If you remember March 20 -- first day of spring -- then you know it sure didn't feel like spring. The wind was honking. It was cold, and the only thing going through my mind was that I would never get the chance to get in a Gulf Stream trip if things kept going like they were.
So that you understand the urgency behind an offshore fishing trip, you should know that my friends Don McCarthy, Harry Morales and Grant Kaple and I had entered the Hilton Head Wahoo Tournament, which allows each boat to fish for wahoo any two days before April 2. But because of the late winter surge and windy day after windy day, it looked like we wouldn't even get in one day of fishing before the tournament ended.
Then, almost like the Red Sea parting, the weatherman predicted the seas in the Gulf Stream would subside around midday Friday. As we all talked it over Thursday, it still didn't seem possible. The winds had been blowing for three straight days, and it was still blowing hard as we readied the boat late Thursday afternoon. Usually we would leave around 3 a.m. so we could have lines in the water at sunrise, a proven time for catching wahoo. But because we knew it was going to be too rough, we decided to wait until around 6:30 a.m. to head out, hoping that the ocean would settle down enough for us to get to the Gulf Stream.
It was a gamble all the way around.
Even with our late departure, it was a real rough ride out. In addition to the big seas and salt spray, it was downright cold. It wasn't until we got about 40 miles out that we began to notice the seas were subsiding a bit.
Maybe, just maybe, the weatherman was going to be right ... for once.
Only a couple of boats in the tournament had even made it out to fish prior to our trip and one of those boats, the Papa Bear, with Mike Perry and Josh Boyles, had brought in a 62-pound wahoo, which was a tall order to beat.
From what Josh told me, they caught that fish at first light and then only took two more bites the rest of the day. Since we missed the morning bite, our plan was to fish until the sun went down -- maybe Lady Luck would be on our side.
Win or lose, it was great to finally be out in that blue water, a place that holds so many of my best fishing memories. The Gulf Stream is like a snake that is constantly winding in and out depending on the wind and weather. This early in the season, I knew we had to find warm water if we were to catch anything. Arriving at our planned starting point, we put out our lines, but the water temperature was 68 degrees. That is too cold. We had to find some water that was at least 72 degrees or warmer, so we trolled out into deeper water. After about an hour, we finally found that magic temperature, and almost immediately one of the rods bucked and the line started screaming off the reel.
After a head-shaking fight with a wahoo, we put it in the boat. It was no winner but at least we had a fish -- with it came a sense of optimism that maybe we could pull a rabbit out of a hat.
Not 10 minutes later another reel screamed with a better fish.
There is something about early season wahoo that makes them particularly scrappy, with lots of head-shaking and blistering runs. To me they are the pit bulls of the sea, all teeth and, simply put, bad to the bone.
For the rest of the day we took shot after shot from wahoo and only wahoo. One fish, in particular, was spectacular as it came straight up in the air a good 10 feet before crashing down on the bait. Sadly, we lost as many fish as we caught, but by day's end we had five nice wahoo in the box. That, my friends, is a strong catch, no matter who you are.
Even now, I can close my eyes and picture those vibrant purple and blue stripes on an enraged wahoo as they came boatside. It's a vision that will forever stick with me.
On a whole different subject, I am looking for 12 of you who might want to attend my next two-part "How to Fish the Lowcountry" seminar. Once I see how the response is, I will schedule them to be held at the Waddell Mariculture Center. I plan to cover everything inshore, from what baits to use, what to look for, rigs, throwing cast nets and everything between. I will also get you ready for the upcoming cobia run with proven techniques for catching them, as well as where to catch them. I can be reached at 843-816-6608, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, I limit these seminars to 12 so that I can give each person more one on one time.
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.