Buzz Sinclair catching a shark for Sea-Arama
By Eric Hanson
News Staff Writer
Catching sharks for a living is not a common profession, but for Buzz Sinclair, 69, catching bull sharks in West Galveston Bay is comething he likes to do.
"Whenever Sea-Arama needs a shark, they call me and I provide them," Sinclair said in his booming voice.
"I spent the war fighting the battle of Fort Benning (Georgia), testing hand grenades, mortars, flame throwers and...loud things. That's why I can't hear so well," he thundered.
A 1935 graduate of Texas A&M, Sinclair said he enjoys his life on the west end of the island.
"I meet everybody around here and talk to them. It's better than sitting around watching the idiot box," he equipped.
"He has caught several hundred sharks for Sea-Arama over the years and adds, "I risked my life testing so many weapons (so) this doesn't seem that dangerous."
"Most of the sharks he has caught have been bull and lemon sharks. "I quit messing with the big ones," Sinclair said.
"Sinclair catches the sharks on stainless steel lines strung on wooden post. Once the shark has been caught, Sinclair and two Sea-Arama employees place it in a large net and then into a tank. Froj there the shark is transported by truck to its final home, the shark tank at Sea-Arama.
"It may seem like a dangerous operation but Sinclair said, "There has never been an unprovoked shark attack in these waters, if you mistreat them they'll bite you."
"Friday morning, Sinclair boated a five- to six-foot bull shark. After pulling his boat up to the line, he plopped his mammoth body into the waist-high surf and began pulling in the line. Sinclair reached into the water and pulled the shark up.
"Some people around here think I'm crazy," he yelled.
"Most of the bull sharks he has caught are about six feet long. But he recalls an incident that happened 15 years ago while he was wade-fishing in Offatts Bayou.
"I had two sheephead on my stringer and all of a sudden the line tightened up. I looked around and an eight or nine foot bull shark was biting them off," Sinclair remembered.
"He also recalls the days when west bay was home to thousands of porpoises.
"If a porpoise swam through there now, he wold die of pneumonia, it's so polluted." Sinclair said many years ago the bottom of west bay was covered with green grass and the water was clear.
"Then one day somebody must have dumped some chemicals in the water, cause the grass was dead and brown in two days," he said.
"Sinclair does not catch sharks on a day-to-day basis.
"I don't fool with them unless they (Sea-Arama) want them," he said.
"He does spend a lot of time making crab traps, building houses and doing other commercial fishing work.
"Reflecting on the idea of handling sharks whose mouths bristle with nine rows of teeth, Sinclair had one comment: 'You gotta be crazy.'"
The Houston Post
Sunday, February 15, 1987
A ring of shark teeth form an interesting frame around "Buzz" Sinclair's face.
Sinclair comes face to face with one of his "friends."
Post photos by Manuel M. Chavez
By Jim Newkirk
GALVESTON - Avid fisherman William "Buzz" Sinclair peers into the oceanarium at Sea Arama Marineworld and gestures toward several sharks gliding leisurely around the giant tank.
Suddenly, Sinclair turns from the display window and, to a small group of people, jokingly describes the sharks as "just friends of mine." Then he lets out a loud chuckle.
At 74, Sinclair is an easy-going fellow but fearless when it comes to fishing the murky waters of Galveston bay. He has proven his bravery countless times as the man Sea Arama officials turn to when they want one of the most dangerous predators on the Gulf Coast--the bull shark.
Since the popular tourist attraction opened in 1965, Sinclair has accepted the pulse-quickening task of catching sharks in bay waters and handling them for transport to the marine facility.
"Dangerous? Nooo," said Sinclair. "They're like any other wild animal. If you mistreat them and allow youself to get in their way, they will bite you. Otherwise, they leave you alone."
But Sinclair certainly has a healthy respect for sharks. His confidence is born of years of fishing and his encounters with more than 200 bull and lemon sharks in the bay. Some of the fruits of his labor--12 slate-gray bull sharks--are on display in the 200,OOO-gallon saltwater oceanarium.
At the park, the stubble-faced, bespectacled fisherman is viewed with admiration. Some regard him as the "Old Man of the Sea."
Said Harry Brown, director of Sea Arama, "He's a very interesting person, well-educated and enjoys fishing and working with the animals."
A 1935 graduate of Texas A&M University, where he was captain of the swimming team, and a retired building contractor, Sinclair began catching sharks at the request of a park official.
"The curator came and asked me if I would catch them sharks. Someone told them I was nuts and that I'd do it," said Sinclair.
A shark in waters off Galveston is not uncommon. In fact, more sharks exist in the Gulf of Mexico per square mile than in any other body of water, according to park curator John Kerivan. The abundant food supply in the Gulf prevents them from attacking people, he said.
Sinclair, however, calls them a nuisance. He normally clubs or drives a spear through them when they interfere with his fishing for trout, red fish or flounder.
But getting them alive requires more forethought. Sinclair's shark-catching technique doesn't elicit the image of the crusty shark-hunter in the movie Jaws.
During the summer, when sharks migrate to the warm Galveston waters, he sets out stainless-steel fishing lines that are baited with pieces of stingray or mullet. The lines are dropped from a second line strung between two steel poles set about 50 feet apart in shallow water.
The largest shark Sinclair has caught was about 10 feet and 200 pounds. The largest one that remained alive and was put on display at the park was a 7-footer.
For all his shark-catching, Sinclair hasn't a scratch or bite. He attributes his run of good fortune to common sense. "You don't get in front of his mouth. And you don't handle one if your skin is bare because his skin is like a brand-new emery cloth; it's abrasive."
Sinclair, who maintains a home in Galveston and in River Oaks in Houston with Mary Kate, his wife of 50 years, has had some close calls though.
He particularly remembers an encounter he had with a shark back in the '50s, while scuba diving in Offatts Bayou--which used to be full of sharks.
He had three sheepshead fish tied to a stringer hanging from his belt. "I felt a tug and the line tightened up and I heard a crunching noise. I turned around and a shark had my sheepshead in his mouth," he said.
Fortunately, the shark was satisfied with the fish and left a startled Sinclair alone.
"They don't bite Aggies," he said, letting out another of his loud chuckles.
The Galveston Daily News
Sunday Morning, April 22, 1990
By Vince Stiglich, Jr.
The Daily News
While optimists view a resurgent West Bay with rose-colored glasses, longtime angler William "Buzz" Sinclair says its glory days are long gone. The 61-year Galveston resident says high levels of pollutants from a single deadly incident have served notice on the popular arena.
"I came here before World War I, and we caught fish by the bushels without blinking an eye," the noted west-Galveston angler said. "I hate to say it, but (West Bay) is no longer a great fishing spot. In fact, fishing stinks compared to years ago."
Sinclair believes anglers would be hard-pressed to make a case for today's fishing.
"In 1929, we caught sacks of spanish mackerel at the jetty and many speckeled trout, redfish, flounder and even shark and tarpon in West Bay," he added. "Spanish mackerel were popular because they were plentiful and we even sold them to the cafes to be broiled."
Sinclair says a major 1975 occurrence was a watershed event in West Bay's history.
"It destroyed West Bay," Sinclair said. "Three barges loaded with toxic waste were west of the causeway near the ship channel, and when the load was dumped, a northeast wind blew it into the bay. It even killed every blade of grass."
According to Sinclair, the bay may never rebound.
"In fifteen years, the pollution from that dumping is still there," he said. "I even tried to plant grass in the bay myself, but it won't grow anymore."
Fishing was the most notable victim as can be seen by comparing catches before and after the disaster.
"On average, a speckled trout catch was 35 to 40, redfish 20 to 25 and flounder 20," he said. "Even tarpon were plentiful. In fact, (tarpon) were actually a problem. There were so many around, they got in the way of our speckled trout fishing."
Ever the pessimist, Sinclair, 77, doesn't believe West Bay will recover, at least during his lifetime.
"Fishing was great once," he said with a sigh. "No more. It's a thing of the past."
The Daily News
By Vince Stiglich Jr.
The Daily News
Published November 26, 2001
While modern optimists view a resurgent West Bay with their "half full" mentality, the late William "Buzz" Sinclair and others of his era saw it with the "half empty" eyes of uncertainty.
The longtime Galveston resident once said that high levels of toxic pollutants that resulted from a single lethal incident had etched an indelible mark on the popular fishing arena.
In other words, West Bay was done for.
At this juncture I must say the interview with this legendary angler took place in the early 1990's, and while Buzz saw only doom and gloom for West Bay, one wonders if it actually defied the odds by returning to its glory days.
In order to give you a perspective on what happened, let me begin with several key excerpts from my interview with Sinclair.
It started off with a bang.
"I came to Galveston before World War I, and without blinking an eye we caught fish by the bushels-full," the West-Galveston angler said in the early stages of our dialogue. "But I hate to say it, West Bay is no longer what it was. In fact, fishing stinks compared to years ago."
Sinclair was certain that future anglers would be hardpressed to make a case for the bay to ever revert back to its glory days. And what days they were. In the course of our chat, he included glowing recollections of the West Bay that was.
"In 1929, we caught sacks of Spanish mackerel at the jetty and many speckled trout, redfish, flounder and even shark and tarpon in West Bay," he remarked. "Spanish mackerel were popular because they were plentiful, and we sold them to the cafes to be broiled."
Then Sinclair pointed to a 1975 event that would become a watershed case in West Bay lore.
"It destroyed West Bay," Sinclair said. "Three barges loaded with toxic waste were just west of the Causeway near the Galveston Ship Channel, and when the load was dumped, a strong northeast wind blew it into the bay. It even killed every blade of grass."
At the time, a devastated Sinclair believed that West Bay was on the verge of dying a slow, agonizing death. It was obviously a sad time in the history of our Galveston Bay complex.
"In fifteen years, the pollution (from that dumping) is still there," he said. "I even tried to plant grass myself, but it won't grow anymore." Fishing at the time was the most notable victim, at least compared to results prior to and shortly after World War I.
"On average, a speckled trout catch was 35 to 40, redfish 20 to 25 and flounder 20," he said. "Even tarpon were plentiful. In fact, there were so many tarpon they got in the way of our speckled trout fishing." Ever the pessimist, Sinclair, then 77, was convinced that West Bay could never heal from the wound, at least not during his lifetime.
"Fishing was great once," he said with a sigh. "No more. It's a thing of the past."
Sinclair may appear to have abandoned West Bay, but nothing could be farther from the truth. He loved the place, but his dismay over that one incident took a toll on his psyche.
Buzz is gone, but his beloved West Bay lives on, and while it may not be on a level with its earlier years, that fabled old body of water has defied the odds and returned to at least a semblance of its legendary standing. At least now, anglers can head for West Bay and their thirst for quality fishing will have them looking at the grand old lady once more with confident eyes, knowing that with some TLC, it can and will return to its glory days of lore.
So here's to West Bay, may her glory remain for all of us who love to fish, or who simply enjoy partaking in one of its beautiful 365 day-ending sunsets. Wow! Now I can't wait to see you on the water.