I honestly don’t know where to begin.
My plan was to talk about the past two weekends, and in particular red snapper fishing.
You see, harvesting red snapper has been closed for two or three years now because the federal government felt that the species was being overfished. Like so many decisions made by them, the data was full of holes because, around here at least, red snapper populations were booming. The closure didn’t bother me in the least. I have always felt that red snapper are over rated table fare, but in the same breath, they sure are fun to catch.
A big red snapper is quite a handful on rod and reel, and more than once I have seen them take big burly guys to their knees.
When the news came out that two three-day seasons would open these past two weekends, where anglers could keep one red snapper per person, it was like someone had opened a floodgate. Boats of every size and description raced offshore and I was right in the middle of the pack. My good friend, Dan Cornell was all in for red snapper aboard his 45’ Hatteras sport fishing boat the “Reel Deal.”
From Atlanta, with a second home on Hilton Head, we fished both weekends and man oh man was the fishing hot! On the first trip we limited out on nice red snapper, caught a big gag grouper plus had a box full of triggerfish and vermillion snapper. Some offshore fisherman snub their nose at bottom fishing but having bottom fished with my dad for years, I absolutely love it.
If you get on the fish, the bite is instantaneous when the bait hits the bottom and you never know what will bite. It may be a two-pound fish or, just as easily, it may be a monster that darn near pulls you out of the boat. I can’t tell you how many big fish we missed that first trip. My anglers simply couldn’t budge them as they ripped line off the reel before finally breaking the line.
On weekend number two (last Saturday), we gave it another shot. On board were Dan Cornell, his two kids Miller and Carlyle, Bill Busch and my nephew Capt. Byron Sewell. Arriving at one of my spots, fish starting coming over the side one after another.
Like I said, you never know what you might catch, and in seconds I saw one angler’s rod bent double. It was a tug of war for sure and after what seemed like a stalemate, the fish finally started coming up. Watching the fight I suspected it was a grouper and was it a grouper! Called a scamp grouper, this one weighed in at 26 lbs., just two pounds shy of the state record.
Probably the best eating of all groupers, we had barely had time to appreciate the beast when another one hit the deck. After a few minutes of collecting our wits, Bill Busch hooked into a stud red snapper that gave him a what for. It was mayhem as triggerfish, vermillion and red snapper flopped all over the deck. If that wasn’t enough, king mackerel got into the mix scorching reels. Landing three, it was truly a fish-o-rama.
After catching our limit, I would guess we released 20-30 other red snapper that day. I can say without a doubt that red snapper populations off the Lowcountry are insanely healthy. On some days it’s hard to catch anything but red snapper.
As soon as a bait heads toward the bottom, red snapper are on it. Being somewhat of a grouper freak, there are so many of these reds it’s hard to get to a waiting grouper. I guess having so many fish out there is wonderful, though targeting specific species becomes more difficult when snapper steal the show.
Switching gears here, this has been one strange year. Bait pods are as thick as I have ever seen, weather has been extremely odd and nature in general has lost its mind. For instance, last Sunday night I got seven inches of rain at my house between 6 p.m. and midnight. Then on Monday I went to buy some shorts at the Tanger Outlet and as I drove in noticed three swallowtail kites in a tree.
Parking, I grabbed my camera and whistled their call and they went nuts. I got some awesome photos along with angry looks from people in cars wondering what I was doing in the middle of the road. Then, on the way home, I see a large alligator snapping turtle on the road.
Knowing some idiot would run over it, I stopped and using a large stick guided it into a large bucket I had in my car. That turtle hissed and snapped at me until I took it to a pond and released it.
The final straw was on Tuesday when I saw a flock of roseate spoonbill birds near Myrtle Island in Bluffton. I might see one or two each summer but this year I have seen more than the last few years combined.
Pink like a flamingo with a beak like a platypus, they are awesome to watch. So you see folks, nature is on a roll right now and I thank the lord that I’ve been there to see it.