Sometimes it's best to stay on dry land

April 20, 2011 

So I reckon y'all are just dying to know how I did in the wahoo tournament that was held last Friday.

Without letting the cat out of the bag too early, I will tell you that on Friday I probably caught around 30 fish. Quite the day, huh?

Unfortunately, they were largemouth bass, and I didn't win one red cent.

So as you probably have guessed, I didn't fish in the tournament. I was so looking forward to getting back out to the blue water, but as the week progressed, the weather report didn't favor an old man with a broken back. My crew and I decided we would pick our battles (and save our money) and fish on a day that would better suit a bunch of old guys. And from what I have heard about the tournament, I would say we made the right decision.

Last year there were nearly 60 boats that signed up for the Wahoo ShootOut, but because of the weather, only 22 boats fished this year. If I were still in my 20s, I probably would have thrown caution to the wind and fished, but after participating in a bunch of tournaments over the years, I have learned that getting your rear end handed to you for 12 hours straight isn't a whole lot of fun. I think the winning fish weighed in around 45 pounds, and many of the boats that did fish didn't catch anything at all as they battled high seas and strong winds all day. It makes me want to eat a handful of Advil just thinking about what those poor guys went through Friday.

The phrase "been there, done that" best describes why I left the ocean to the young guns during this tournament.

Since I don't have any fresh fish stories to tell you, I guess the next best thing is to tell you about one particular tournament I did fish in when I probably should have stayed at home in bed.

It was the Shelter Cove Billfish Tournament in the 1980s at Shelter Cove Marina on Hilton Head Island. Back then, everybody was into blue marlin fishing, the glory fish of the Gulf Stream. I have caught my fair share of marlin, and there isn't a fish out there that can compete with their speed, power and acrobatics. A 400-pound blue marlin on the end of your line is awe-inspiring. Imagine a fish that big skittering across the surface of the water with no effort whatsoever. They can get going so fast, the reel actually begins to smoke.

Now, that's a blue marlin.

When marlin fishing, especially in a tournament, it takes a ton of preparation to get everything dialed in so you have a chance of landing one of these mega fish, should you be lucky enough to hook one.

On the night before the tournament a call had to be made whether to fish because of the forecast: It was May and there was a weather front barreling toward us from the West, but no one knew when it was due to hit. The decision was a roll of the dice. Finally around 9 p.m. the call was made, "Let's go fishing!"

As the sun rose over the Gulf Stream, we were relieved to see relatively calm seas. Baits were put out, and we began to fish. By 8:30 a.m., a breeze had kicked up but it was still not bad at all. By 10 a.m., the seas went from 3-footers to 4- and 5-footers, and the wind was beginning to howl. By noon, it was a completely different ocean, and we were actually skiing down the face of monster waves. It was time to get out of Dodge, and everyone began to make a run for home.

Usually, once you leave the Gulf Steam you are in the clear but not on this day. I watched one big sport-fishing boat alongside us run down the face of a giant wave then broach at the bottom, completely burying one half of boat under water before popping up and making it up the face of the next wave. You couldn't slow down or you were dead meat. I swear the waves were straight out of the movie, "The Perfect Storm."

It was a miracle that no one died that day. One of my crew suffered four broken ribs, and the pride of Hilton Head's fishing fleet, one of Robert Graves custom-built 45-foot-long sport-fishing boats, broke in half and sank. Luckily, the Coast Guard got to the crew before they drowned.

I guess the moral to the story is this: The ocean can change faces in the blink of an eye, so you had better respect its power.

Maybe the wind will finally lay down enough for another run to the Gulf Stream, but until then, I think I'll just sit and watch fishing shows on TV. Popcorn, anyone?

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