First to help, last to leave
Just ask his wife, who is an avid angler herself.
“As a Boatman, he’s extremely dedicated,” Cathy Roberts said. “I don’t think he’s ever missed a meeting since he first became a member. He thinks it’s just a really good organization, and he just enjoys the camaraderie.”
This year, Roberts was named to the Boatmen Hall of Fame, as was Ronnie Jackson.
Boatman Jerry Reider said Roberts long has been a mainstay volunteer at Boatmen events like fish fries that raise money for community needs.
“Any time a hand was needed with anything to do with the association, he has been the first there and the last to leave,” Reider said. “He has absolutely had the association’s interest at heart all these years and volunteered tons of his time.”
“Having gone to college, I know the expense of it,” said Roberts, 70, manager of the GSM Insurors office in Port Aransas. “I know (the Boatmen) do such tremendous work for the community. It seems like every month, someone comes in wanting a donation of some sort, and we’re always accommodating to whoever comes in there.”
Roberts started fishing when he was about 12, when he was growing up in Houston. He and his father fished mostly in eastern Galveston Bay.
“I grew up in the outdoors,” Roberts said. “I was very active in scouts and was an Eagle Scout. I went to a lot of scout camps over the years. I just like the outdoors, the freedom of being offshore on a pretty, calm day. Nothing like it in the world.”
Roberts earned degrees from the University of Houston and LaSalle University’s extension in Chicago before going on to spend more than 40 years working in the insurance business.
Roberts moved to Port Aransas in 1990 and has been here ever since. But he was visiting Port Aransas and fishing here decades before that.
“You spend almost 30 years fighting the Houston traffic, and Port Aransas is a Shangri La,” Roberts said.
One of his best fishing stories doesn’t involve catching any fish. The story emerged from a day in the 1970s, when Roberts and Reider went fishing off San Jose Island.
They were about one mile off the island when the engine on their 15-foot center console vessel conked out.
“As soon as we got into close waters, I threw the anchor line out, and it hooked, but it apparently wasn’t tied well to the cleat, so the anchor came undone,” Roberts said.
“We put our life jackets on, and ultimately, the boat turned over,” he said. “We grabbed the beer cooler, which still had beer in it. The boat sank, and we washed ashore.
“The funny thing about it was, we were about half a mile down the beach and carrying this sea chest full of beer, and the only way we could get back (to Port Aransas) was across the ship channel on the jetty boat, and the boat captain was a good friend, Doyle Marek,” Roberts said. “When we got on his boat, Doyle looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know how y’all got over here, but I didn’t take you.’ ”
The incident gave Roberts a good excuse to buy a new boat, and he did.
One of the highlights of his life as a fisherman came on another day in the ‘70s, when he was fishing from a 15-foot vessel and hooked a tarpon about five miles off Port Aransas.
“As soon as it hit, I knew I had a monstrous fish, because it ran I don’t know how far out, and then it started jumping up like they do,” Roberts recalled.
The fish weighed 150 pounds.
“My knees were knocking,” Roberts said. “It was just so massive. When it came out of the water, it was unbelievable.”
Roberts enjoys offshore fishing the most. He doesn’t do any guide work, but “I’ve taken so many people kingfishing since the late ‘60s, I’ve lost count.”
While some of his best days as an angler came during the ‘70s, he doesn’t mind the fact that that era is past. He remembers well when, 35 years ago, it was common to see people throwing away piles of large kingfish in dumpsters.
“I’m so glad those days are over,” Roberts said. “It was a waste.”
While he enjoys the offshore, Roberts also likes surf and bay fishing. One day, about 15 years ago, he caught two 28-inch trout within 10 minutes of each other in the surf near Beach Access Road One.
Roberts said he’s pleased to have made the Boatmen’s Hall of Fame.
“I thought you had to be dead to get that,” he joked.
In all seriousness, the Boatmen’s history is part of what appeals to him about the group.
“This is our 75th year,” Roberts said. “It’s pretty amazing that our organization could stay intact and survive for 75 years.”