The River Belonged to The Shag
Dickie Colburn – For The Record
I certainly hope that the day I die someone can say, “Wow….I just saw him out on the water yesterday! ”That was pretty much my surprised response when Russell Bottley called to tell me that James Chargois had died earlier that morning.
The following morning, rather than turn right in the Intracoastal and head out to the lake with clients, I took a left and ran a short distance up the river. I stopped on a point that Charg (pronounced Shag short for Chargois) showed me years ago, threw three scratched up black Hoginars over the side and said good-by to the best river fisherman I have ever known.
When I returned to Orange and opened a tackle shop in the late seventies, Charg was the first person to walk through the doors.He was brash and self-confident almost to a fault, but it was immediately evident that there was very little that he didn’t know about fishing the river.He virtually swore me to secrecy every time he bought a new lure, but usually had one more tip to share.Had I not been guiding full time on Toledo Bend and posed no threat to his beloved river, I don’t think he would have been as forthcoming.
He took great pride in his ability to locate fish and piece together sophisticated patterns “that included everything from probing deep structure to experimenting with new techniques at a time when most local anglers were content to simply catch a few bass and redfish on Traps and spinnerbaits.I always knew that I was about to learn something new when he started the conversation with, “You know, they think that…..!”
“They” was the word he used to include anyone else that he ever met on the water or at the landing.He was a tad paranoid about his fishing, but he had reason to be as it was no secret that Charg was “The Man” when it came to river fishing.
At that time he was passionate about bass fishing, enjoyed catching redfish when they crashed the party and had no use for speckle trout.Several years later, when he learned that I was going to move my guide business from Toledo Bend to Sabine Lake he was incredulous.“Good luck,” he chided, “All of that time you spent on Toledo Bend….who the heck wants to catch speckled trout and redfish more than bass?”
As it would turn out, he was an incredible resource for me in making that transition.Regardless of how bad the fishing or conditions in the lake may be, he always knew one or two more spots in the river that would save the day.He had the redfish bite wired and found it amusing that people would pay money to catch those same speckled trout that he turned his back on every day.
I can’t speak for his tight circle of fishing friends that he trusted and shared information with, but he derived great pleasure in sharing something new with me one tiny piece at a time.It could be frustrating, much to his delight, but the information always merited playing his game.
He absorbed everything I ever shared with him about bass fishing on Toledo Bend like a sponge, but I can never recall a single thing that I shared as far as river fishing was concerned that he had not only already done, but knew even more spots or a better technique.All of which brings us back to that hand full of black Hoginars that I felt compelled to give back to the river in honor of our friendship.
God only knows how many fish fell victim to his vertically jigged Hoginars, but he was eventually forced to make his own or go broke hanging them up. The secret slowly slipped out as to how he and his fishing friends were consistently catching not only redfish, but big stripers as well.
Once again, however, there was more to the technique than simply lowering a bladed lure over the side of the boat.“Dickie….They think they know what we are doing, but here’s the deal,” he said with the look of someone about to turn over CIA files to a local paper.With that, he handed me a sandwich bag with four or five Hoginars inside that were all spray painted black.
Modestly concerned that I might think that he was sending me on a snipe hunt he told me where and what time to lower one of them over the side the next day.As instructed, we did just that and limited on redfish in less than thirty minutes while never catching the first red on any other color.
When I saw him later in the week and thanked him for the tip, he just shook his head and laughed.“You are just as bad as they are,” he said in a surprisingly serious tone of voice.“You were supposed to catch stripers!”
I hope that Charg’s ashes were sprinkled right here on the river because he was truly a part of the river and the river a part of him.I will miss James Chargois!