It's that wild, wonderful time outside

September 21, 2010 

If you aren't on the water right now then you are missing out big time. I compare this period to deer hunting or, more specifically, the "rut." If you aren't familiar with that term, it refers to the time when bucks are at their testosterone peak and nothing but nothing stops them from seeking out a doe in heat.

Way back when I lived in Hilton Head Plantation, I was coming home late from work -- around 10ish-- and this big buck was walking down the side of the road. He had his nose to the ground and was obviously following a doe that had recently passed by.

Intrigued, I slowed down, flipped on my high beams and watched him. He paid no attention to my car, never once lifting his head or looking back at me. He was on a mission.

Amused, I decided to see just how close I could get to him. As he weaved back and forth on the scent trail, I was able to get within 5 feet of him. I followed him for nearly a half mile, and even when I finally quit dogging him, he never looked back, not even once.

Now take that analogy, apply it to shrimp, crabs and fish and that should illustrate what is happening right now. Everything is starting to move, and nothing but nothing is going to deter them from their mission.

Way up the creeks, the shrimp are beginning to flood out of the marsh grass and head toward the open ocean. As you might guess, it will take them a while to make such a long trek with those tiny little legs. So now is the time to go after them. And crabs? They were late coming this year, and I think because the water was so warm this summer and there was so much bait everywhere, they grew fast. Right now they are monsters, thick with juicy white meat.

Another indicator the rut is on happened last weekend during those huge tides we had. I was out fishing with Jeff and Jake Kruse, and we were near Spanish Wells on Hilton Head Island. The tide was roaring in and, right where Broad Creek meets the Intracoastal Waterway, a school of mullet starting its migration offshore came out of Broad Creek. There were thousands of mullet in the school, and as they fought the current head-on, it turned into a bloodbath, worthy of something you might see on the Discovery Channel. The mullet were so tightly packed, the water was pitch black. And there were so many of them -- the black ball of fish had to be 100 yards wide.

If that wasn't cool enough, as the fish started rounding the corner at Spanish Wells, every predator in the area started after them. Porpoises, sharks and monster redfish were blowing up through the mass of mullet. All three of us on the boat were so mesmerized by the sight, we forgot to fish. Explosion after explosion tore through the school and as each explosion occurred, hundreds of airborne mullet scattered in every direction. At times the school got pushed toward my boat, and the water around us looked like it was boiling. Mullet slammed into the boat; many came within inches of flying into the boat. The whole scene went on for a good 20 minutes.

Having witnessed this migration many times before, I knowthis is just the beginning, so keep your eyes open -- it is a sight you'll never forget.

With so many creatures heading offshore, some will be coming in the other direction. I haven't seen any great numbers of trout yet, but hopefully the big roe trout will show up soon. Last winter's extreme cold might have put a hurt on the numbers but with so much bait around, I can't imagine that any trout out there wouldn't head this way.

As the water temperature drops, offshore fishing should start getting red hot. This is when grouper begin to stack up along the live bottom and their appetites change from needing an occasional snack to being totally ravenous. The same applies to king mackerel. During the ocean rut, they go from simply slashing a bait to an all-out gymnastics approach. Bump trolling live baits often ends with a "sky rocketing" king flying 10 feet in the air with the bait in its mouth.

Lastly, I have to tell you about something that happened this past week. Though I won't give you his name (he would be embarrassed), a good friend of mine went deep-dropping for shrimp by himself. He had just thrown the net and as it was sinking to the bottom another boat pulled alongside him. He began talking to the person in the other boat and, in a lapse of concentration, he put his boat in reverse. The cast net rope that was tied to his wrist went into the spinning propeller. In seconds, the rope yanked him out of the boat and straight into the propeller.

The prop hit his hand, but by some miracle, it cut the rope at the same instant, freeing him before he could get cut.

So be careful out there, because the ocean can take you in a blink of an eye.

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