I'm planning to head out to the Gulf Stream for the first time since June. My friend Dan Cornel, with whom I regularly fish, traded in his 26-foot boat for a decked-out 31-footer so he could go farther out in the ocean. Sporting twin 300hp engines, the boat handles like a dream and should the weather gods be kind to us, the plan is to troll part of the day and bottom fish in the afternoon.
For you non-fishing folks: Trips like this are all about preparation and a healthy dose of anticipation. Between fueling up the boat, rigging the trolling lures and bottom-fishing rigs, making sure the rods are oiled and the line is good, and getting bait and food, it is pretty much an all-day affair. Add to that scouring the weather sites and satellite images of the Gulf Stream on the Internet, and it usually is late at night before I can even think about hitting the hay.
Then when you finally do lie down, anticipation takes over. Did I remember this? And what about that? Sleep is fitful to say the least as your imagination runs wild. Then you wonder if maybe, just maybe, the power will go out and you will miss wake-up time because the alarm clock is off by two hours. I can't tell you how many times I have sat awake for hours because I was too scared to fall asleep and miss my alarm. Ah, the life of a fisherman.
Is it worth it? You bet your bottom dollar it is. Usually leaving around 4 a.m., you really have to pay attention to what might be in front of you, like boats and sandbars. But once you round the southern tip of Hilton Head Island and hit deeper water, all you can do is relax and watch the stars. The farther you get offshore, the less ambient light there is and while you might have seen a few hundred stars near shore, now there are millions upon millions and you can pick out every constellation with ease. Shooting stars go streaking across the sky from horizon to horizon and the drone of engines has you drifting away to places in your mind that are yours and yours alone.
If all those stars aren't mesmerizing enough, when you look behind at the boat's wake you are captivated by a whole different light show. Plankton and other microorganisms actually make the water glow brightly with a bluish tint as you run along. They streak through the wake like bottle rockets, and it's a show that never stops. Believe me when I say it's quite the sight.
Then, as the glow of the sun begins to rise on the horizon, it acts like a wake-up call for all those aboard. Have you ever noticed how there is one bird that starts chirping at the first sign of daylight? That sound seems to wake up all the other birds and it is no different for the people on board. The sun rising signals that we are getting close to the area where we will start trolling. Plus for the first time in hours, you can see the ocean and waves, which have been nothing but guesswork until this moment. The boat just comes alive as those around you express their hopes for the day.
Another common occurrence that happens just about the time the sun no longer touches the horizon are the schools of flying fish that take flight as the boat disturbs their resting place. These bright blue marvels have transparent wings and the practiced flyers can easily fly 200 yards. Just when you think they can go no farther, their tail touches the water and off they go again for another 100 yards. On some days, the boat will force groups of more than 50 to take off all at once.
Anticipation will wear you out on long offshore trips. The water is sandy brown near the shore, but as you go farther offshore the water changes to dark green with the finale being a vibrant blue that is crystal clear. That final color of the spectrum means it's time to fish. Outriggers are extended, baits, mostly ballyhoo, are added to pre-rigged lures of different colors. Anticipation once again takes the spotlight.
From here on, success depends on the smallest details. What lure will be the hot color? Will there be weed lines that hold mahi-mahi? Will I find a water temperature change out there? I'll let you know how it went but unfortunately, not until next week. Now you know what anticipation feels like.
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.