On cobia, hard work and setting a world record

April 25, 2011 

They're here.

I guess that statement can refer to just about anything from aliens to the IRS, but in this case I am talking about cobia. I knew they were headed this way from down South, but I believe it was this last full moon and the big tides associated with it that finally brought them around the corner and into Port Royal Sound.

Though I haven't fished for cobia yet, I did have to make a run over to Beaufort, and it looked like a floating city near the Broad River bridge. When word gets out that the first cobia has been caught, it is akin to Pavlov's theory for local fishermen. They simply can't stand it! To heck with work, to heck with obligations, these guys are going fishing, and nothing -- and I emphasize the word "nothing" -- will stop them.

From my elevated vantage point on the Broad River bridge, I could see hundreds of boats anchored, and they had put so much chum in the water, the resulting slick looked like it went all the way to the mouth of Port Royal Sound. It has to be complete sensory overload for those cobia swimming up the sound.

But it isn't the arrival of the cobia that got me excited this past week; it was something that happened far away in Dominican Republic.

I think it was this past Friday when my phone rang and on the other end was Capt. Eddie Carter, one of just a handful of captains who charted these waters when Hilton Head Island was just getting cranked up. Retired, Eddie passed on his love for the sea to two of his sons, Jeff and Bubba, both of whom are licensed captains. In fact, Bubba made headlines last week by setting a pending world record by catching a 55-pound white marlin using a 2-pound test leader.

If you don't understand the significance of such a record, then maybe this will help put it into perspective: I use a 2-pound test tippet on my fly rod to catch itsy-bitsy rainbow trout in mountain steams, and I can't tell you how many times these trout have gotten the best of me by snapping the line, which is no larger than a piece of sewing thread.

Pretty neat, huh? But that is only a small part of Bubba's story. Like myself, Bubba got most of his offshore education from Capt. Buddy Hester who was without a doubt the pioneer of offshore fishing here. Now deceased, Capt. Buddy was the perfect picture of what most folks think a fishing captain would look like. An ex-Marine, always barefoot and gruff, Buddy knew his stuff. His attire consisted of white overalls -- and only white overalls. For those of us who were lucky enough to have him as our mentor, he combined a quiet kindness with sheer terror to motivate us.

For Bubba, it paid off in spades.

To date, Bubba has landed more than 18,000 billfish, which includes more than 2,000 blue marlin and 11 black marlin weighing more than 1,000 pounds. In the billfish world he is pretty much a legend -- best known from his days aboard his boat, "The Tijerta," which had one heck of a reputation.

For years, Bubba fished the waters of Costa Rica and Central America, but his travels have taken him the world over. Australia, Venezuela and the Virgin Islands, you name it and he has fished there.

Like with so many of us, though, the economy changed things for Bubba and, sadly, the Tijereta is no more. But Bubba was snapped up by the gentleman who owned Gucci, and he is now based out of the Dominican Republic, where his expertise led to this newest world record.

So how on earth do anglers catch a marlin on 2-pound test line? The answer to that question is simple: They don't. It is the captain who makes the catch possible, not the angler.

At the moment the fish takes the bait, it requires amazing reflexes by the captain to make sure the fish doesn't put any pressure on the line. That means chasing down the fish, which, depending on the circumstances, might mean putting the boat in full reverse as walls of water come over the transom.

From what Bubba's dad, Eddie, told me, they had missed several previous marlin because as soon as they touched the leader, the fish would break the line. But the marlin they finally caught did exactly what they had been shooting for all along: It jumped right into the cockpit.

So good on ya, Bubba! I love to hear about "Carolina Boys" sticking it to the fishing world.

We don't have clear water here like they do in the tropics and we have to run a long way to fish offshore. It's this combination of factors that makes us have to work harder for every fish.

And that my friends is our secret -- pure and simple.

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