If you are an outdoorsman -- whether you grew up here in the Lowcountry or Ohio, Florida or even Pennsylvania -- after a while you tend to take for granted the area in which you were reared.
You know just where to go to catch this or hunt for that but what happens when you move to a new state? From experience, I can tell you that, simply put, you are a fish out of water. The habitat is different, fresh water is now salt water, oaks are now palm trees. Basically, it is like being reborn. You have to throw all that knowledge you spent your whole life learning right out the window and start from scratch, which can often take years.
This past week I took Brian Bytner, a young friend of mine from Pittsburgh, out for a day on the water. So that you have a bit of Brian's history, he 32 years old and works as a dealer in a Pittsburgh casino and though he doesn't get a whole lot of time to go fishing or hunting, what time he does have is spent freshwater fishing for smallmouth bass and chasing big bucks with a bow and arrow.
Not a deer hunter myself, I must admit that I admire bow hunters. The way I see it, anybody can shoot a deer with a high-powered rifle, but to get one with a bow speaks volumes about a person's outdoor ethics as well as his personality. I guess, foremost, it tells me they are patient and, secondly, they are out in the woods for the experience and not so much for the kill.
So, meeting up at my house, the first question I asked Brian was, "Do you want to go fishing or do you want to go on an adventure?"
Knowing his background, I wasn't surprised that he answered "an adventure" -- it seemed right in line with his relaxed personality. I also didn't want to go do the same ol', same ol' where we fish in places that I have fished 1,000 times before. I wanted to get out and find new places, something I have been dying to do for quite some time.
So with that, off we went.
As we were running along, we talked. It didn't take me long to figure out that he had a thirst for knowledge. We talked about everything from life, love and his plans for the future. Arriving at the first area I wanted to explore, I rigged up the rods for trout and dropped anchor. I guess we fished there for 10 minutes or so when it became evident that the trout were not going to show, so up came the anchor and we moved off to another spot not far away.
The current was ripping, but I decided to give it a shot anyway and as soon as his popping cork hit the water, it disappeared. Now remember, Brian is primarily a freshwater guy who grew up using bait-caster reels so switching him over to a spinning rod and casting into fast moving water meant there was a learning curve, especially when it came to the fragile mouth of a speckled sea trout.
We missed two or three fish, but finally things started clicking, and even though the trout weren't large, they were there in some good numbers. In my mind, finding this new spot already had made the day successful.
After a while the bite tapered off so I suggested we go after some redfish. Once again I really wanted to find a new spot. The tide was going out, and as I pulled into an area I hadn't fished in years, I saw what looked like redfish feeding up tight to the shoreline. I told Brian to pitch his bait as close to the oysters as possible. It didn't take long before his rod rocked, and he was tied to a redfish.
As he fought the fish, he told me he had never caught a redfish and about that moment the line went slack.
But that's fishing.
Seconds later we both hooked up. Brian got his in, while the slob I had on mine made a run into the oysters and popped me off. I was paying so much attention to the redfish that I didn't keep an eye on the tide and when I finally did look around, I knew we weren't going anywhere. The flat had changed over the years and, as embarrassing as it was, it happens to everyone at some time or another. I knew it wasn't going to be a long wait, but you would think after 50-plus years here I would know better.
When it comes to the ocean, anything can happen.
But during that hour Brian really showed me his stuff. Instead of complaining, he hopped out of the boat and went exploring. Mating horseshoe crabs swam right up to him, as did small stingrays, conchs and crabs. He explored the entire flat. He didn't know how oysters grew so he brought me back a cluster, and I explained their life cycle and how you open them. He just soaked it all up. Never once did he complain and for the rest of the day I began to realize just what a neat person this young man was.
We talked about everything from catch and release to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I guess best of all, Brian reopened my eyes to just how special this place I often take for granted really is.
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.