I just returned from Charlottesville, Va., where I saw my first grandchild -- Alice (not Martha Jefferson) -- for the first time. All I can say is that ranks right up there as one of the most awesome experiences in my life.
Without going on and on I will tell you this one story. When I was very young (I am the youngest of five children) my nickname was "Mr. Sugar." Why? Because, from what I gathered from my folks, I was pretty much born laughing. When I picked up little Alice for the first time, I couldn't help but pull out the goofy faces I used to use to calm my own children when they were young. I was floored when, at less than a month old, she looked up at me with a quizzical face and then out of nowhere let out a raucous laugh. Maybe that is something all kids do, but to me it was exceptional. I always thought that humor was something learned and not something you are born with. She definitely has a tad of my genetics.
Enough baby talk. Another thing about my Charlottesville trip was that it was cold up thar in them thar mountains. Ever since I broke my back, I dread the cold. It just makes me hurt twice as bad as usual. Granddaughter or not, I was whistling Dixie when I hit the South Carolina state line again and felt the first hint of warm air. And then when I finally turned onto Oyster Street where I live, the warmth combined with the smell of the marsh brought out the Mr. Sugar that still hides inside me. I couldn't wait to get out on the water.
Knowing that the cold snap had also hit here during my absence, I wondered what it had done to the fishing and shrimping. I was praying that the fall run hadn't ended because the fish and shrimp had boogied offshore. My boat was in the shop and I had work that needed to be caught up on but just as soon as I got things back in order, I was going fishing come hell or high water.
Calling some of my buds, the word was that it was a seafood cornucopia to be had. Offshore, blackfin tuna were appearing in numbers, the triggerfish bite was on fire, while inshore it was hard to decide what to go after because every species whether it be crabs, shrimp, clams, oysters or fish were at their peak. It was killing me that my little boat, the Marsh Monkey, was not yet fixed. But then the phone rang and the voice on the other end simply said, "Come and get it." Something else that voice mentioned was something about bringing my checkbook. Oh well, can't take it with you.
After publishing some pictures of hefty flounder lately, both my phone and email have been deluged by fisherman begging me for information on where and how to catch these odd looking and delicious creatures. I swear I have had thirty or more requests for information on flounder. With so many transplants from up around New Jersey and that general area, flounder fishing was big. Yet around here, flounder are pretty much a by-catch even though there are more flounder around than you can shake a stick at. I will say that I have gotten pretty good at catching these fish but that ability sure didn't come easily. It only took me fifty years to figure it out and even with what I know, it still isn't a sure thing when I go after these flatties.
In my humble opinion, the best bait for flounder is live finger mullet fished just above the bottom using nothing but a short fluorocarbon leader, a split shot and a circle hook. Year round residents, flounder, especially the larger females, make a move offshore about this time of the year. Though I do have several inshore spots, your best chance for a big one is to make drifts over some of the near shore artificial reefs like the Fish America reef and the Eagle's Nest Reef. They prefer to be on the bottom away from structures and the best time to fish these spots is when the tide has slowed so your drift is not too fast. But if you really want to get them, gigging at night is the way to go. You'll be amazed at the number of flounder you'll see and its nothing to come home with a cooler full of these babies.
My real welcome home present came last Tuesday when my friend Will "Catfish" Thompson and I decided to give the shrimp a try. This year's shrimping has been spotty, but on that day we hit the mother load. Running from spot to spot with only marginal success we pulled back on one deep hole and my bottom fish finder showed those little buggers stacked up the bottom like cord wood. It doesn't happen often but on this occasion we were nabbing over five pounds a throw. It was awesome. We limited out in no time and it took us more time to head the shrimp than it did to catch them.
Lord, I love this place!