Each and every week I get a number of calls and emails from folks telling me that no matter what they do, they just can't seem to catch anything other than stingrays and sharks.
Usually when I hear this, I suspect one of two things: They are fishing too deep or they have not done their homework by researching the area they plan on fishing. I can't imagine being from somewhere like Ohio and then putting my brand-new boat in the water around the upper part of the tide and being able to find fish. GPS or not, in situations like this it is all guesswork and should you land on a wad of fish, all I can say is you are one lucky individual.
So what got me on this subject? This past week a friend of mine called and asked me to travel up to his new place on the other side of Beaufort and, hopefully, help him to find fish. I was up front with him from the get-go and basically told him it would be the blind leading the blind since I had never fished these waters in my life. Persistent, he said that was all right and that if I just showed him techniques, he would be most grateful. So I agreed to come up the next day.
To be perfectly honest, I had a nervous knot in my stomach the night before I went. Could I put him on some fish in an area that was completely alien to me? Heeding the advice I give newcomers to this area, I suggested we fish the incoming tide. Why? For one thing it allows me to see what kind of structure is around, and structure is usually where you'll find fish. Oyster rakes, old docks and things like that. Secondly, since I would be fishing unfamiliar waters, if we ran aground at least we would have the tide on our side and not have to wait six hours or more to float free. But the added factor that had me more nervous was that up in the area he was now living, the water isn't transparent green like it is down here. It is more like chocolate milk making it twice as hard to see what is front, beside or under you.
After I arrived at his house the next morning, he and his 14-year-old son and I hopped onto his brand new flats boat and headed out. Fairly new to boating, he immediately suggested I run the boat. Talk about upping the pressure, I felt like a teenager when they first go to get their license at the DMV with an instructor grading you on your every move. Luckily, I had sat down at my computer the night before, looked on Google Earth and printed out the area, circling places that looked promising. He did have a GPS onboard, but the map didn't show depths -- so basically I had to feel my way up these winding creeks.
Once again, I practiced what I preach to new boaters and that is "don't go any faster than you want to hit something." I was like Granny driving a big ole Caddie, hands tightly clinched to the wheel as I closely watched the depth finder, ready to pull back to neutral the moment I suspected we were getting in shallow water. I did pretty good and only once did I have to make a U-turn when I noticed an egret walking on water. Yep, I know egrets aren't that godly, so the only other explanation was a sandbar.
After a while, I actually started to get into it. I love exploring new areas and new surroundings. As we made our way up the creek I hit the "Man Overboard" button on the GPS when I saw places that looked promising, because as soon as the tide came in, all those oyster rakes would disappear and there was no way that I would find them again in that dirty water. There was bait everywhere... shrimp, mullet and crabs galore and then I saw it, the back of a redfish as it was rooting around near some oysters.
Cutting off the engine and easing the anchor overboard, I told my friend's son to pitch his bait up where I had seen that redfish. His cork had barely hit the water when it disappeared and it was fish on!
For the next 40 minutes it was redfish-o-mania as we caught one after another. Both my buddy and his son were in hog heaven. To make the day even more memorable, as we headed back to the dock I noticed a porpoise acting strangely, much like the tame ones down here. I cut the engine and that porpoise came up to the boat, sticking his entire head out of water and begging for food. I knew someone had been feeding that guy, but my friend was convinced I was Dr. Doolittle and Bill Dance put together.
I had lucked out from start to finish, but I wasn't about to burst his bubble. Dr. Doolittle and Bill Dance, huh? I could get used to that!