Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Silver Kings

Long gone are the days when the waters of Port Aransas and Corpus Christi would see hundreds of thousands of silver-scaled tarpon swimming along its shores. Known by fisherman as the silver king, or titled by nineteenth-century writer Henry Wellington Wack as “the wild glory of the sea,” these once-popular fish could easily be six feet long and 200 pounds.

In the late nineteenth century, a barren settlement of one hundred or so people on the northern end of Texas’ Mustang Island changed its name from Ropesville to Tarpon, due to the massive abundance of these beautiful fish. In 1910, the town changed its name again to Port Aransas, in hopes of becoming a major seaport and destination for sportsmen. It was Corpus Christi that became the major seaport, and Port Aransas dubbed itself the Tarpon Capital of the World.

In the 1930s and 40s, Tarpon fishermen used little Farley boats, only 22-26 feet long, and built out of mahogany or cypress. These boats contained inboard motors and high fluted bows designed to surge through the choppy waves.  Businesses named themselves after the Tarpons, billboards were decorated with the fish, and the tarpons were proudly displayed in restaurants or bait shops.

But nowadays, all that remains of the glory days of the silver kings can be found in the memories of its fishermen and in the lobby of the Tarpon Inn. Here contains more than 7,000 huge silver scales, all dated and signed by proud anglers.

How and why did these massive beauties disappear? The Texas Monthly attributes it to a combination of things; from the great Texas drought of the fifties, to the increasing boat traffic along the Texas coast, and from overfishing in general.

You can read more about the silver king fishing days in Glory of the Silver King: The Golden Age of Tarpon Fishing (TAMU Press, 2011) by Hart Stilwell and edited by Brandon Shuler. Fishing guide and journalist Shuler unearthed multiple drafts of a nearly finished manuscript by Hart Stilwell, a Texas sports writer. The Glory of the Silver King captures the story of tarpon fishing in Texas and the Mexico Gulf Coast from the 1930s to the 1970s.
--Madeline Loving