Assistant Chief Bill Burris of the Beeville Volunteer Fire Department glanced over at his chief, Donnie Morris, and pointed.
Morris proudly raised his hand.
“Anybody here 81 years old?” the announcer asked.
Morris raised his hand.
“Anybody here 82 years old?” the announced asked.
Again, Morris raised his hand.
“Anybody here over 82?” the announcer asked.
That time, no hands popped up from the crowd of 238 fishermen, their friends and supporters.
“That’s what I’m proudest of,” Morris said Monday afternoon as he showed off his certificate for being the “Saltiest Salty Dog” in the tournament.
But that wasn’t Morris’ only achievement that day. He had also caught the heaviest redfish of the day.
“It weighed exactly 8.22 pounds,” Morris said as he plopped another certificate on the table in his kitchen Monday afternoon.
Morris said that because of the length limit, the heaviest fish had to be no more than 28 inches long.
“He was exactly 28 inches long,” Beeville’s seasoned fire chief bragged.
In all, the three firemen competing in this year’s annual CenterPoint Energy scholarship fundraiser cleaned up.
Fellow fireman Roger Perkins got a first place award for the heaviest stringer in the competition, and Burris was named the “Best Deckhand.”
“We’ve been doing this for 17 years,” Morris said. At least one member of each team has to be a CenterPoint employee. That was where Burris comes in each year.
This was the first year that the seasoned saltwater fishermen took the Saltiest Dog award. But it was not the first time for him to drive away from the competition with the award for catching the heaviest redfish or collecting the heaviest stringer.
Winning a fishing tournament comes from years of practice, and Morris has been fishing the bays of the Texas Coastal Bend for about as long as many fishermen can remember.
What flabbergasted many of the competitors Saturday was where and how Morris managed to land the big one.
“I caught this redfish in the Graveyard Hole in the Laguna Madre, wading in the mud, casting into the wind and squinting into the sun,” Morris said, grinning from ear to ear.
A younger fisherman, who was probably in his 50s, had to walk up to Morris just to make sure the story he had heard was true.
Morris confirmed the story, and the other fisherman said, “I’ve waded in the Laguna Madre. I won’t ever do it again.” The man said there are holes in that body of water that will suck a wade fisherman under the water and never let him back up again.
That was where experience came in handy. “I know where to go and where not to go,” Morris said.
“People come from all over,” Morris said of the fund-raising tournament.
“They raised $70,000 last year, and this year they’re going to do more.”
Morris said he does not think he and Burris have missed a year in the event’s 17-year history.
“We didn’t win every year,” he said but he has several certificates to show that he either had the heaviest redfish or the heaviest stringer when the competition ended.
When Morris and Burris aren’t plucking fish from the water in the chief’s boat, they might be saving lives.
Years ago, the duo earned applause from a crowd of onlookers on the banks of the rain-swollen Poesta Creek when they launched Morris’ boat on South Tyler Street and rescued three teenage boys who were stranded in the middle of the raging water and clinging to a tree for dear life.
To most folks, that may seem heroic. But to a firefighter, pulling someone to safety is like another day at the office.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.