How do you picture the quintessential fishing charter boat captain?
To me, he would be tall and lanky, wearing khaki pants and a rumpled white shirt that never saw the hot side of an iron and, of course, boat shoes. His face would be weathered from years of exposure to the sun and ocean spray and, most importantly, he'd be a real talker with more stories than you can shake a stick at -- because when the fishing gets slow, he had better know how to keep his charter entertained. Finally, he would probably wear aviator sunglasses and some sort of hat, maybe one of those visor-style ball caps.
How'd I do?
Up until a week ago, there was a 66-year-old captain on Hilton Head Island who fit this image to a "T" -- Capt. Stratty Pollitzer.
I wouldn't be surprised one bit if somewhere along the line you've bumped into Stratty. He ran his boat, the "Hero," out of Harbour Town for as long as I can remember. And if you were out there fishing with your VHF radio on and happened to hear a slow Southern drawl just drawling on and on and throwing out zingers left and right, that was probably Stratty. He would have the entire fleet in stitches.
Having known Capt. Stratty since he started chartering here back in 1974, I can say he was one of those rare folks who never, ever changed. To call him a philosopher would be a bit too Harvard-ish for this Beaufort native. He had a life plan, though. And, if you cared to listen, he had no problem whatsoever telling you about that plan -- especially over a rum and ginger. He would tell you how he never made a cent fishing and how the economy was killing his business. However, all of us who knew him figured that on the day he died someone would find his mattress, car seats, pillows and maybe even a few dozen coffee cans buried in the yard stuffed with $100 bills.
So how did he do it when so many other charter captains struggled? Stratty-nomics.
While other charter captains continually foo-foo their boats with all the latest and greatest gadgets, Stratty kept it simple -- real simple. The "Hero," a no-nonsense brand of boat called a Prowler, had a single inboard engine, so gas prices never affected him all that much. He believed you should be able to take a hose and rinse down the boat, inside and out, with equal ease. I was surprised he didn't have a drain in his living room so he could practice this same theory at home.
Was he a great fisherman? Let me put it this way: Remember the line "Who is that masked man?" in the old Lone Ranger TV show? When Stratty fished, that boat of his never, ever stopped. Once again, simplicity was his strongest virtue. He didn't cotton to new-fangled fishing techniques; instead he trolled and trolled and trolled some more. He even had the nickname "Lawn" because, as he put it, he would "mow the lawn" on every charter. Using Clarke spoons and Drone spoons almost exclusively, he would make laps off Hilton Head Island. I would guess he covered the same ground for so many years there is probably a groove in the bottom of the ocean from the "Hero."
Another part of Stratty-onomics -- or, as he called it, his "empire" -- had to do with an oil-rig-like tower called the "Texas Tower" that used to stand offshore as a navigational aid until a ship ran over it a few years back. That tower was his bread and butter. Why? Because it always held large numbers of barracuda. Stratty was a master when it came to convincing his charters to have the barracuda they caught mounted. Why? He would get money from the taxidermist for every fish they mounted. Believe me when I say there are more barracuda on walls in Ohio homes than there are swimming in the entire Atlantic Ocean. I think he actually started crying the day the Texas Tower was knocked over.
I could go on and on about Stratty because he was infectious. I never once left him where my cheeks and stomach didn't hurt from laughing. Sadly, he had finally retired from fishing last November after selling the "Hero," while leaving chartering to his son, Christiaan.
He was just beginning to live his dream -- which included a little bird hunting, rocking chairs and spending as much time with his grandchildren as he could.
When I learned the "Hero" sank just a week prior to his passing, I wondered how everything in life seems to be inexplicably intertwined. I guess I'll just have to keep on wondering. But one thing is for sure: Capt. Stratty Pollitzer made his mark -- much like a male dog does on a long walk.
We'll miss you buddy, and forgive me if I sneak into your yard at night with metal detector. I just like coffee, that's all.
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.