Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


Dec 2011 cover image

Texas Reader: Glory of the Silver King

Tarpon have faded in Texas, but book keeps their tales alive.

By Mike Cox

South Texas newspaperman Hart Stilwell learned tarpon fishing by trial and error in the early 1930s. Once he figured it out, he caught hundreds. Fortunately, he released most of the tarpon he managed to land. Unfortunately, many anglers in his day did not.

Scientifically known as Megalops alanticus, tarpon are popularly known as Silver Kings. That’s for two reasons. First, they can grow to king size (the Texas record is 210 pounds and 86¼ inches). Second, an angler endures a hard-but-spectacular fight before getting a chance to check the fish’s measurements. Often, that opportunity never comes — the wily tarpon jumps into the air, rattles its gills, twists its massive body in a spray of salt water and spits out the offending hook. Or perhaps it snaps the line like an outward-bound torpedo.

By the time Stilwell decided to write a tarpon fishing book, angler pressure, pollution, increased bay water salinity (from damming rivers) and commercial fishing and shrimping, among other factors, had nearly made the species extinct in Texas. Stilwell, a prolific outdoor writer, had already published two nonfiction books and three novels, but his tarpon book never made it to print.

Stilwell died in 1975. Several drafts of his disjointed manuscript ended up in the Southwest Writers Collection at Texas State University. And there they lay until discovered by Steve Lightfoot, information specialist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. On a fishing trip, Lightfoot told Brandon Shuler about the manuscript, and Shuler decided to get it published.

Longtime fisherman and son of Port Mansfield guide Bruce Shuler, Brandon Shuler is a Texas Tech University doctoral student. He spliced the Stilwell manuscript together like so much torn gill netting, got an introduction written by former TPWD Coastal Fisheries Director Larry McKinney and wrote annotations. The result is Glory of the Silver King: The Golden Age of Tarpon Fishing (Texas A&M University Press).

On one level, the book is a jumbled tackle box of “me and Joe”-style fishing tales from the Mexican coast all the way up to the Brazos River in Texas. But it also chronicles how Stilwell learned to catch these fighters as well as offering occasional shiny spoons of wisdom and prophecy that anyone interested in Texas coastal fishing will enjoy.

Related stories

Tarpon Are an Elusive Quest for Anglers

Tracking Tarpon on the Texas Coast

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