You would think that after spending thousands upon thousands of hours on the water I would have fish figured out, but I don't.
Here I am with a brain that is 100 times bigger than any fish's, but, for reasons unknown, they tend to get the best of me -- with little or no effort. If I had to put my finger on what I am doing wrong it would probably boil down to one simple thing and that is that I tend to overthink the situation.
I'm not stupid, but sometimes fish make me feel as dumb as an earthworm or even the lowly amoeba. I've talked before about "losing your mojo," when you go through a period in which you can't seem to catch a fish -- even if it came up, put the hook in its own mouth and said "pull!"
Well folks, I am glad to say that this past week was not one of those weeks. Maybe I was holding my mouth right but whatever it was, I couldn't miss. I caught trout, redfish, cobia, grouper and some flounder that were darn near as big as halibut. To make things even better, I have enjoyed the fruits of my labor in the form of fresh fish each and every night. Kind of like Forrest Gump's buddy Bubba, I have eaten 'em fried, sautèed, grilled, with rice, without rice and even ceviche style.
Even better than this? My ego has gone from flat-lined to ridiculously cocky. I'm sure it's temporary but for now at least, I'll take it.
The first trip of the week was with my good buddies,, Don McCarthy and Harry Morales, and Don's friend, Clem Cleveland. Believe it or not, it was the first cobia trip of the year aboard the new Manatee Mac and, as it is with any new boat, we felt the need to establish some kind of reputation for it -- especially because the old Manatee Mac was a fish-slaying machine.
We left the dock late, around 9 a.m. Catching live bait took us nearly an hour. The menhaden would sound every time we got near the schools, but it wasn't until we ran about a mile off the beach that we found some real choker (large) menhaden. With two throws of the cast net, we had all the bait we needed. As a bonus, I caught a large prawn shrimp in one of the throws and into the live well it went.
We headed to an offshore artificial reef. The anchor had barely hit the bottom when we hooked up to a nice cobia. Into the box it went. The best part was that we were the only boat around, and as the chum started doing it's magic, the cobia started coming. Clem brought his fly rod, and I really wanted him to catch a cobia on it, but it just never happened. It appears cobia prefer live bait to a bunch of tied up feathers, because we caught five cobia in short order.
And that large, prawn shrimp? Things had slowed down, so Don put it on his hook and dropped it down. Immediately, the rod bent double and after a back-and-forth fight, up came a beautiful gag grouper.
The Manatee Mac was back!
That same day, Grant Kaple, manager of the Hilton Head Boathouse, ran out to the Gulf Stream and it was mahi-mahi city. Arriving back at the dock at the same time we did, we had so many fish between us that he and I decided to join forces cleaning the fish. He caught around a dozen mahi -- and not one of them was small. One bull dolphin had a head wider than Grant's chest, and he isn't a small man by any means.
When it's hot, it's hot!
The very next day I headed to Port Royal Sound with Bill Slate, a new boat owner who asked me to help him to learn how to fish these waters -- plus give him some tips on handling his new boat.
The weather was getting ready to turn nasty, so we only had a brief window to "get 'er done" before the bottom dropped out. Quite honestly, I didn't think we would catch a cobia because friends of mine who fish every day had told me the bite had gone cold, but a cobia is what he wanted so I said, why not?
After battling shark after shark, it happened. We had a shark on one rod when another rod buckled, and there it was: Mr. Cobia himself. After the fish gave Bill quite a fight, I gaffed it and into the boat it went. The timing was perfect because the wind started howling. We made it to the dock with moments to spare before the heavens opened.
So, that was my week. I needed a good streak like that. It might not happen again for a while but, for now at least, I'm wearing a big, old smile. And that thing sitting on my shoulder? That's just a bluebird.
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.