Waiting and watching Hurricane Irma is stressful for sure, so instead of adding to that stress, I thought I would tell you some stories of past storms and how they affect nature or, more specifically, fish.
Starting with Hurricane Matthew, the day before the storm hit, my nephew Byron Sewell and I decided to take a couple of hours and see what was biting. First, we caught a bait bucket full of live finger mullet and hit some spots that have paid off in the past. The tide was coming in and, arriving at our spot, it was like something you might see once in your lifetime. The water was flowing in like crazy, and even crazier was a wad of redfish that had to number in the hundreds nose first in the flow. They were going ballistic! Jockeying for space, their backs out of the water, it looked like the parting of the red sea as their golden red backs flashed in the sunlight. We sat there for a while just watching them absolutely mesmerized at what we were seeing. Finally coming to our senses, we lip-hooked live finger mullet, and as soon as it touched the water, they actually fought over our offering. If by luck one made it past the redfish and sank to the bottom, in seconds you would feel one strong thump on your line and then nothing but heavy weight almost like you were snagged on the bottom. It wasn’t a snag at all but rather doormat-sized flounder. It was insane how many redfish and flounder we caught and released.
From experience when past hurricanes approach and the barometer starts dropping like a rock, fish go into feeding frenzies that are like nothing you have ever seen. More hard-headed than most, it seems I am always the last one to leave, because I rationalize that, while everybody else is stuck in gridlocked highways, I have the whole area to myself. Why not wet a line? As far back as I can remember, I have always gone fishing the last couple of days before hurricanes arrive on our doorstep. One time back in the mid-’80s, I hit another spot, and, in less than one hour, I caught close to 100 redfish. I was in a small saltwater creek in the middle of a marsh, and I swear every redfish for miles around were right there in front of me. Better yet, everyone else had evacuated and it was just me, myself, the redfish and maybe a few great blue herons as bystanders. I could have fished buck-naked, but I guess I’ll leave that alone for now.
Even further back in the ’60s and ’70s, I don’t remember anyone leaving Hilton Head Island when hurricanes approached. Even with five children in my family, my folks never left. Our house in Sea Pines was designed with breakaway walls on the first floor, and it is one of the few original homes that still stands. All the other homes in that neighborhood have been knocked down and replaced by massive mansions or, as my dad called them, “monuments for their owners.” I always thought that was a clever take on some of these mega-mansions that have, at most, two people living in them.
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Even after hurricanes pass, most folks don’t know that fishing is great. Especially offshore, all the wave motion and underwater currents stir up the bottom, and fish go on the feed like no tomorrow. Grouper in particular are affected by this washing machine effect, and, on just about any of the times I have targeted them after storms have passed, I have limited out in no time at all. Other species like king mackerel, mahi, wahoo and the like are ravenous, and some of best days ever have occurred when the ocean lies down enough to get out there. Inshore, I am willing to bet that, should we get a blow, the shrimp will be on the move too.
I am pretty much a weather geek and, in particular, on how different acts of nature affect fish and animals. I don’t care if it is during a full moon, new moon or in between the two, fish and animals react to these events in different ways. Some are good, others not so much, but when hurricanes sneak by, the fishing is as good as it gets. So good luck everybody, and if you happen to see some fool out fishing during a hurricane, it just might be me — clothed or not!