A couple of days ago I was out fishing with a friend of mine who had asked me to show him the ropes about saltwater fishing. He was the first to admit that pretty much all the fishing he had done up to this point had been in freshwater, and having just bought a boat, he felt rather lost in the big world of saltwater fishing. "Everything looks the same," he told me. "One creek looks like the next, so how in the heck do you find places that hold fish?"
How many times have I heard this same question? If I had to guess, I think that number would be in the thousands. But no matter how many times that question has been asked of me, my answer is always the same: "Use your eyes because saltwater fishing is no different from freshwater fishing."
Look for points, look for structure, and if you really keep your eyes peeled, saltwater fish will often reveal themselves as they blast through bait just like you're used to seeing a largemouth bass going after a minnow or small shad.
Getting back to the fishing excursion with my friend, I decided to take him to one of my redfish honey holes, and right off the bat he was taken aback by its location. His boat was a little 15-foot flats that can get into some pretty darn shallow water, but to get to where I wanted to fish, we had to tilt the motor all the way up and paddle in toward the shoreline until we could go no farther. Instantly, I could see a look in his eyes that told me a lightbulb had gone off in his brain. "You've got to be kidding me," he said, "I would have never imagined fish could be in such shallow water as this."
If everything went according to plan, I knew the redfish would show up so I told him to keep his eyes open and look for fish busting on the flats. In a nutshell, I wanted him to look and see the things that I am so used to seeing. Sounds like a tongue twister, doesn't it? For the first 20 minutes I got a bit frustrated because as he was looking that way, I was seeing reds busting the other way. "Did you see that?" I would ask, "No, what?" I felt like I was on "Candid Camera" because I was seeing fish tailing, but by the time he looked to where I was pointing, they were gone.
Finally we both got on the same page, and he saw his first tailing red fish. Up until that point, I was certain he thought I was just messing with him. It wasn't until he saw that gold back come out of water that he realized I was telling the truth the entire time.
I don't care if you are fishing in 6 inches of water or 600 feet of water, your eyes are the key to being a successful saltwater fisherman. You can have the most expensive rods and reels, the coolest and most expensive flats boat made, but if you don't use your eyes, you might as well give it up. Some people are naturals when it comes to being observant of their surroundings, but on the flipside, others struggle with the art of seeing.
Maybe it has something to do with where and how you were raised. For example, whenever I go to New York City or some other major metropolitan area, I notice that people simply won't look you in the face as they pass you. I guess it's a defensive mechanism (or maybe I'm just plain ugly) but for this Southern boy, I can't get enough people watching when I hit the big city. Even right here in the Lowcountry, I am always looking around. When I am driving and see an eagle soaring above me, I can't help but look. But then I look at the car next to me and that person seems he couldn't care less -- even if a B-52 bomber were flying overhead.
Yep, I truly believe that most outdoorsmen simply see differently from the general population.
Using this God-given ability, my plan for the rest of this summer is to target a certain species of fish that are pretty much overlooked around here, and those are tripletail. In the past four or five years I have managed to catch a fair number of these prehistoric-looking fish, but only because I have gone looking for them and having done that, my eyes and brain now appear to be working together so that when I do pass by a tripletail drifting along on the surface, I instantly see it.
So train your brain to see, and you'll be amazed at what a difference it will make the next time you head out on the water.
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.