Fishermen share special bond on and off the boat

March 15, 2011 

Just about every fisherman I know has a fishing buddy. Even though I do a bit of solo fishing, I prefer to be with a good buddy. It just makes the day a lot more fun. Take Don McCarthy for instance. If you read my columns with any regularity then you probably know his name. I write about an offshore trip and it seems it is always "Don did this" or "Don did that," and that's because we click when we fish together. You know what I am talking about, right?

This week I am going to depart from my regular ravings and talk about another fishing buddy of mine that should be given an award for his accomplishments.

His name is Captain Bill Schilling -- if that name sounds familiar then my guess is you have been around these parts for a while. Bill's dad, Doc Schilling, built the Schilling Boathouse, now called the Hilton Head Boathouse, on Hilton Head Island. Bill's sister, Nancy, has been the voice of Bluffton's "Friends of the River" campaign for years, while Capt. Bill charter-fished out of Hilton Head aboard his beautiful 53-foot sport-fishing boat, The Fiesta.

Having spent many hours fishing aboard the Fiesta with Capt. Bill, I know him to be a gentle, genuine person. Pretty much everybody within the fishing community knows Capt. Bill, and there isn't a moment in all my years with him that I have ever seen him grumpy. That says a lot right there. Like my fishing buddy Don, we've always seemed to be on the same page when we fished. No yelling, no arguing just good times, every time.

Like the car accident that changed my life, Bill's life changed about a month and a half ago when he sat down in a dentist's chair for a regular visit. The dentist noticed something, and that something turned out to be cancer. It was in his jaw and, after further examination, it was determined that it might have progressed past that point, but until surgery was performed, the extent of the cancer would not be known.

As I stated, Bill ranks right up there as one of the kindest friends you could ever hope for. A perfect example of this is "Fishing With Friends," a fishing event for special needs children. Capt. Bill loads up the Fiesta with children in wheelchairs, crutches and other special equipment, and makes sure they have a day on the water that they will never forget. I guess you could say he is a true friend, the kind who will help you out, no matter what time of day or night.

When he discovered that he had the cancer he took it like a man, never once feeling sorry for himself. On the day before his surgery, as we sat at The Cottage for lunch, I asked him if he was scared. He simply shrugged and answered, "What will be will be."

In my opinion his surgery was a world record. Twenty-seven hours from the time he went under until the time he got back to recovery. In took several teams of doctors to take him apart and put him back together again. His jawbone was removed, he lost one eye and, using a new technique, the doctors reconstructed his jaw from the tibia bone in his leg. Everything on one side of his face had to be rebuilt, including his palate. After such a marathon surgery, there were no guarantees whatsoever.

If you wonder why I have not been writing about fishing exploits lately, it's because I have been traveling back and forth to the Medical University of South Carolina Hospital in Charleston -- usually accompanied by one or more local fishermen who also know Capt. Bill.

What a roller coaster ride it has been. It sheds a whole new light on the phrase, "Take one day at a time." Complication after complication has made this journey one that I will never forget. Capt. Bill has had to fight and, even in the depths of morphine dreams, he accepted that challenge. He has had to learn how to talk and walk again and to accept the fact that he lost an eye -- yet with all that, he never gave up. His recovery has been nothing short of a miracle.

So here's to Capt. Bill Schilling, my fishing buddy. There is a bond between people of the sea that is hard to explain, but hopefully I have given you some insight into that special relationship. His journey is by no means over, but to this point he has shown me the power of the human spirit. What is that saying? Oh yes, "the Gods do not subtract from the allotted spans of men's lives the hours spent in fishing."

If that indeed is the case, then Bill and I have a lot of fishing left to do.

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