I was talking to a man I met at Hilton Head Boathouse about my life here and especially interesting to him were a few tales about the "good old days" on Hilton Head Island. That chance encounter got me thinking about those early days, and I thought maybe you, too, might get a chuckle out of some of the same things we talked about that day.
U.S. 278 was very different from the four-lane highway you see today. Back then it was a two-lane road lined with monster live oaks. Kids, like myself, who loved the outdoors pretty much had the whole place to ourselves. Everybody knew everybody and though it was during the time when civil rights were a hot button issue, there was actually very little racism in these parts. Color didn't make any difference, and I vividly remember times when everyone, black and white, would gather together for events.
I can remember an article my father once wrote titled "The Wave," which was entirely about how each of the very few residents on Hilton Head had their very own unique wave (no two were the same) when they passed you in their car. It might be a one-finger-off-the-steering-wheel wave or, for my dad at least, a full two-handed wave. Thank the Lord, there wasn't much traffic those days.
Wildlife was everywhere -- and I mean everywhere. Fishing was, to put it mildly, absolutely incredible. Wild turkeys, boar, deer and rattlesnakes were a dime a dozen. For wing shooters, migrating waterfowl literally filled every pond on Hilton Head. Mallards, black ducks, pintails, widgeon, teal and even an occasional flock of geese would plop in from time to time. This might sound a bit extreme, but on one particular Thanksgiving I pulled a move that would be the subject of a reality show nowadays. If I had to give it a name it would probably be called a "Tred Barta Move." If you are not familiar with Tred, he had a hardcore outdoor show in which he hunted and fished using nothing but ancient techniques similar to what Native Americans might have used many moons ago. So here is my tale, believe it or not:
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I was around 11 years old and had walked past a pond in Sea Pines while fishing and noticed a flock of Canada geese on the lagoon's edge. I hid and watched them, thinking how neat it would be to surprise my folks with a Thanksgiving goose. Some friend of my family would send us one every year and, with that in mind, I could only imagine my dad's delight if his youngest was able to put this year's goose dinner on the table.
I sat in those woods all afternoon watching those geese and formulating my plan. As the sun went down, it got dark enough where all I could see were the silhouettes of geese against the twilight sky as they sat along the edge of that lagoon. It took me an hour, on my belly, slithering along through the grass inch by inch getting closer and closer to one goose that was away from the others. Finally, I was only two feet from the bird and I grabbed his leg. That goose went ballistic. It darn near beat me to death with his wings and beak before I actually subdued it. We had a very nice Thanksgiving that year, and it wasn't until years later that my dad told me the geese were actually pets that had just been purchased by a neighbor of ours.
Though there hasn't been a marlin tournament here in years, you might be surprised to learn just how many marlin were caught and weighed in during the annual Sea Pines Billfish Tournament held in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Usually, there were 20 to 25 boats in this two-day tournament, and it was not unusual to have 20 or more marlin brought to the scales during these two days. In anybody's book, that is a darn impressive number of fish, especially for this part of the country.
Each year, I would fish with my dad, Henry Claussen (owner of Claussen Bread Company) and Joe Fraser Sr. aboard Henry's boat captained by Hilton Head's most famous pioneer fisherman, Buddy Hester. Those tournaments were one of the highlights of the year and often brought just about every islander to Harbour Town as the boats arrived back to the dock. It was a champagne event, a real foo-foo gathering and first class all the way. As you can see from the photo, I actually had hair. Contrary to popular belief, I wasn't born totally bald -- that part came later.
There are a million more tales I could tell. I'll try and dredge up a few more for you. Though there are many more people here now, I still regard the Lowcountry as one of the most beautiful places on earth. Just yesterday, I went down to the river as the sun was setting and, as it is during this time of the year, the sunset was just indescribable.
One last thing, if you happen to notice a flock of migratory geese making a stop in a pond near your home, give me a buzz. Maybe this old bird still has it in him and if I pull it off, I'll make sure to bring you one of the drumsticks.
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.