It's no secret I used to be an exclusive freshwater fisherman. Long after my arrival in the Lowcountry, I still failed to grasp the concept of water that was here one hour and gone the next. Tides were my nemesis, as well as the vastness of the waters before me.
Normally, I had targeted a particular species, but now my world had opened up to more variety -- and teeth.
My first saltwater catch was a speckled trout. Being new to the saltwater scene, I simply lipped the fish as I would a freshwater species. From trout to catfish, sharks and a number of other species, I learned these fish talked back.
As a youngster visiting relatives, I had fished saltwater before, but the adults did most of the fishing. The kids were assigned other pursuits, mostly so we would stay out of way.
Like many of my outdoor adventures, trial and error was my classroom.
The day I hooked my first stingray, I thought I had snagged a submarine. My homemade boat was not designed for open water. From the shallows to the deep blue -- beyond sight of land -- my shouts and hollers seemed to have little effect. Like many novice saltwater anglers, I figured any fish hooked would be a record, so I used the heaviest tackle I could afford. Needless to say my venture over the horizon was a testimony to the realization that terminal tackle could very well be just that.
Bridge fishing was still allowed, as traffic was minimal in those days. It was interesting to time your back cast to the speed of the next approaching windshield. Power lines along the bridge were adorned with a variety of sinkers, floats and tangled lines. And long before catwalks were installed, a large fish usually brought traffic to a halt as everyone became a spectator.
An unusually large catch involved teamwork between the angler and the holder of the snatch hook. The fish was snagged on a heavier line and was brought over the rail to the envy of others. If you didn't have a snatch hook or partner, you took your chances. Most of the time, the fish won.
Catching a crab or toadfish was common, and they remained scattered on the bridge playing dodge with oncoming traffic. Bait and tackle was simple, a tub of frozen shrimp, a push-button reel and a rod long enough to gain elbow room and respect. The necks of many an old timer were scarred from the enthusiastic toss of a bait by an overzealous youth looking to set the next world record.
At the end of the day, it seemed the walk to the car was endless, especially if you were among those who failed to catch anything. The corner spot on the catwalk may have seemed prime at the start of the day but walking past others on the return was a lesson in humility.
On the beach, things were a bit more simple, although distance and distractions became much more a part of the game. If you were fortunate enough to locate an area with easy breakwater, you were soon crowded by others willing to share your turf. The variety of long rods adorned with every manner of rigs and baits was a sight to behold. When the occasional catch involved tangled lines, or the family dog brought apologies, it became an effort better left to those with less temper and more patience.
Many lessons were learned, some passed to others and some left to experience first hand.
No greater joy comes to those who take the time to learn and experiment; it's a shame many of the schools have been lost to progress.