Last week I was fortunate enough to have two trips guiding some really neat people.
Unlike many fishermen who hold fishing secrets close to the vest, I love teaching people how to catch fish. I'm not saying I reveal all my best spots and secrets, but for the most part, I get more of a kick out of watching someone else catch a big fish, especially if it's their first time.
Other than reeling in a few trout and a flounder or two, I usually hand off a rod with a fish attached to it to the person fishing with me.
People always ask me why I didn't choose being a charter boat captain rather than being an advertising and graphic design junky. The answer to that question is easy. If I had become a charter boat captain, I feared the days would all start to blur together and eventually I would lose my love of fishing.
Even now that I guide people in their boats part-time, I am devastated when the fish aren't biting or something goes wrong. I'll turn a half-day trip into an all-day affair because my conscience gets the best of me. The way I see it, the person who has asked me to show them the ropes is relying on me to put them on fish, so, by gum, I'll stay out there until we do. The part of this equation I tend to forget is that for the most part it is the experience of the trip that stays with them and not how many fish they caught.
I know I am lucky to have the chance to be out on the water a lot. Every single time I go is different. One day may be flat calm, and besides catching fish after fish, I'll see bald eagles, porpoises and even manatees. Then two days later the conditions will be totally different. The wind will howl, the water looks like chocolate milk and, other than an otter or mink and a couple of fish, the day doesn't produce. When that happens, I come away with a deep feeling of guilt combined with a sense I let down my client. Oddly enough, I usually get an email or phone call from that person the next day telling me what a great day they had. All I can think is, Were they on the same boat I was on?
You see, I forget many of these people have never experienced a day like that in their entire lives. Whether it's an otter, eagles or manatee -- or some other creature making an appearance -- it is all new to them. Just like being out on the water when it is rough and at times sketchy can be exhilarating. Nature can throw curve balls at any moment, and if you keep your eyes open, good or bad, these curve balls can make you feel so darn alive.
You all know the expression, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." Well, when it comes to fishing, this saying is most apropros. One of my trips last week was with Dan Cornell who lives in Atlanta but has a house and boat on Hilton Head Island. The plan was to take him and two of his friends from Atlanta to the Gulf Stream, but we only had a two-day window to get going before they all had to get back to work. I knew the weather forecast was marginal, but with time being such a factor, off we went.
Just short of the Gulf Stream, I came across a massive Sargasso weed line that was loaded with mahi-mahi. Dan's friends had never done this type of fishing, so with every mahi we caught, they were dumbstruck by these beautiful acrobats of the sea. The wind and seas picked up, but before I made the call to head in closer, the farthest lure back was hit and the way the line peeled of the reel, I knew it had to be a wahoo -- a big wahoo.
Wahoo is on Dan's bucket list of fish to catch. And this one gave him all he could handle, plus more with scorching run after run.
After he landed the fish, I suggested we head in to beat the rising wind and seas. Stopping at a Navy tower that looks much like an oil rig, I suggested that Dan's guests drop down some live baits. Within moments both of them hooked up to big Almaco jacks (a cousin to an Amberjack). I sighed because other than being extremely strong fighters, they are not considered a food fish. Once again, I felt like I had let them down. But what I failed to realize was that "trash fish" was their treasure.
They would have caught them all day long.
I'm starting to learn that not everyone I take fishing has had the privilege of experiencing some of the wonders of the ocean that I have been blessed with. Maybe, just maybe, I'll remember this lesson but with my memory issues, I seriously doubt it.
I guess I just have a guilty conscience, and the funny thing is, I'm not even Catholic.
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.