I tell ya, boy, I LIVED my life. Don’t let nobody tell you otherwise. I always like to say, the ONLY thing I EVER turned down was the covers.
— Ralph Wade, smiling one big old Cheshire cat grin...

I always knew it was gonna hurt.  Burn, sear, rip, tear, and wallow out a hole in a man's heart.  Without one shred, one scrap, or one iota of a doubt-the story of Ralph has been the hardest one to write.  The burning, searing, painful loss of a good friend and mentor has proven to numb with the hands of the hourglass of time, but never fully disappear.  Ralph Eugene Wade was my hero, my fishing mentor, my best friend, and at the same time someone I would get the teeth knocked out of my face to protect.  The wife used to tell us, "You two are just alike I swear it!"  Just as he may have had his demons in younger years, I've had my own as well.  I do believe he recognized a kindred spirit in me, just as I did with him.  I loved that old man.  And there aren't many folks that I do really respect and like, but he was one of them.  He was loyal, he served our country with distinction, he would give you the shirt off his back, and he didn't carry a mean bone in his body like so many do after a few years existing on this old Earth.  And that's why every beach sunrise, every beach mile, every sight of a surf trout landed, and every afternoon when the Trade winds begin to blow their age old song on Padre he is never fully gone.  He lives on in my heart, in Billy Sandifer's heart, and in the heart of everyone that ever knew him.  And for each glass of afternoon sweet tea, each visit together, and for every story you ever told us Ralph, we love you all the more, and you'll never be fully gone. 

I first met Ralph at my old haunt, the fishing shop at Breakaway Tackle.  Myself and the Navy military police buddies of mine would go there almost every day to make fun of the "English" ownership and act like we were gonna buy something, just not THAT particular day.  And truth be told, just to be around the old timers that hung out down there.  And Ralph was the darn ringleader of them all-a joker's joker, a prankster's prankster, and one heckuva joke and story teller.  And an even better fisherman.  Born on October 1, 1923 in South Texas, Ralph joined the Navy at 16 years old just before World War II.  He served during World War II and the Korean War, as a Gunner's Mate, and a deep water diver.  He gave a full 20 years to the United States Navy.  But that wasn't all he gave.  During World War II his ship was kamikaze attacked by the Japanese, and sunk.  He spent 30 days afloat in the Pacific, watching his shipmates go under one by one, and sharks circle their survivor's group.  He never talked about these things.  In fact, only once did him and I discuss it.  "It's just like a dream now, that's all.  Like a dream...like it never even happened.  Just a dream..."  His medals from his Navy service included the WWII Asiatic-Pacific Medal, United Nations Medal, National Defense, Korean service, China service, Philippine Liberation Medal, and even a good conduct medal.  He sailed all over the world, and could remember funny stories from each place.  He was from the old school, from a time when social interaction face to face with others was the norm not the exception.  He came from before phones and computers came about, and could talk to anyone at anytime, and have them laughing in no time. 

Ralph came home retired from the Navy after 20 years in 1961, and began fishing the beach for the first time since childhood.  In those days there were only a few other fishermen at all, as Padre Island was a private cattle ranch owned by the Dunn family.  There were cows wandering around on the beach chewing on washed-in ship line, and miles and miles of empty deserted shoreline.  It was a time that we'll never see again.  Just as Ralph Wade was a mentor to Billy Sandifer and taught Billy to fish, Ralph's mentor was Louis Rawalt.  Louis and Ralph fished together, and Ralph remembered every detail from those days.  One of the most important things to me was to document Ralph's stories of yesteryear, and I hope that I did that to the best of my ability.  Those days are gone and past now, and aren't coming back.  It was a time of complete freedom and fish as great in size and quantity as our wildest imaginations.  Ralph was the best trout fishermen that I ever knew.  He could find trout and read the surf like no one ever has.  And even better, Ralph wasn't an elitist "lures-only" snob.  He'd fish bait with the best of them, and could ALWAYS find the live mullet for his livewell.  If lures weren't producing, to live bait he would go.  He NEVER spilled the beans on where the fish were biting, and understood how to keep that a secret, unlike SO MANY today who feed their egos with social media.  He hated the internet and would always make me smile with his claims that "that Beachbum fella put the beach on the interweb and ruined that beach!!" in reference to the first forum board sensationalizing the National Seashore.  He would go down the Island with his wife and a truck camper back when the last paved road was at Bob Hall Pier, then called Nueces County Park.  He would stay from Monday to Friday, playing cards with his wife when the fish weren't biting, sometimes fishing at night only.  He was never ever able to have children and his wife passed years ago, leaving him alone.  I like to think that as a young man I filled those voids in his heart to the best I ever could.  I miss him every day.  I miss his stories, his memories, and his smile.  Ralph passed away on January 29, 2016 at age 92.  The beach will never be the same.  But each afternoon when the Trade winds begin to blow and the terns and gulls fly, and the sun begins to cast shadows over the dunes and the surf trout swim and the sand grains blow, his spirit and his laugh and his memory will never be truly gone. 

Fair winds and following seas sailor, until we meet again on the other side of the bar. 

--Captain Colin R. Davis, March 2018

 

 

 

Ralph Wade at beach camp, early 1960'S.  

Ralph Wade at beach camp, early 1960'S.  

Bob Allen was the best fisherman I ever knew. We fished together for years. He could catch a trout when no one could. One time me and Bob Allen were fishing at the 26 and old Charlie Green came by, seen us, and wanted to stop. Well, we had caught 40 trout already and were working on 40 more, and he knew it. He had looked at our foot prints from the water to the truck ya know, and could tell we had been hauling fish outta that hole right and left all morning. “Ya catching anything?” he asks. “Nothing but a sunburn, move along Charlie,” I told him. He says, “Well, hey now, what’s that Bob Allen’s got?” And Bob couldn’t turn around you see, because he was holding a trout and trying to hide it from ole’ Charlie there. And we both knew Charlie was gonna potlick us, and those there were our fish doggonit! So when Charlie went to get outta the truck, I told him “You better move along, this here spot isn’t for you!” And Green said no, the beach was public by God and he was gonna fish right there too whether we liked it or not! And I told him then that the REST might be but THAT spot right there to the left and to the right was our’s that day, doggonit, and if you don’t move along and be quick about it I’ll hurt you, I swear it! And well, Green didn’t like it, but after that, he sure enough moved along. And Bob? He was still standing back there on the bar behind me holding onto that trout.
— Ralph Wade, story from the mid 60's
Ralph in 1942, freshly joined up into the navy.

Ralph in 1942, freshly joined up into the navy.

Did I fish with Louis? Louis was older than me...but sure, we fished together, ya know, hell there wasn’t but just a few of us, fished it and all, back then... Seven of us, that’s it...there was Pancho and Rawalt and what’s his name and....well....say how’s that tugboat job going? Hell-Louis and me-we was riding down the Island one time, ya know, on the backside and all-not the front side. That was too bumpy. No-down the backside. And that old contraption Louis had...no, we weren’t in my Dodge Power Wagon that had airplane tires, did I ever tell you about that? It had airplane tires on it, ya know, like nothing you ever seen, no sirree. No, we were in Louis’ truck and we were riding down south to fish or something or other and well, Louis reached down and all for the doggone bottle and that confounded thing was rolling around the floor and all, and it was damn hot, and neither one of us was no more watching where we was going than one of those women drivers doing their makeup driving down the road and all, and outta nowhere, BAM! And that truck come to a dead standstill, that was that! And white lightning I guess we wasn’t livin right! Cuz hell, both of us ended up just about laid out across the hood, and sure enough we got out and seen we had driven right over the top of an old barge back in there ya know, like from a storm or something other, but under the grass by the time we run it over. And the top all rotten and all, and we had sure enough fallen right into it with the back tires. And Louis looks over and says, “Well what’ya make me do that for!” And I said “Well if you wanted to stop and find that hot ticket of a doggone bottle all ya had to do was ask!” And both of us had to walk all the way back out swatting snakes out the way, sure did, and find a big ole piece of lumber from off the beach and use it ya know to lift the back end of that truck up and outta that barge top. And come to think of it, ole Louis made me help carry the damn board and we never did find that bottle and get a drink, anyways!
— Ralph Wade, story of fishing with Louis Rawalt, 1960s.
Ralph Wade, September 4, 1941.  San Diego.

Ralph Wade, September 4, 1941.  San Diego.

Well heck, I ever tell you about that one time at the pier? No, no, not the turtle in the trunk story, but another one. Ok, well here goes. Now look here...I’d been down Island about 5 days, sure had. And I was comin’ on back up Island to the blacktop, you know, where the blacktop used to end right there at Bob Hall Pier. Nueces Park, that’s it. And well, I seen some of them boy’s vehicles there next to the pier and thought I’d have a walk on out there and say howdy. So I walked on out on the pier just to take a look around and saw a whole bunch of them fool shark fishermen I knew all asleep! Like a bunch of bums! It was nothing but drool and body odor I tell ya! Shameful! And with all their lines out! And ya know, it was real early and all. 7 am. And I figured, well heck, there’s no better time than the present doggonit! And so I went ahead and real quietlike cut off every last one of them boy’s shark lines with a pair of snips, ya know, and then hightailed it on outta there!! And by then it was about 8am, and heck, ya know-a real good a time of day as any for drinking some COLDBEER! So I stopped off at Louis Rawalt’s place, ya know, his old place there, what’s it called...that’s right, the “Coastway!” Stopped at Louis’ bait stand there with a cold 6 pack and got to shooting the bull with Louis there on the porch. And well-we were still setting there drinking beer on the front porch and commiserating when Troy Martin shows up all hot and bothered!!! “What’s wrong?” I asked him. “Some gutsy s.o.b. no account, no life, dirty rotten dog, child of a flea bitten coyote done cut every last one of our lines off last night down at the pier!!!!” And I says, “Well do you think it’s somebody you know???” Troy says, “He** if I know! But when we find ‘em we gonna give ‘em something to remember, I can promise ya that!!!” So I pondered on it, and well, just went right on ahead and let him have it. “Well, I GUESS I BETTER BE LEAVING THEN TROY!! CUZ I’M THE DIRTY, ROTTEN, MISERABLE CUSS THAT CUT ALL YOUR LINES!” And Troy’s mouth dropped, and Louis’ did too, and me? I took another slow pull of that cold one, and just grinned.
— Ralph Wade, surf fishing legend, story from the 60's
Ralph Wade and friend marvin's beach camp, late 1960s. 

Ralph Wade and friend marvin's beach camp, late 1960s. 

Well one night me and Jim Moyer were down there around Yarborough ya know, and our last trip Jim had got me good, see. Real good. So you could kinda say I owed him. And the day before I had been at Moody’s, at the meat market over there, and by God if they didn’t have the fattest bone from off a cow that you ever did see. So I said “Well look here! I want that one!” And they said, “You can’t have that, it’s not for human consumption!” And I said, “For you and for me, maybe not-but I got OTHER plans!” So I left with that big ole bone, and hid it real good in the truck there. And before dark when we got down to the pass, I got out the truck and I said over to Jim there, “HOLY JA-MOOLY! Look at that school of the fattest mullet you ever did see! Right there!! Quick! HURRY! They’re gettin’ AWAY gottangit!!” And Jim took off running with the cast net, and I grabbed that big ole bloody bone, and used some stainless safety wire tie to strap it up to the underneath of Jim’s truck there. Well-back came old Jim, “They got away-every last mullet doggonit-you musta yelled too loud and they heard you and took off!” Well, before long, we hit the sack, me in the front seat, and Jim in the bed of his truck. And it wasn’t long before I had my revenge. Those coons got underneath his truck, and it sounded like they was fighting half the coyotes plus each other for that bone the way Jim’s truck was rocking back and forth! And finally, he had enough I suppose, and I’ll be darned if he didn’t pull out the .22 long rifle and start unloading that thing in every direction, and yelling and hollering to boot! And me, well I had to get the he** outta dodge and go spend the night in my boat under the bunkhouse. So neither of us got any sleep, but I got him good that time.
— Ralph Wade, story from the 1990s.
Ralph Wade at a late 60's beach camp.

Ralph Wade at a late 60's beach camp.

Well set down and tell me ‘bout it! You been fishin? Ah, I figured you had, well by golly let’s hear all about it! You was on ‘em? Was there any TROUT!? Just one? Well, that’s a shame. That’s a shame. They were out deep laid up in that cool water boy, that’s where they’ll be when it’s hot like this, that’s right. Wouldn’t you be too if you were a trout!? And there’s just TOO many DARN people messin’ with em! And that what’s his name there! Did you know that what’s his name put the beach on the interweb! The INTERWEB I TELL YA! Gosh...well I’d like to...hey, did I ever tell you who used to fish that beach? There was just but seven of us. That’s IT. No more! The first fishermen to fish that beach were me, Jeff Reddock, Vernon Mack-who didn’t have but one arm so he had him a spinning outfit rigged up special just for him, ya see; Louis Rawalt from the Coastway, John Briner who was a smelt operator out there on the King Ranch, M.V. Jones who had a roofing company he owned over in town, and of course Doyle Raines, who owned the Island Supply. That was in the 60s that’s right. And don’t forget Bob Allen. Best fishermen I ever knew.
— Ralph Wade, one of our conversations from the 2000s.
Ralph with one of his many truck campers over the years.

Ralph with one of his many truck campers over the years.

Yarborough Pass? Well heck yes, that spot used to be HOT I tell ya! Hot! Caught many a fish outta there. Used to keep a boat down there under the old Sun Oil bunkhouse, ya know, in the slip. Buck Buchanan was the foreman down there back then. They serviced the well heads and whatnot back in the bay down there. I had a tri hull with a 40 horse. Best boat you can have ya know! I was in real good with the cook down there at the bunkhouse. Mexican fella. He got stuck down there ya see, on the old shell road behind the dunes that they used if the beach was too bad for driving. Well, the beach was real bad one day, and he got stuck back in there on that road behind the dunes, and was fit to have to spend all day there, and I came along and pulled him out with my Power Wagon. And well, after that ya see, every time he saw me, it was “Hola amigo! Come inside, I cook a meal for you!” I never had to worry about food after that-that fella always had a hot a steak waiting on me every time I fished down there, day or night.
— Ralph Wade, story from the 70s.
Ralph Wade, 2000, live mullet trout fishing.

Ralph Wade, 2000, live mullet trout fishing.

Well old Yarborough Pass, yep, me and that old boy what was his name....Green....we was back in there towards sundown at the old bunkhouse, no wait, at the old house on stilts that Green had at the water well just before Black Hill and all that there. And I was with Smith come to think on it. And we was drinking some cold beer on the front porch there, and telling lies and more lies, ya know like fisherman do when they get together. And heck, I had just got done telling a real good joke, and doggonit if Smith wasn’t laughing. So I reached over and said, “Hey doggone you! Ain’t that even funny a lil bit!!” And right then and there old Smith fell right out the chair dead and stiff as a doorstop... And that was that, heck, he wasn’t gonna be laughing at nothing no more, I musta killed him with the best one he ever heard!!!
— Ralph Wade, one of our conversations from the 2000s.
Ralph and his wife, beach camping.

Ralph and his wife, beach camping.

Well, hey now, I ever tell you about Wade’s Place? No!? Well, by golly, yes sirree, sit down and I’ll tell you all about it! It was called WADE’S PLACE! THAT’S RIGHT! WADE’S PLACE! Well, you see, an old Mexican fella friend of mine had a little place over there down the way and you see, they came on hard times and he needed him a partner! And you just can’t get no better partner than ole’ Ralph here! No Sirree! See, he couldn’t even give away no beer anymore and the place was always empty but I had just the fix! And I figured on sharing it with him! So I says, “Well now, lookie here, I’ll go partner for halves with ya, but FIRST we GOTTA get some better MUSIC in that joint! The thing of it is, when people want to drink some COLDBEER they want to hear HONKYTONK! NOT NONE OF THAT DOGGONE ACCORDION MUSIC!” So we turned the place into a honkytonk allright, and we played Ray Price and Ernest Tubb and Porter Waggoner and Webb Pierce and Jerry Lee Lewis and the rest! And folks came by allright, and the joint was always HOPPIN’, and even though the paint was still pink and purple, that sign out front sure enough said WADE’S PLACE!
— Ralph Wade, story from one of conversations, 2000s
Ralph live mullet trout fishing, 2000

Ralph live mullet trout fishing, 2000

Well, that fella’s name was...Godley, that’s it! Godley. Was in charge of finding all the survey markers on Island there. You know, the ones from the Coast Survey office. Well, ole’ Godley leased him a Ford tractor and hired four Mexicans from in town, and off they went. He tried to get me to go with him, but I told him, “No way, Jose! Trout bite is HOT right now! HOT! You just stay outta them flats! I don’t wanna have to come pull you out later on!” Well, he laughed and went on about his business and that was that until about 2 days later. Those hired hands of his got off into that backside and rode clear off right into those flats back in there. Had that dagblasted old Ford SUNK all the way down to the fender tops in just a few hours of using it! Well, up comes old Godley, “Ralph, ya gotta help us out! You’re the only other one down here, and I don’t reckon anybody else is gonna be coming along, and them boys ain’t gonna last long back there because all they brought to drink was Modelo!” Well, he talked me right plumb into it, but there was just no way to get anywhere near those boys without losing my own truck too. So I drove back on to the beach down to an old shrimp boat wreck there around Yarborough, and tied my Power Wagon to the wire on the deck winch. Got to pulling with all four wheels locked in, and pulled every last bit of that cable from off that drum. You shoulda seen it! I hauled a half mile of cable right on across the Island and back to where those boys were stuck. Told those fellas, “Put down that BEER! That’s MY beer NOW, for pulling you boys out, so no use in cutting this old boy short now is there! And while you’re at it, take ahold of this wire and drag it to that tractor! ANDALE! I’ll be back.” And I went and drove off south to the old bombing range down there that the Navy had. See, I knew they had those old metal tracks there that they had left behind, and fishing hadn’t been that good that morning, and by golly, I had my mind on getting that big old cooler of cold beer them boys had. So I took those tracks up, took them back, and set my Power Wagon on them. Hooked that big old winch to that there cable, and got to pulling until I had those boys out. And well, I got my beer, and those fellas got covered in mud from that mudflat and fired to boot. But I got that cooler, and the rest is history.
— Ralph Wade, story from the early 1970s.
Ralph Wade and Pancho Brundidge, close friend and pioneer of early fishing lures in south texas.

Ralph Wade and Pancho Brundidge, close friend and pioneer of early fishing lures in south texas.

Ralph Wade, 2000

Ralph Wade, 2000