A week ago, Matt Crist, a friend of mine who lives in Moss Creek, called to say he just bought a new boat and to ask if I would consider going out with him when his sons came to town.
Matt's new boat is large enough to go off shore, but up until his purchase, off-shore fishing was relatively new to him, seeing as he hails from the great state of West Virginia.
Off-shore fishing is my true love. Needless to say, you don't have to twist my arm to get me to go.
I met up with Matt early in the morning and brought all my off-shore gear. It took all three of the boys -- who are in their 30s -- to carry my junk to the boat. Cast nets, chum, tackle boxes, live bait, frozen bait, rods for this type of fish, rods for that type of fish ... it wore me out just carrying the stuff from my house to my car. And, of course, when I got to the docks at Moss Creek, I saw that Matt's boat was all the way at the far end. Thank God for strong backs.
Anyway, after everything was stored, we headed out. The winds were light, and my plan was going to be based on what I found, or didn't find, as we headed around the south end of Hilton Head Island.
Live bait nearly always beats frozen bait, but because everything in nature has been taking a left turn this spring, I wasn't sure if we would find the schools of bait fish -- menhaden or "pogies" as we call them around here -- once we made the turn into the ocean.
"Look for pelicans diving," I told the guys. "They will always steer you to the pogies." What a relief it was when all three boys started yelling, "Pelicans diving," at the same time. Two throws of the cast net later and we had enough live bait for three boats.
The plan was taking shape.
Throwing a cast net on a school of menhaden is something I have done thousands of times without a second thought. But for Matt and the guys it was as if I had walked on water when the net came up with hundreds of fish in it. "How cool is that?" one of them said. It was then I realized these guys were being exposed to just one of the many things that has kept me living by the ocean my entire life.
Heading off shore, I decided to stop at one of the artificial reefs and maybe, just maybe, a cobia would show itself. I don't think we had stopped for two minutes before I saw three brown shapes swimming near the boat. I was ready (for once) and pitched a live menhaden in front of one of the cobia. Immediately, it turned on the flashing fish and with one gulp it was gone. Matt's son Ryan took over from there, and that fish gave him all he could take. Once I gaffed it and put it in the box, I listened to the guys go on and on about how neat the experience was. Seeing the cobia eat the bait with barracuda swimming all around us, well, it was visual overload for them all. I realized, once again, how special my little world is.
With enough meat on board to feed a small army, we decided to head farther out. I was pleased with them all for agreeing with me that one cobia was enough. From there we went bottom fishing and caught some huge black sea bass and did some loggerhead turtle watching as we went from spot to spot. We were even given a show by a pod of spotted porpoises that rode our bow wave. It wasn't until we hit the last spot that I put them onto some big amberjack. Talk about getting a butt whipping, those fish had Kyle (Matt's other son) and his friend Levi Duin crying uncle (though they will never admit it). It was great.
So thanks, Matt, for taking me along. Many of the things we saw and did I take for granted because I get to see them all the time. But because of Matt, his kids and their friend, I learned that each and every one of these experiences should never be taken for granted. They aren't experiences, they're gifts.
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.