The other day I was on my way in from offshore and just as I was about to round the south end of Hilton Head Island, I had a flashback to the days when my dad and I would fish with Spanish mackerel in the very spot I was passing.
All I could think was how much things had changed from that time, which if my memory serves me correctly was around the mid- to late-1960s.
It might seem hard to believe, but back then you didn't have to go any farther than the rip at South Beach to catch all the Spanish mackerel you could possibly want. You can still catch Spanish there trolling Clark Spoons, but they seem to be smaller and to fill a limit is a rarity.
Yep, things have certainly changed because back in the day, once you rounded the south end of the island Spanish mackerel were so thick you could just about walk on them. To catch 200 or more in an outing was nothing, so the question that goes through my head is this: Where have they all gone?
So that you have a better visual on just how much everything has changed, let me try and describe Hilton Head Island as I remember it. I guess the best place to start is where the Salty Dog and South Beach Marina now sit. Back then, there was no harbor there, instead it was rolling sand dunes that stretched all the way to the southern most tip of the island.
In the summertime, shorebirds would nest on the dunes, laying their eggs right there on top of the sand. Terns, sea gulls, plovers and just about every type of shorebird common to this area were elbow to elbow on those dunes. When I would go there, I often wished I had brought along a football helmet because, as mothers will do, they fiercely protected their brood by dive-bombing intruders such as myself. You literally couldn't take two steps without having to detour around eggs and chicks. And it wasn't just noisy, it was deafening. If you put your arm up in the air, it would come back as a bloody stump, because those moms were vicious.
Entertainment was pretty much what you made it. I had friends, but there were so few people I could count the number of kids around my age on one hand. Because there weren't any places that could be termed "hangouts," the outdoors was really the only place to have fun.
We had three TV stations, but the content was mostly revivals, revivals and more revivals. The viewing highlight was the "Porter Wagoner Show" with Dolly Parton, along with "Hee Haw." So considering you had the choice to sit at home and watch these enthralling shows or going outside, I chose the great outdoors.
We didn't catch redfish, instead we caught channel bass. The term "redfish" didn't come en vogue until the late 1980s when the term "channel bass" had changed to "spot tails." The offshore fishing was unbelievable. My dad and I mainly fished with Capt. Buddy Hester on his boat the "Buddy I," and to illustrate just how good the fishing was, the lack of electronics like we use today was no problem. All you had to do back then was get in the right depth of water, and it was normally a fishorama.
Wheelbarrows full of huge red snapper and monster grouper were a common occurrence, and though I don't remember if there were limits on how many you could bring home, it sure seemed like limits were nonexistent.
As for Bluffton, it was as sleepy a town as you could ever find. Maybe it's my imagination but one thing that seems to be lacking nowadays that I remember back then was the sound of cicadas on hot summer days. I remember walking down to Messex corner store (now Eggs N Tricities) to get a bottle of pop, and the cicadas were so loud you couldn't hear yourself think. Like someone had thrown a switch they would suddenly stop only to slowly pick up again in a rhythm that went from soft to loud, over and over until you could just about feel it vibrate through your chest.
I still love the Lowcountry and can't imagine living anywhere else, but I will tell you that it has changed so much. It isn't until I go over to Daufuskie or visit friends who live out in the boonies that I hear the sounds that were once so common right here in Bluffton and on Hilton Head. I saw these changes coming as far back as the early 1970s, so I have had time to get accustomed to all the changes that have occurred in the name of "progress."
I still have a wealth of memories to fall back on, plus I am truly blessed to have experienced the very best of the Lowcountry while it was still wild and uninhabited. Not many of us can say that, but for those of you who shared these special times, you know it was truly the best gift anyone could ever have.
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.