Bluffton Packet

Fishing for action and a 'scary big' sheepshead

Before I get started, I want to thank each and every one of you that took the time to call state Sen. Tom Davis' office to voice your displeasure over the proposed Senate Bill 407, which he co-sponsored.

That bill, if passed, would open the already-depleted money drawer -- that already barely supports the Department of Natural Resources and our own Waddell Mariculture Center -- and siphon funds from our fishing and hunting licenses for uses other than what they were intended for, which is, of course, fishing and hunting. At the time I am writing this, it appears Davis got the message and will withdraw his sponsorship of this bill. To each and every one of you ... good for you!

I know you want me to talk about fishing and not politics, but frankly the fishing right now is pretty lame. The water just doesn't seem to want to warm up. I did give sheepshead a shot last weekend and even they had a case of lockjaw. They were there, but their bite was so subtle it was hard to tell if I was getting a bite or it was just my hands shaking from too much coffee. In three hours of intently watching the tips of our rods, Don McCarthy and I only caught two fish, but one of those fish made the whole adventure worthwhile.

After reeling in fiddler after fiddler with only the shell remaining, I got mad. Sheepshead are masters at stealing bait, and that mastery reached a whole new level that day. I set down my rod, took a deep breath and tried one more time. Down went the fiddler, and this time I was going to jerk at the slightest sign that something might be messing with my crab.

It was nearly imperceptible, but the rod tip did move, and I came up hard. It was as though I had snagged a cement block the way the rod stopped dead in its tracks. Quite honestly, I thought I had snagged some inanimate object until it started swimming off. After a pretty lengthy back and forth battle, we finally saw the fish and it was scary big -- as well as being mighty tasty.

On the redfish side of the tracks, they too are there in numbers, but the bite is inconsistent. Wadded up in huge schools on the flats, they are easy to find, but stealth and superlight tackle are the keys to catching them. Six-pound test monofilament with no leader is the ticket or if you are a fly fisherman, now is the time to go after them on the fly. Sadly though, this extended period of cold weather is even hitting these normally hardy redfish. My neighbor was poling the flats and saw several dead redfish lying on the bottom.

Pray for warm weather, folks, because, like the fish, this cold weather is killing me.

Now I want to put an idea in front of you and see where it leads. I am very passionate about our natural resources and after this latest scare, I started thinking of ways we as sportsmen can help preserve our way of life and keep greedy government fingers out of the till.

So here's my idea: If I am able to get it through the proper channels, what would you think about voluntarily donating an extra $5 -$10 to a fund that will help Waddell (as well as other improvements to our fisheries) when you purchase your next fishing license?

Right now a saltwater license in South Carolina costs $10, which is dirt-cheap compared with other Southeastern states. (That is not much more than the cost of a meal at McDonald's -- even supersized.) Now think of what you get for your $10 license. All the fish and shrimp you can possibly eat, plus blue crabs, stone crabs, oysters, mussels, and clams -- the list is practically endless.

Would it really hurt your wallet to throw in an extra $5 or $10 if you knew it would go to places such as the Waddell Mariculture Center or other natural-resource causes of our choosing? Besides its research, Waddell has raised and released thousands of cobia and tens of thousands of redfish over the years, and our redfish populations are better than they were when I was a kid and there weren't any people here.

It's just an idea that I am developing and want to hear your input. Best of all, it's strictly voluntary. Just think about the implications if I am able to get this to fly, not just here but also statewide.

I guess this winter has turned me into a raving lunatic but hey, at least it's something to do. I am getting ready for the shad run that should start around Valentine's Day and if this weather will ever warm up, I want to give the sheepshead another shot.

So thanks again for your help last week in calling and raising cane over bill 407, because it was your efforts that got things straightened out.