Lowcountry boy still chasing the big ones, and lots of them

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comOctober 20, 2012 

Bubba Carter, left, visits his father, Eddie Carter.

DAVID LAUDERDALE, STAFF PHOTO

Bubba Carter's father begged him not to do it.

But he did anyway.

He's a charter boat captain, guiding people to fish.

His boats have set 18 world records, he's caught and released more than 18,000 billfish, he's caught the Fantasy Slam (five billfish species in one day), and 11 black marlin weighing more than 1,000 pounds. That's the short list of highlights for a 56-year-old man who left home to chase fish after a year of college. His most recent world record was a 55-pound white marlin caught using a 2-pound test leader, thin as thread.

His father, back on the marshes of the Coosawhatchie River in Jasper County, puts little gold stars on a big wall map, showing all the ports his son has fished from. Central America and the Caribbean look solid gold.

Bubba's younger brother, Jeff, is in the same profession but has stayed closer to home. He runs the Morning Girl charter boat out of Palmetto Bay Marina on Hilton Head Island, a skip from the Point Comfort neighborhood where the three Carter children grew up. Jenny Carter calls her younger brothers "boat people."

Jeff said the older he gets the more he wishes he'd listened to his dad.

Bubba says it's not as glamorous as it looks when he's splashed across the shiny pages of Marlin magazine or seen on ESPN.

Sitting in his parents' living room last week during his annual trek home from Costa Rica, Bubba teases Eddie and Shirley Carter.

"You're the whole reason I'm fishing and ain't got no money," he says.

'WANT IT'

Eddie Carter was one of Hilton Head's earliest charter captains. He moved his family from Savannah in 1963 to be a manager in the Sea Pines home-building division. On the side, he was a mate on the Buddy II with the island's original offshore charter boat king, the late Buddy Hester.

He eventually left home-building and got his own boat. Shirley said they should name it the Pilot Boy after one of the steamers that used to stop on Hilton Head before the bridge.

Bubba begged his daddy to take him to the Savannah Light Tower, where people talked about catching the big ones. That's how they celebrated Bubba's sixth or seventh birthday. The wind was blowing. It was rough and nasty. And Bubba was hooked.

"There's something about throwing a little fish out and bringing back a big one that fascinated me," he said.

Bubba was a mate for his daddy at age 9. He, too, became a mate for his mentor, the demanding retired Marine Buddy Hester. He also worked offshore with Sumner and Ginga Pingree, and Bobby Cooler of Beaufort.

Bubba was desperate to get his charter boat captain's license the minute he turned 18. He was a senior at H.E. McCracken High School in Bluffton when the magic day rolled around. He had to get Hester to sign for all the hours he'd worked under him at sea, but Hester wouldn't do it as long as Bubba had his scr

aggly Beetles haircut.

Bubba got Harry Giles to cut his hair. It wasn't good enough for Hester. He went to barber Joe Adams to get it cut again. Hester said it still wasn't good enough. He got hair dresser Betty Broome after hours at her house to give him a buzz cut. He presented himself again to Hester, who said:

"I just wanted to see how bad you wanted it."

'LIVE IT'

Bubba wanted it bad enough to take the Pilot Boy to Palm Beach, Fla., where another old salt, Capt. Bobby Haines, told him not to try to make a living at fishing.

It was too late.

"When I was a kid, we went 17 miles out," Bubba said. "I kept going farther and farther, chasing fish. I woke up one day, and I was in Australia. That's just the way it's been."

His father wants him to fill a book with all his stories -- working for some of the world's wealthiest people, taking a boat Robert Graves built on Hilton Head through the Mediterranean, buying a 22-year-old Rybovich when he was 22.

He could tell about what he calls "two and a half marriages," with one "a half" because there were no children and no home. He could tell about two children who he says turned out well thanks to their mothers, while Bubba hustled to book 200 charter days a year to make ends meet in a sport that's gotten so expensive few can afford it.

He runs the 43-foot Tijereta out of the Los Suenos Resort and Marina in Costa Rica, where the clear waters are slick and the fish are so plentiful and close to the marina, the Lowcountry boy says it's like "shooting over baited fields."

There were four charter boats there when he arrived in 1986. Now there are 40 in his marina alone, and there are four marinas.

In truth, Bubba doesn't blame his parents.

"It starts out as a passion, and it ends up an addiction," he said. "There's no money in it. It takes way too many hours."

His mother giggles when he says he likes billfishing and likes to catch a lot of them.

"If you can't holler, 'Blue marlin, right teaser' (when one is near the boat), then you might as well be driving a truck," Bubba said.

"It's an experience you can't write or tell. The colors aren't in a Crayola box. It's something you've got to see. You've got to live it."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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