Just about every week I get quite a few phone calls or emails from folks who have read my column. I always do my best to reply to their comments and questions.
My stories about "them good old days" seem to spark the most interest. Many people contact me to recount their own experiences from their own days gone by. And, judging from the responses I get, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. If my column runs with a photo of someone holding a big, fat redfish, I nearly always get quite a few comments, the most popular of which is "I went fishing all day yesterday and didn't catch anything but sharks!" -- followed by "What am I doing wrong?"
Fishermen are, for the most part, a very secretive lot. If they have a secret honey hole that always seems to produce fish, I swear they will take that secret to their graves. I, too, have a couple of these spots, but I actually like to show people how to catch fish. Call me crazy, but I love to watch folks catch a redfish or a trout for the very first time. Their excitement is contagious and, without fail, it always puts a smile on my face.
A perfect example of this happened this past week. A husband and wife from Asheville, N.C., Larry and Robin Brooks, had corresponded with me for quite some time, and even though I had never met them in person, I knew there was something endearing about them. Larry and I had talked on the phone on occasion, and his slow, Southern drawl got me.
Like so many others, the couple's story is this: They have a place on Hilton Head Island and about once a month they come down for a few days. Since they both loved the water, Larry went out and bought a small boat. Robin is the avid angler of the two, but they were both having a hard time transitioning from freshwater to saltwater fishing.
Finally, after weeks of correspondence, I agreed to ride along with them the next time they were here, so I could see what they were doing wrong and possibly help them catch a fish worthy of the dinner table.
From the moment I walked down the dock and met the two of them, I knew they were my kind of people. Larry, a lifelong farmer, was exactly like his voice. Instantly, I knew he had a dry sense of humor (the best kind), and his wife Robin was equally as Southern, yet she had these smiling eyes that instantly made me like her. She and I hit it off from the get-go, and I knew it was going to be Robin and Collins vs. Larry.
Larry did his best to push our buttons -- good naturedly, of course -- with quips like, "Y'all ain't going to catch any fish. Heck, we might oughta go to the fish store right now."
His demeanor only served to make me determined to put them on fish ... any fish.
I took them to one of my honey holes -- tried and true and full of redfish, but only when the tide is right. We would have an hour's wait for the tide to be right, so we dropped anchor and started fishing. Almost immediately, I saw the redfish feeding way back in the shallow part of the creek and pointed them out to Larry and Robin.
With tails and backs out of the water, the fish were fun to watch, but because the tide was so low, our baits couldn't reach them. I knew if we waited for the tide to start coming in, they would come. My challenge was to keep Larry entertained until that happened.
For the next hour it was a "banterfest" between Larry and Robin -- with me smack dab in the middle. I loved it!
Finally, the tide started moving, and it wasn't five minutes later that Robin's rod was darn near yanked from her hand. It was a redfish all right, and it was a monster. Talk about squealing, you would have thought Robin had won the lottery. No sooner had I put the fish in the boat than we hooked another one. This time Larry took the rod. As he fought that fish, Robin hooked another big red. It was total mayhem as reds grabbed their baits just about the moment the bait would hit the water.
I knew they were dying to take some fish home, but I explained that two per person was enough, and we should leave the rest alone. This is the part of teaching that I love the most -- conservation and catch and release.
With the fish still chewing, we left. I was so proud of them.
As the tide rose, I took them to another one of my spots, hoping the trout would be there. On the very first cast, Robin caught her first saltwater trout, and it would have won just about any tournament around.
Once again, I explained they should release most all the trout because our stocks were hurt bad by last winter's cold, and they were instantly on board. I told them it was fine to keep a couple but to release the rest so the trout population could get back to normal.
What really warmed my heart was that here were two people who had struggled to catch "eating fish" and now that they had learned how to catch them, they understood the importance of keeping just enough to eat a meal or two and release the rest.
With that, my job as a teacher was a success and in the process, I had made two lifelong friends.