It's hard to explain the excitement that leads up to the first trip of the season to the Gulf Stream. Unlike so many other types of fishing where you grab your tackle box and go, Gulf Stream fishing takes preparation, lots and lots of preparation.
I guess the biggest reason for all that preparation is you never know what will hit your bait. It might be a little 10-pound mahi mahi, but it could just as easily be a 600-pound blue marlin. With such extremes possible, everything has to be just right or else the fight can last all of five seconds before the line pops or some monster from the deep peels off with 800 yards of line faster than your brain can process what just happened.
This past Friday was the inaugural Gulf Stream trip for the new Manatee Mac owned by Don McCarthy and Harry Morales. Besides Don and Harry, Will Thompson and myself rounded out the crew, and, as any fisherman knows, there is a lot at stake on a new boat's first angling outing.
You see, fishermen are, by nature, notoriously superstitious. Will the boat have good mojo? Do the engines have the right sound to draw fish? Laugh all you want but these factors do make all the difference as to whether the boat catches fish or not.
Meeting up at the Hilton Head Boathouse dock at 3 a.m. we loaded all our gear and I could just see the anticipation in everyone's faces. Besides the new boat heebie-jeebies, we had the added tension of being in the Wahoo Series fishing tournament, where you have two days to fish before April 18. The largest wahoo takes all the marbles. We had spent hours looking at satellite images of the Gulf Stream searching for eddies and the right water temperature for wahoo. So, with a destination in mind, we headed out.
The farther we got from land and the lights of Hilton Head Island, the clearer the sky became. Looking up, we could see stars by the millions, and looking back at our wake, the phosphorous in the water glowed so brightly it was as if someone had flipped on an underwater light. It couldn't have been more beautiful. Two hours later the glow of the sun lit up the eastern sky and as it rose so did our expectations.
It was time to fish.
I won't go as far as saying the fishing was red hot, but just being in that super blue water was the culmination of weeks of dreaming of that very image of lures tracking long streams of white bubbles through the water. I was finally back in my element. Just when I thought we might have gone to the wrong area, one of the rods bounced, which was followed by the sound of line peeling off the reel.
Looking back, a brilliantly colored mahi mahi came flying out of the water -- which is always a sight to behold, but we were after wahoo so it was somewhat of a letdown. Not long after boating that mahi we came across a beautiful line of Sargasso weed that stretched for as far as we could see. Things were looking up as we trolled parallel to it.
For the next couple of hours it was mahi after mahi until we finally decided to move away from the weed line in search of a rogue wahoo. Had we wanted to, we could have easily filled the boat with mahi.
The wahoo bite never came that day, but on the bright side, we still have one more day to redeem ourselves.
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic desigher by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.