Last week's column about old-school trout angling with a Mitchell 300 reel and screwtails sure seemed to touch the reminiscing button for a whole lot of you folks. I must have had 20 to 30 emails and an equal number of phone calls from readers saying my column prompted them to dig through their attics to look for their old Mitchell 300s so they, too, could give these classic reels a try. I can't tell you how humbled I am that my words had the power to trigger such a response.
In the few short days since I wrote that article I have noticed that the water has cleared up significantly and, almost like magic, the large schools of bait have disappeared. Oddly enough, the only time I see schools of bait now is right before sundown. Every afternoon, I take my two beagles for a walk down to the dock to watch the sun set over the May River and, like clockwork, the bait pops up right about the time the sun is about to disappear over the horizon. What's even stranger is the kind of bait I'm seeing. Menhaden! By this time of year you would think all the menhaden would have made their way south, but it seems these fish are living a secret life, staying here year-round, and the only time they show themselves is right about the time the sun is setting. I noticed the same thing last year and even during the coldest part of the winter, I would see them popping on the surface very late in the afternoon.
Menhaden are a delicate fish that die easily unless used within a few hours after they're caught. I am considering doing a bit of night fishing with these primo baits, and I'll bet my bottom dollar I will crush the big trout if I fish them under the lights around docks. The only snag with this plan is whether I can stay up long enough to give it a try. Maybe with a cup or two of coffee and a Red Bull in me I could pull it off, but I guarantee that would be the only way I could do it. Usually by 9 p.m. I'm spread-eagle on the couch, snoring and drooling worse than a rabid dog.
I guess we'll just have to see.
Another thing that happened this week was that I respooled all my reels with new line. If you have attended one of my seminars, then you know what a huge fan I am of 14-pound test Berkley "Smoke Gray" Fireline, but when the water starts clearing up, I ditch braided line and go with good ol' monofilament, specifically 8- or 10-pound test. Why? Because as the water gets clearer and colder, the fish become "line shy" and with every degree the water temperature drops, the fish get more sluggish. From now until the spring, all I'll use is 8-pound monofilament and no leader material at all. Not only do I seem to catch more fish, but even a big redfish is no problem with this light line. Their metabolism slows as the water gets colder, and those long screaming runs will not return until the water starts warming up again. I have caught reds longer than 30 inches using this technique, and they might make one long run, but that's about it. They simply give up quicker, and it's a whole lot more fun catching them on ultra light gear than it is using braidline and horsing them to the boat.
I know it seems I'm switching gears a lot this week but I have to tell you about this experience. I think it was Thursday when I got a call from Capt. Bill Schilling. For those of you who don't know Bill, he has been around these parts for a very long time and his family started the Schilling Boathouse, now called the Hilton Head Boathouse. Anyway, Bill has been fighting cancer for more than a year now, and it hasn't been easy. First, he endured a marathon surgery that lasted more than 24 hours, and if that wasn't enough, he's now going through-and-true outdoorsman, but I was shocked when he asked me to take him clamming.
If you have never been clamming, it isn't easy even for someone in the best of health. I was hesitant about going because of my back but figured that if Bill could do it in his condition, then I had absolutely no room for complaining. With buckets and rakes in hand, we hit the marsh, and the weather was perfect. We both laughed realizing that anyone watching us had to have noticed that two cripples were out there half-heartedly raking the mud.
Rake a bit, rest a bit, rake a bit, rest a bit ... but we did it!
It took a while but we managed to fill two 5-gallon buckets with clams. Even better than the clams was what the outdoors did for both of our spirits. It was like magic. The sun lighting the marsh with a golden glow, the sound of the water lapping on the shoreline and the distinctive "click" of a clam hitting the rake. We both agreed there isn't a better medicine than the great outdoors.
Now if only we could find a way to bottle it.