I know that my last column was a bit odd, but then again I am a bit odd (or so I have been told). If you missed last week's musings, I talked about facing my own mortality, which was prompted by the loss of some great fishing friends of mine in a one-week period. It shook me up pretty bad.
Thankfully, this time around I have a story that I think you'll find more upbeat -- even though it has a few twists and turns that were prompted by lingering memories of when one of my best friends died in my arms while we were offshore fishing.
His name was Warren Matthews. He and I were like Mutt and Jeff. Warren lived in Wexford Plantation on Hilton Head Island. He and I first met when he bought a boat and needed someone familiar with our waters to guide him. We fished hard, we fished often and we laughed so much it took years for my belly to settle down after he passed. Here is where fate stepped in.
I think it was three or four years ago that I met another Wexford resident who, like Warren, was looking for someone to help him learn our waters. His name is Dan Cornell, and from the first day we first fished together, we knew a close friendship was imminent. After being together on a boat for eight or 10 hours, you get to know a person pretty darn well. It's not like you can just step off and take a break from one another. After fishing with a lot of folks, you pretty much know whether you are compatible right away. And as anyone who has ever fished with me knows, a sense of humor is a must.
Well, Dan, and I clicked like butter and grits and though I don't know how many times we have fished together, I do know it has been a lot. We laugh all the time and, as luck would have it, we catch fish most of the time.
So here is my story about a few Saturdays ago. The Hilton Head Boathouse was putting on a red snapper tournament during a brief three-weekend opening in which you could catch and keep one red snapper per person in a fishery that has been closed for almost three years now.
It didn't take much convincing before Dan was all for giving it a go. We needed one or two additional anglers, so I invited my nephew Byron Sewell and another regular I fish with, the one and only "Everyone Drives a Used Car" Mike Cody, owner of Lowcountry Motors. Even though Mike and Dan had never met, I knew they would be the perfect match. Mike is an absolute hoot to fish with.
Waking at 5 a.m., I picked up my phone and saw that my nephew had texted me. He couldn't go due to work issues. So now it was just Dan, Mike and myself. This is where things got kind of weird.
I have kept a little black book for years that is more a fishing journal with stories of who I was with, where we went and what we caught. I was thumbing through the pages to decide where we should go this time and I came across the entry from when my late friend Warren and I whacked the snapper -- in a place I had avoided since the day he died.
Like so many fishermen I know, I am very superstitious. Even now, I have a "Warren" shrine in my kitchen that includes his picture, one of his cigars and the watch he wore that day. So without saying much to Dan and Mike, I had a talk with my old friend and told him I was going to our spot and to treat my friends well by bringing us luck. It had been years since I had been to this place.
To say Warren came through for us is an understatement. I don't think the first bait was down there for 10 seconds before Dan was struggling with a big snapper. Then it was Mike's turn and another stud came on board. Now remember, we could only keep one snapper apiece -- and even though we had two big ones, I didn't think they would overtake the lead, a 20-pound snapper brought in the day before.
Then Dan grabbed the biggest live bait we had, dropped it down and instantly the rod was just about yanked out of his hands. After four or five long runs, I finally saw the fish, and it was massive. It weighed in at 31.25 pounds. As I'm writing this, the tournament isn't over so I don't know if it will win. But win or lose, all I can say is "Thanks, Warren!"
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.