David Lauderdale

Fish falls from sky at Hilton Head tennis tournament

Robb Warren of Moss Creek holds a sheepshead fish that fell from the sky during the 31st Anniversary BillyBOB Century Cup Doubles Tournament at South Beach Racquet Club. From left are Bob Brockman, Joe Keenan, Warren and Don Benjamin.
Robb Warren of Moss Creek holds a sheepshead fish that fell from the sky during the 31st Anniversary BillyBOB Century Cup Doubles Tournament at South Beach Racquet Club. From left are Bob Brockman, Joe Keenan, Warren and Don Benjamin. Submitted

It’s raining fish again on Hilton Head Island.

A sheepshead belly-flopped onto a tennis court in Sea Pines last weekend in what appeared to be an unforced error.

The fallout was thought by some to be divine commentary on the play down below.

It interrupted four guys slugging their way through the 31st Billy Bob Century Cup Doubles Tournament at South Beach Racquet Club.

Sure enough, it dropped a foot-long sheepshead on their side of the court.

Bob Brockman

“We had just finished the first game of the second set and everyone was getting a drink or taking a break,” said Bob Brockman.

“A fairly large osprey (some said it might be an eagle) flew over the courts.

“Robb Warren looked up at the bird with the fish and said, ‘Don’t drop it!’

“Sure enough, it dropped a foot-long sheepshead on their side of the court.”

It was in bounds on the side of Warren and Joe Keenan.

Warren took the bait, picking up the toothy fish whose vertical black stripes show why sheepsheads are sometimes known as “convicts.”

They all posed for snapshots to document the day it rained free fish.

But perhaps Warren should have let the convict lie. You never know when it’s a wolf flying in sheepshead clothing.

“Don Benjamin and I lost the first set,” Brockman said, “but the fish caused a big turnaround and we won the third set tiebreak.”

Flying fish have turned heads before.

Many years ago, a mother and daughter were quietly motoring on Lagoon Road when a gigantic something splatted against the windshield. They didn’t know what it was, but the windshield was wet.

They backed up to find a largemouth bass, breathing its last with one eye knocked askew.

One theory was that it had leaped from a nearby lagoon.

Which prompted a state wildlife officer to provide this measured quote to the newspaper: “I would say the highest vertical leap by a bass would be about three feet.”

But like any fisherman, whether flying or lying, he could not leave well enough alone.

“I once saw a largemouth bass cover a horizontal distance of 8 feet,” he continued, apparently angling for the mullet toss to become an Olympic event. “But it never was more than 2 or 3 feet above the surface.”

He couldn’t leave that one dangling either.

“I once had a 3-pound largemouth bass free-jump out of the water into my small boat. That bass traveled a distance of 5 feet horizontally, but never was more than 2 feet above the surface of the water.”

So, yes, the expert surmised, this largemouth bass had fallen from the sky. In a matter of minutes, the poor fish had been speared from its rounds in a local waterway, dangled over the earth in the talons of an osprey, crashed into a Suzuki Samurai, and taken over to the Red & White supermarket, now a Piggly Wiggly, where Jimmy “Rooster” Hadwin weighed it in at 4 pounds 3 ounces.

When the mother and daughter got home, she was instructed to go back and get the largemouth bass, otherwise known as dinner on the ground.

More recently, a woman walking her dog in Rose Hill was stunned when a speckled trout plopped into the street before her. She saw an eagle fighting an osprey for it in the air as her dinner fell to the ground.

Her only fear was that as the Lord giveth, he also might taketh away her hand if a bird or prey wanted the fish more than she did.

Which helps explain that old Hilton Head proverb:

When life lobs you a stray sheepshead, serve tartar sauce not tennis balls.

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale

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