Monster fish await in Lowcountry lagoons

cdad@hiltonheadisland.netFebruary 25, 2014 

The mailman motto, "neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, blah, blah, blah," (I can't remember the rest but you get the gist) was pretty much my motto for years, especially when it came to fishing.

I didn't give a hoot if the wind was a-howling, the sun was a-baking or the rain was coming down in a-buckets, I would be that one idiot who went fishing no matter the conditions. I can even remember a day in the Gulf Stream when the wind was blowing so hard it was literally picking up rigged the 2-pound Spanish mackerel we were trolling and tossing them through the air.

A classic example of my sheer stupidity happened when I was in art school in Sarasota, Fla. I was bottom-fishing for grouper in 10-foot seas, sliding from one end of the cockpit to the other while eating a bologna sandwich, much to the dismay of other fishermen onboard who weren't feeling all that chipper. If you are feeling a bit queasy just at the idea of this, then you are from that other, and more rational, school of thought that prefers calm waters, warm temperatures and bright blue sunny skies. On the old "sense-o-meter," I will have to concede that these kinds of days are more of what the good Lord had in mind when he said, "Let there be fish."

As any fisherman worth his salt knows, not every day can be one of those perfect, bluebird ones -- or maybe they can. When it comes to saltwater lagoon fishing, it is smooth sailing 95 percent of the time. Not only are the waters calm, your chances of catching trophy fish go way up. Just this past week, my pseudo-nephew Johnny Bringas made quite a statement when he landed a 49-inch long redfish right there in the harbour at Wexford Plantation on Hilton Head Island. That's over 4-feet long, folks, and having caught some giants myself, I know there are even bigger reds in there.

Having lagoon-fished since I was knee high to a grasshopper, I still find myself amazed at the size that fish grow to in these landlocked nurseries. Two years ago, I caught a 54-inch redfish in Wexford Plantation. Long Cove, Sea Pines, Moss Creek, Rose Hill, Port Royal and any other place that have lagoons with a tidal flow have trout, redfish, flounder and a host of other saltwater species that grow to mammoth proportions.

These places are the perfect example of how the food chain works. Small fry and bait get flushed in first. The fry begin to grow as they gobble up micro-organisims, and each time the tide reaches a level to create a flow into these lagoons, the process perpetuates itself. With such a rich food source, the predator fish grow and grow and keep on growing to the point that many of them begin to look like freaks of nature.

To illustrate just how big some of these fish are, I landed a flounder that was 14 1/2 pounds, an 11-pound sea trout, a 30-pound tarpon, a 4-pound croaker, plus such exotics as snook, grouper, mangrove snapper and even a sea robin that had a wingspan over a foot wide. You could go creek fishing every day for years and never top these weights.

Of all the places that have these lagoon systems, only two come to mind that actively manage and promote the health of this incredible resource. Palmetto Dunes has become aware of the importance of water and fisheries management and farther south, The Ford Plantation in Richmond Hill, Ga., actually built a whole program around lagoon management. Hopefully, I won't tee off all you golfers out there when I say that the problem with proper lagoon management stems from duffers who complain "the mud is showing at low tide" and impeding the picture-perfect setting of this manicured environment.

Golfers and fishermen can co-exist, though they are very different breeds. Let's face it, the health and welfare of the environment should come first. By letting the water flow, spartina grass will grow, fish will thrive and, eventually, catching a 49-inch redfish will become a common occurrence. If golf is your bag, just once put down that club and grab a rod and land a trophy fish. Only then will you understand -- you'll have a ball while doing it.

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.

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