Have you been paying attention to the weather lately? I'm not just talking about here in the Lowcountry but all over the country.
Since the doctor slapped my bottom at birth, I have been a certified weather geek, and I am always intrigued by the way weather affects everything. The slightest change in weather can make the difference between catching gobs of fish or bagging a strutting turkey or big buck. On the human side of things, a change in weather can make or break a farmer or an outdoor event. The list just goes on.
So with my "weather geekiness" established, this past year has had me stumped. What was up with that winter we didn't have? And then there was that amazing June, where we had it made in the shade down here with spring-like temperatures. It was cooler here than it was in New York City! Then July hit. It was as if the weather god had nodded off on the job in June, so he flipped the switch on the heat -- no doubt a tad worried he might lose his job.
In my world, the fishing thus far has been great. Versus past years, this year has been a "thinking" year. What I mean by that is because we didn't have a real winter, some of the fish have come early, others late. Figuring out their travel patterns has been tough. The cobia stayed around longer than I can ever remember, and the giant schools of menhaden have me completely stumped. There is a lot of research going on about menhaden, or the lack thereof, and many biologists think that commercial overfishing is wiping them out.
For those of you who aren't familiar with menhaden, or pogies, they are the main food source for just about every fish. The theory is this: Since fish oil and omega proteins have become popular, commercial fishermen are harvesting these oily fish to the point that menhaden stock assessments are in serious trouble. I don't know if this is what has affected the menhaden populations here but I do know that they were here a month ago, but now you have to run all over the place to find enough menhaden to fish with. Usually by this time of the year, the schools are everywhere. Not this year.
On the bright side, inshore fishing has been on fire. Redfish are scattered, but I seem to catch them just about every time I go. The most exciting news is the sea trout are back, and they are big. Two winters ago, an extended cold snap really put the whammy on them, but in the past couple of weeks I have been catching some of the biggest trout I have seen in years. Almost all of them are roe trout and, though I release most all of them, I had one guy who wanted a couple for dinner. When I cleaned them, they looked as though they were about to explode they had so many eggs in them.
Then we have the shrimp and crabs. Here again I am stumped. The shrimp are everywhere now, and each week I see them growing larger and larger. Right now they are perfect bait size, but if you are looking for a blue crab dinner, you might need to go elsewhere. I put two traps off my dock last week baited with a bonito, one of the best crab baits you can find, and in two days all I caught was two stone crabs. Usually, I can leave a trap in for one day and have a nice pile of crabs. Not this year. Maybe they are farther up the May River or out in deeper water, but it is just one more example of weirdness that I link to the unusual weather this year.
Here's another oddity for the 2012 season: Last week in the South Carolina Governor's Cup Billfish Series, 16 blue marlin were landed, plus a few white marlin and a bunch of sailfish. What's strange about this is that usually by this time in the series, the blue marlin have already moved north and, if I remember correctly, in the past couple of years only a couple of blues were caught in this leg of the series. It's one more example of how weather patterns can change everything. It almost makes me want to go blue marlin fishing again. I used to fish all the billfish tournaments but got burned out on marlin fishing. When the bite is on like it is now, I get this little twitch to give it a go just one more time.
So as you can see, this year's extremely odd weather has really had nature all stirred up. Before you take my word for what's biting and what's not, you need to do some homework. Look at the barometer; check out the isobars, the moon phase and anything else that you can get your hands on. It will make the difference between a good day and a bad day and that, my friends, is a fact.
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.