Believe it or not, I actually went fishing on Memorial Day. If you know me at all, then you know I never, ever fish on weekends or holidays, simply because of the crowds. Experience has taught me it just isn't worth it.
I am not antisocial but rather prefer peace and quiet when I fish -- without the drone of jet skis. That sound irritates me so much, I actually can't sleep at night because I still hear the whine they make. It reminds me of the days when Atari came out with its video game "Space Invaders." I got hooked on the game but had to put it away in the attic because when I would try to go to sleep, all I would see were those little space invaders going left to right with that "wa-wa" sound. It darn near made me go crazy.
So what prompted me to head out on what is undoubtedly one of the year's most crowded days on the water? Friendship.
The friend was Dan Cornell who has a second home in Wexford Plantation but lives in Atlanta. He was in town with his family, and though he and I have fished together for years, this outing was going to be different. Usually, it is just Dan and me, but this time he wanted to take his wife and two small children out for their first offshore experience. From past experiences with other family outings I have found that there can only be one of two outcomes: Either the ocean behaves and everything goes smooth as silk, or the ocean doesn't behave, everyone gets seasick and he'll never, ever see his wife (or kids) on the boat again no matter how hard he tries to convince her that things will be different.
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What we caught -- or didn't catch -- wasn't what made our day a complete success. It was what we saw. When you have your wife on her first trip along with two kids younger than 12, it's all about keeping them occupied because boredom can be the kiss of death. Having raised two children of my own, I know this for a fact.
As we ran along the beach on Hilton Head Island looking for bait, there was a breeze but not enough to make me too nervous that anyone would get sick. Bait (menhaden) had been tough to find for days, but when I saw pelicans diving like crazy about a half mile ahead I knew we were going to luck out. Three days prior to this trip, it took me nearly four hours to find bait, which is not the way to start a pleasant day of fishing.
One throw of the cast net later and there were so many menhaden in the net it actually floated to the surface. Not only were we set to go fishing, Dan's wife and kids were mesmerized by the sight of the pelicans slamming into the water around us and the hundreds of menhaden flopping on the deck as I emptied the net. We were off to a good start so we headed to an offshore reef.
From experience, I know that folks get seasick more often when they're anchored than when the boat is moving. There's just something about the slow roll of an anchored boat that affects kids especially.
About a month ago I had a kid on-board who got sick while we were anchored. All morning he had been eating Cheetos and drinking purple Gatorade. Without going into too much detail, let's just say I have never seen upchuck quite like that before.
Anyway, when we got anchored at the reef -- Dan started chumming while I put out the lines.
Here again is a perfect example of how sights can save the day. First a monster loggerhead turtle popped up behind the boat, something I see all the time, but for Dan's wife, Dominique, and the kids, it was magical. That turtle popped up every few minutes, and every time it was greeted with hoots and hollers.
Then, right beside us, another boat was trying to feed a large live mullet out on a rod, but a massive hammerhead wanted that fish. Its fin was close to two feet tall, and every time the kid with the rod tried to drop the mullet in the water, that 13-foot monster would go haywire not five feet from their boat. It was a real show.
Then it was our turn. Up from the depths came a tiger shark that I know was pushing 400 pounds. Dan's brood was blown away by the sheer mass of it. I've seen my share of tiger sharks but this one was a good two beer barrels around. Cobia often accompany big sharks, and at the same instant this show was going on, we hooked and landed our one and only cobia, along with a nice king mackerel.
So for those of you who plan family fishing outings, just remember that it isn't just catching fish that can make for a successful day. What you might take for granted are things that your wife and kids will never forget -- things that will get them on the boat for another day 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.