It isn't always easy coming up with fresh materials for my weekly column, but this time around I have a whole new dilemma: How am I going to fit all that happened this past week into such a short space?
My mind is reeling with all the images of fish after fish after fish being slapped on the deck of the boat and the sight of loggerhead turtles covered with barnacles, tweety birds lost way out at sea, massive schools of bonito in feeding frenzies, acre-sized Sargasso weed patches loaded with marine life.
It was never ending.
It all started when Grant Kaple, manager of the Hilton Head Boathouse, asked me to help him out with an offshore trip he had planned. You're probably wondering what possible issue would I have with an invite like that? Well, my back had been giving me fits all week long, so it wasn't until I saw the weather report saying the ocean would be flat calm that I agreed to go. Cinching up my new back brace, I met up with Grant, Joey Cox and islander Leslie Hooleman and off we went to do some bottom-fishing 65 miles offshore.
If you remember last week, the tides were massive, which usually shuts down bottom-fishing -- but not this time around. Reaching our first drop, the bottom machine looked like someone had painted the whole screen red and yellow -- there were that many fish on the bottom.
Immediately, all three of my buds were hauling up triggerfish -- BIG triggerfish -- just as fast as the bait made it to the bottom. My back can't handle that type of abuse, so I was the designated grouper man, using live pinfish for bait. The deal was, if I hooked one, I would pass off the rod to one them and let them reel it up. I wasn't catching, but I sure as heck had the best seat in the house watching the mayhem as triggers flopped all over the deck.
I guess it was around noon when we decided to check out another spot a few miles away. About halfway there, we saw huge lines of Sargasso weed, some nearly 200 yards wide. Thinking that mahi might be lurking under these huge mats of grass, we pulled out spinning rods and began pitching live baits along the edge of the grass. Just about then, the ocean around erupted with bonito in an absolute feeding frenzy. Bonito are tuna-like and fast, and we hooked up with two of them that peeled the line like it was nothing. They swam by the boat so fast the fishing line made a ripping sound as it went through the water. It was awesome!
After having our fill of bonito, we continued on to our next spot. Down went the baits, and it was as if someone had flipped a switch because the fish there went insane. We had caught some nice triggers earlier, but these were monsters. Not only were the triggers biting like there was no tomorrow, big vermilion snapper, often mistaken for red snapper, joined in, and we didn't stop catching until there wasn't an inch of space left in the fish box.
In all, we caught 45 triggerfish, a bunch of big vermilions and, to make the day darn near perfect, the ocean was so calm we were able to run in at over 40 mph in the Boathouse's Grady White boat. Needless to say, it took more than two hours to clean all these fabulous eating fish.
All things winged and finned are headed down south. There were thousands of shore birds sitting on the water in huge groups, something you don't normally see that far offshore. More than once, egrets and herons would come loping by us as they migrated, which is definitely a strange sight that far out. Another oddity is the number of regular, everyday birds that cross the ocean, heading to parts way south. A friend of ours was fishing nearby on that same day only to have a sparrow land on the boat and immediately fall asleep. Feeling sorry for the little guy, they brought him back to the dock where they released him. I had the same thing happen to me once, but my bird was of all things a whippoorwill.
Darn, I am out of space and I really wanted to tell you about some monster flounder I also caught this past week, but that story will just have to wait.
If you like to fish, now is the time to go. The tides will have settled down and the fish are going nuts, fattening up on anything they can get down their gullets. Play hooky and get out there while the getting is good. All you have to do is leave a message on your phone saying you're on another line.
At least you're being honest!