I don't even know how to begin this story.
Even now, two days after the fact, it still feels like a dream. My mind keeps rushing back to this moment and that moment. When I sit down to work, I find it hard to concentrate on the task at hand because of all the mental interruptions.
I might as well start at the beginning, even though my gut tells me to blurt out everything that happened that day in a way that would have you thinking I was suffering from some mental disorder.
So, here goes nothing.
The phone rang, and it was my fishing buddy, Don McCarthy. For no real reason other, than life's daily routines, he and I haven't fished together much in the past couple of months. During this call he said it plainly, "We're going offshore Tuesday." It wasn't as if I hadn't fished much lately, because I have, but most of that was in the creeks, so those words were music to my ears.
"Who's going with us?" I asked.
"I guess it will be you and I, Catfish (Will Thompson) and go ahead and ask Byron (my nephew)."
I laughed a bit because to me this is the A-Team -- two old guys, me and Don, and two young bucks, Catfish and Byron. Perfect!
Meeting up at Don's boat, the Manatee Mac, just before sunrise I had this tingly feeling inside that this was going to be "the" day. There wasn't a hint of wind as the flag at the Boathouse was hanging limp. I had lucked out and caught 40 or so live pinfish for bait the night before so we were good to go. It just felt right.
As we ran out of Port Royal Sound heading out to sea, the sun peeked over the horizon. But this wasn't just any sunrise. It was an omen. All of us were slack-jawed at the scene in front of us. It was the sunrise of all sunrises, so vibrant, words can't describe it. We even stopped the boat just so we could watch it.
The day was trying to tell us something, and it wasn't until later that we knew what it was.
There were large, rolling swells the entire way out, but that was all. The water was like glass, and it was like taking the longest roller coaster ride you could ever imagine. Every now and then, I would glance at Catfish and Byron seated behind me, and every time I was greeted with a smile and a thumbs up look in their eyes. And Don? He looked like a mule eating briars -- he was in his element.
When running that far, there is something about the moment the throttles are pulled back. It's like a shot of adrenaline. Everyone is bumping into each other as they bait their hooks. It's like a contest to be the first to get your bait to the bottom. Are the fish going to be there?
All it took was one look at the sonar, and I knew we were going to be winners. The fish were stacked up like cordwood. Almost on cue, a school of spotted oceanic porpoises began doing cartwheels next to the boat -- some as high as 15 feet.
It didn't take 15 seconds before Don's rod slammed down on the gunnel as a grouper tries its best to get back in his lair. At the same time, my rod was nearly yanked out of my hands, and Catfish and Byron were hooked into Lord knows what.
It was mayhem!
Don finally slapped a nice gag grouper on the deck while I brought up a huge red snapper. Catfish and Byron brought in monster triggerfish -- not one at a time, but two at a time.
The bite was on, and I mean like "30 years ago on."
For the next three hours all we could hear was grunting and groaning as the big grouper, big snapper, huge black sea bass and triggerfish wore us out. Just when it couldn't get any better, it did as a 50-pound cobia just about whipped Don for a good 30 minutes. It was as if that cobia had been on steroids or something, because it just wouldn't give up.
On these offshore trips, we usually don't get home until dark. On this day we were home by 3 p.m. We limited out on grouper, and the fish box was packed to the brim. We could have stayed out there and caught another 100 fish, but why do that when in a few short hours we experienced some of the best fishing imaginable?
It was the perfect day from start to finish and it will be forever in my mind.
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.