From the Pen of Carter P. Smith
They don’t make them anymore like Boomerang Billy or Ila Loetscher, the fabled “Turtle Lady” of South Padre Island. The two, as colorful as the sunsets over our beloved Laguna Madre, were fixtures on South Padre Island when I was just a kid. The two were as different as night and day, but for my little merry band of buddies that roamed the island, they both loomed large in spirit, lore and legend.
We’d catch Boomerang Billy over on the jetties or maybe at the bay pier after dark. Wearing his trademark shark-tooth necklace and Australian bush hat, he was hard to miss. As we fished for trout, reds and the occasional flounder, he’d regale us for hours with stories of big hammerheads, tiger sharks and other monsters of the deep he’d allegedly fought and caught over the years.
Occasionally, he’d cajole us into buying a boomerang, and one of us would put the full-court press on one of our mothers for money to do the deal. I never knew if he needed the money or not, but if we thought it would get another shark fishing story or two out of him, we were glad to oblige. He was an artesian well of them, and we’d listen for hours on end, until ultimately someone’s father was assigned to come fetch us and bring us back home.
Over on the Gulf side was Ms. Loetscher, the founder of Sea Turtle Inc. and one of the earliest advocates of protecting the various species of sea turtles that called the Laguna Madre and adjacent Gulf waters home. With her sweeping white hair, warm smile, lithe frame, boundless energy and ever-present company of sea turtles, she, too, couldn’t be missed.
Everyone knew she was the one to take in an injured turtle that had been hit by a boat propeller or perhaps bitten by a passing shark. The turtles that were too injured to be rehabilitated and returned to the Gulf or bay waters ended up as stars in her famous beachside turtle shows. The turtles would be dressed up in these rather outrageous costumes and used as props for her homespun plays about conservation and the importance of protecting the turtles from egg poachers and other abuses. No doubt, such anthropomorphizing would be frowned on today, but her conservation message touched many a youth in my day.
Although the Turtle Lady and Boomerang Billy are long gone now from the island, their memories are not. A beachside bar and motel bearing Billy’s name is still there, and Ms. Loetscher’s beloved Sea Turtle Inc. has evolved into a well-known conservation and education organization on the island, educating visitors about the Kemp’s ridley and other sea turtles that call the region home.
From Sabine Pass to South Padre, the Texas coast has always been filled with great characters and great outdoor recreation. I hope this summer you and your family may find time to meet a few of those characters while you enjoy our bays, beaches and Gulf waters. The fishing is as good as it gets. So, too, are the birding, boating, kayaking, beachcombing, sunsets and, of course, the people.
Thanks for caring about Texas’ lands, waters, fish, wildlife and parks. They need you more than ever.