I am sitting here writing this early Sunday morning. I have a hot cup of coffee sitting beside me and do I ever have a story to tell you.
I would have written my column yesterday but my fingers were so swollen and cramped I couldn't have typed had the world depended on it. It took soaking my fingers in warm water and Epsom salts to bring down the swelling enough to let me hit one key at a time on the keyboard.
It all started last Thursday when my cell phone rang. It was my fishing compadre Don McCarthy.
"Hey Collins," he said. "Get ready, 'cause you, me, Grant and Will Thompson are hitting the Stream tomorrow. The winds are going to be light and variable, and the seas one to two feet."
To say I was taken aback is an understatement because all that week I had been twisting wire and tuning my offshore lures for the Hilton Head Harbor Wahoo ShootOut, which is scheduled to start in two days. For those of you who are not familiar with big game fishing, preparation is everything. So my answer to Don was: "Are you sure you want to do this?"
One thing I know about Don is that once he makes up his mind, it is nearly impossible to get him to change it.
We were going fishing.
The next thing I knew it was 3:30 a.m. and I was hopping on the Hilton Head Boathouse's brand new 30-foot Grady White. Grant Kaple, who manages the Boathouse, had rigged the boat to the max with twin 300hp Yamaha outboards and every bell and whistle imaginable. Under the guise of being a "practice run" for the tournament, we cast off the dock lines and off we went.
Gulf Stream fishing is my first love. The art of rigging for fish that can exceed 500 pounds and can travel at speeds up to 60 miles per hour means everything has be just right. I think that is what I like so much about blue water-fishing. The raw power of the fish out there is amazing. As we got farther offshore, Don's "one to two foot seas" looked more like three to fours to me, but I kept mouth shut. We were in it for the long haul.
Just about the time the sun rose over the ocean, we started fishing. Running eight lines, some short, some long, some deep, I tried to cover the water column. We hadn't fished 10 minutes when the first fish hit. I watched the line peel off the reel and I knew it had to be a wahoo. No other fish goes that fast.
As Will reeled in the line, his head-shaking confirmed my suspicion. It was Will's first wahoo, and he was blown away by its power. A big boy, Will was huffing and puffing until I gaffed the fish. One in the box! At least we weren't going home skunked.
Like clockwork, about every 10 to 15 minutes a rod would buck, followed by the yell, "Fish on!" Like last April, it seemed that wahoo were the only fish out there, which was fine by me. I think we had three nice wahoo in the boat when I happened to be watching the baits skipping across the water and saw the wake of a fish 100 yards away come screaming across the ocean. The fish came through the baits, made a hairpin turn and demolished the long line. So much for the "just wahoo" theory as a nice mahi-mahi took to the air. Mahi often travel in groups, and we picked up two more while we fought the first fish. By this point we had a box full of fish. The day was a total success and anything else would simply be gravy.
Then it happened.
A fish hit so hard and so fast it peeled off 200 yards of line in the blink of an eye. Grant grabbed the rod and every time he gained line on the fish, it took twice that amount off. It was a tug of war that went on for nearly 15 minutes. I knew it had to be big but I had no idea how big as I grabbed the leader and eased the fish up from the depths. It got bigger and bigger with every inch I got on it. Don handed me the gaff, and I stuck the fish. I had to get Grant to help me get it over the rail. It turned out to be 82 pounds of wahoo, a monster for these parts.
All I can think now is that we might have used up our wahoo karma for the tournament. I guess we'll find out next week.
Lastly, remember to call or email me if you want to attend my "How to Fish the Lowcountry" seminar Tuesday at the Waddell Mariculture Center.