By Chuck Petrie
Duck, fish, and movie-star sightings along the Texas Gulf Coast
I turn the rental car off the main highway at El Campo and head north toward the Texas heartland. The road through this sun-drenched, arid flatland is deserted; still, at any moment I expect to see Paul Newman driving a Cadillac convertible in the oncoming lane, racing to a tomcat’s mission in town. He’ll be spruced up and wearing a straw Stetson, have one hand draped over the car’s steering wheel, the other tipping a pint of Jack Daniels to his lips as he speeds toward the city and away from the grimy work he begrudgingly performs on his father’s cattle ranch. At least that’s the scene I remember from the 1963 classic movie Hud. Some people suffer from annoying tunes that play repeatedly in their head. I see mental images of old film clips.
I make a few turns onto rural roads, following the directions on the map I’ve been provided, and drive by endless pastures littered with feeding cows, a few of which are being ridden bareback by white cattle egrets. More of the birds peck in the grass at the slow-moving bovines’ feet, searching for displaced insects in the September-seared prairie. Eventually, with nary a Cadillac sighting or even that of an empty whiskey bottle in the roadside ditch, I turn onto a quarter-mile-long gravel driveway marked with a sign announcing it as the entryway to Paradise Hunting & Fishing Club.
Before dawn the next morning, I’m sitting in a duck blind on a levee overlooking a flooded rice field. Out front, wading in the shallow water, my host, second-generation guide Tony Hurst (no resemblance to Paul Newman), is making some last-minute changes to our decoy spread—two dozen diminutive teal, with a few drake sprig and hen mallard blocks mixed in for variety. Texas’ early teal season ends in two days, and Tony and I have reserved each of the next few mornings for hunting these swift little birds, and for the next three afternoons we have appointments on the Gulf with Matagorda Bay’s redfish and speckled sea trout.