting to see the Texas coast. Matagorda Bay and Matagorda Island have to be one of the most scenic coastal areas in the world. Miles upon miles of shallow water filled with fish and wildlife make this a sportsman's paradise.

Once again we barely had time to drop our bags at Risher's cottage as we were hustled to the dock to get on our fishing boat. Our guide, Derek Dick, explained we would be targeting bull redfish, the largest of the red drum. He and his brother operate Double D Outfitters (361-541-9580) in Port O'Connor. He was excellent and put us on the fish right away.

This was another dream of mine, going after big redfish. Here is what I can tell you I learned about catching bull reds: Once you set the hook, all you can do is hang on! The redfish we caught ran around 30 pounds or so, and I think they are all muscle.

If you are a fisherman, you long to feel a big fish pull on the line. You don't ever think you will get tired of that. This is exactly what I thought until I caught a few bull reds. After about the third fish, you start to look around the boat in hopes of handing the rod to someone else. You start to ache in muscles you didn't know you had.

It's agony and ecstasy. I limped off to bed that night.

The next morning, of course, we had to be on the water before the sun to get to a duck blind, and how we got there needs to be mentioned. There is a vessel made especially to navigate shallow water that you may have heard about - an airboat. Friends, even if you never intend to hunt or fish, you still need to go to Port O'Conner and ride an airboat. Hurtling across Matagorda Bay with mullet, ducks and herons jumping all around you is wonderful, and doing it in the pre-dawn dark is special.

Once again, I just held on and thought "God Bless Texas!" Take my word for it, just go do it.

Dave brought along the newest shotgun offering from CZ-USA (, a waterfowl over-and-under 12-gauge aptly named the Swamp Magnum. If you hunt duck or goose, or if you just want a new over-and-under, be on the lookout for the Swamp Magnum in 2017. All the guys on this hunt loved this gun and wanted to shoot it, and I even got to pick it up a few times.

The duck hunting was everything I thought it would be, and that means it was good. Waves of redheads zooming over the blind would warm the heart of any duck hunter. Our guide this morning was Patrick "Pickle" Ragusin, and he owns and operates Salty Dog Outfitters ( or 361-983-2162) in Port O'Connor. Ragusin is a born waterman and knows this bay like his backyard. Like Derek Dick from the day before, he is one of those guides with whom it is just a pleasure to spend a day, either in the blind or in the boat.

There was only one thing wrong with the duck hunting and fishing that day: We had to get up and do it all over again the next. Once again, there were light-speed airboat rides, bone-grinding fights with heavy fish and waves of ducks sweeping over your head making that sound only they can make.

When Mr. Petrenella and his crew scooped up what was left of me into the truck the last morning, I figured they had accomplished their mission. Everyone smiled and waved as Dave and I rolled out of the parking lot.

They had without a doubt kicked my butt with hunting and fishing on the Texas coast.

I would go back tomorrow.

"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at

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