You know you're in trouble when I start on one of my "back in the day" stories, but this one is pretty darn good. Maybe "back in the day" is a bad way to describe this particular adventure because it was more "old and old school" than anything else.
It started out that I had a guiding trip planned for cobia scheduled for Wednesday but around 9 p.m. Tuesday evening I got a call from the guy I was supposed to guide telling me that work was forcing him to cancel the trip. I had watched the weather for days and I just knew that Wednesday was "the day," so I was totally bummed.
I was rigged and ready, but with no boat to get offshore, I was high and dry.
As I sipped coffee early the next morning, I glanced at the treetops and there wasn't a leaf moving. Yep, no wind for the first time in more than a week, and I was going to be stuck on the shore. I couldn't stand it, so I thought about all my fishing buddies with boats and who might be spontaneous enough to go out on a whim.
Only one came to mind -- Jimmy McIntire.
The only problem with Jimmy, or better put, Jimmy's boat, is that it is more of an inshore fishing boat than an offshore boat. It has no electronics other than a depth sounder, so finding our way to the Betsy Ross Reef some 18 miles offshore would be a test of my navigation skills. Back in the day before the GPS, I did this kind of thing hundreds of times -- often using nothing more than a $10 portable AM radio as a directional finder to find my way in from places as far offshore as the Gulf Stream.
It didn't take much convincing for Jimmy to say yes, and he suggested we also invite Russell Martin to come along. Within 30 minutes, we were ready to go at the boat-landing. I had all the tackle, Jimmy had the boat, and Russell had the food and drinks.
Now, that is some kind of spontaneous.
There are certain days that just feel right, and this was one of them. I had heard that live bait had been hard to come by, but as luck would have it, we found large schools of menhaden in a matter of minutes. With four throws of the cast net we had all the live bait and chum we would possibly need. We were going fishing.
Plotting a course to the Betsy Ross, we ran across a glassy ocean with slow rolling swells. It was just perfect. Forty-five minutes later, there was the Betsy Ross right in front of us.
I'll be ... compasses do work!
Having fished on that reef countless times, I knew where we should anchor and as we eased up to the spot, I put out a live bait in our prop wash just in case a cobia decided to come up and see what all the commotion was about. Just as Russell was getting ready to drop the anchor, there was a huge splash where the bait was swimming, and that rod screamed. After two long runs, up it came: a nice king mackerel, which we released.
I love it when a plan comes together, and this one was right on schedule.
Dropping anchor, I set out the rods and chum bags and started chunking menhaden. I swear it wasn't 10 minutes before one of the rods bent double. After another few minutes, the first cobia was in the box. Fifteen minutes later we boated a second cobia and in another 15 minutes, No. 3 hit the deck. In addition, we had some fun with bonita, one of which was devoured right next to the boat in two enormous bites by a 200-300 pound lemon shark.
The ocean gods were certainly pulling out all the stops on this trip.
After catching that third cobia we agreed that was it -- no more cobia. All three of us are of the mindset that greed is going to kill this fishery so we headed home. It was as if the fish gods were saying "thank you" as we approached Hilton Head Island. There were two big rainstorms on either side of us, and it looked like we were going to get pounded. Almost like magic, these storms they parted. None of us got so much as a drop of water on us, even though it was pouring on either side of us.
I guess you could say it was the perfect storm on a very perfect day.
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.