My angling life began at a very early age -- when my dad put a cane pole in my hand and a can of worms by my side. To this day, I can still close my eyes and remember watching that red and white plastic bobber bob along with the musky smell of worms mixed with the odor of a largemouth bass on my hands.
Without a doubt, my introduction to this wonderful sport changed my life that day. Those of us from the "old school" like to remember those years as being simpler. Sure, we were watching "Leave It to Beaver" and "Superman" in black and white, but if you really think about it, the world was in as much turmoil then as it is today.
Remember sitting in school and hearing the wail of sirens that indicated the beginning of a nuclear attack drill? You have to admit, huddling under your desk during these civil defense drills was some pretty spooky stuff.
These are the memories that are buried among a sea of great fishing adventures with my dad. When he decided that the Lowcountry was the place to live in the early 1960s, live shrimp replaced worms, and the smell of the pluff mud took the place of the smell of largemouth bass on my hands. It was straight out of "Swiss Family Robinson."
Hilton Head Island was mostly dirt roads back then, and to go to school you had to commute to either Bluffton or Savannah. But as soon as I got home from school every day, I would jump on my Western Flyer bike and go fishing. I was hopelessly hooked.
I have always been an early riser since those days when I would have to get up before the sun and a handful of kids and myself would have to make the daily run to Savannah. The weekends were no different. All it took was one shake by my dad, and I was up and ready to roll.
We would head to Palmetto Bay Marina (the island's only marina back then) and hop aboard The Buddy, the first charter boat to hit these parts. My memories of those days include the smell of diesel in the pre-dawn hours and watching my dad and his buds organize everything, just as I did with my son Logan as he grew up.
Boats back then weren't fast like they are now so it was a good three- to four-hour run offshore. I continue to relive those days every time I see the sun rise over the ocean as I head offshore. The sight is the same, and my youthful anticipation of monster fish may be a bit more mellowed by age, but that brilliant sunrise still brings back a flood of memories from childhood.
One image in particular that comes back with great regularity is from a day of marlin fishing with my dad in the Gulf Stream. We were trolling the vivid blue water, and I was sitting in the fighting chair watching the baits skip across the water. We were using meticulously rigged Spanish mackerel on the outriggers and de-boned mullet swimming on the flat lines as I sat mesmerized trying to will a fish to inhale one of the skipping mackerel. Intently transfixed on the right outrigger bait (always my lucky bait), I saw the blue water behind the bait turn neon blue as a large blue marlin took the mackerel in a swirl of water that looked very much like a toilet flushing. Then with the "snap" of the line being yanked from the outrigger clip, I watched that huge fish double the rod over, peeling line from the reel so fast it was a blur. Then suddenly, off to the side, this 400-pound marlin exploded from the water and greyhounded across the ocean with such pure energy that there seemed to be nothing a person could do to stop it, much less slow it down.
We did land that fish, and I remember every second of the fight. I also remember 100 more fishing experiences that are equally as vivid. Throughout my lifetime of world events -- which includes the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War -- fishing experiences always seemed to trump history, rising to the top much like cream on milk. Heck, I even had problems keeping high school sweethearts because they always thought I put fishing first.
The point of all this is that today's kids are faced with their own civil defense drills, their own Vietnams, but if you take the time to get them into fishing, those parts of their lives will be overshadowed by the memories you can help create, if only you take the time and get them outside, whether it's to fish, hunt or just explore.
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.