In the past week or two I have had at least seven or eight calls from charter captain friends of mine, and they all are asking me the same question.
"Where are the fish?"
From what I gather, the redfish aren't where the captains usually find them, and the same goes for most all the other species that inhabit inshore and offshore waters. It's as if the regular rhythm of things has become skewed for some reason or another.
Whether you are talking about fish, plants or even wild turkeys, nature is fairly predictable. For instance, you know when certain plants are supposed to bloom just as a fisherman knows when certain types of fish should be in certain areas. But this year has been a real head-scratcher in almost every way. The azaleas bloomed way earlier than usual, and with the extraordinary warm winter we experienced, it seems that this odd weather pattern has thrown a real curve ball into nature's cycles. To further illustrate just how whacked out things are, I have seen menhaden flipping in the May River all winter long. Usually these bait fish leave in October and don't show up again until mid-May.
What amazes me about this phenomenon is that no matter how hard I try to figure out what the pattern is, it eludes me. When spring first started, I figured that thousands of years of instinct would overshadow a few months of warmer-than-usual weather, but I was wrong. A perfect case in point was my trip to the Gulf stream last week in search of wahoo. I have kept a fishing journal since the early 1970s where I record the weather, the water temperature, the wind direction and so forth -- in most cases it pays off as the new fishing season arrives. On April 2 of last year, my fishing buddy Don McCarthy and I absolutely creamed the wahoo. All we caught that day were wahoo. So after looking at my journal and comparing the water temperature and moon phase, I was sure we would have a repeat of that epic day.
It was a completely different ocean -- and, instead of wahoo, the only fish that showed up at the party were mahi mahi. Once again, nature had cleverly found a way to hoodwink me.
I love trying to figure out what nature is up to. I religiously watch weather patterns such as low and high pressure systems, isobars, etc., hoping that one day I'll know what nature is up to before nature itself knows what is getting ready to happen. I actually go to so many weather websites and online fishing forums that the bookmark menu on my computer takes five minutes to scroll through all the entries. I know it sounds geekish, but nature fascinates more than just about anything else. Just how obsessed am I with unlocking the secrets of nature and fishing? When someone sends me a picture of a fish they caught, I rarely look at the fish but concentrate more on what the water behind them looks like, plus the color of the lure that caught the fish.
(My dirty little secrets are sure coming out in this column!)
I'm not going to take a knife, cut my jugular and seal this predication in blood, but I think everything is going to be at least a month early this year providing that this warmer-than-usual weather sticks around. Believe it or not, a handful of cobia have already been caught in and around Port Royal Sound, which is about as early as I can ever remember.
Another fish that appears to have forgotten all the rules is sheepshead. Last year, March and April were unbelievable, but this year the fishing has been spotty at best. I only made one trip out to the Savannah Reef and I couldn't even get the booger to the bottom before black sea bass swarmed over it. What's so bad about that? The feds have a moratorium on keeping them because their data indicates they are overfished. I am not sure where they got that info because around here, especially offshore, there are so many black sea bass you literally can't get a bait to the bottom without having one of these creatures snarfing it down.
Thus far, I have pretty much struck out trying to figure out when and where the fish will be at a particular time. One of my charter friends who called asking the whereabouts of redfish had gone on four separate charters without catching a single redfish, and he is as good a fisherman as they come.
Could it possibly be the first sign of global warming here in the Lowcountry? The way I see it, it's a sad state of affairs when this big ole human brain can't outwit a fish brain, which is the size of a pea. Maybe if I have a lobotomy it might even the odds. Come to think of it, for years people have been suggesting I have one.
If only I would have listened.
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.