Cast & Blast

Who needs the Weather Channel? The Lowcountry will let us know when fall arrives

This catch of speckled sea trout is a good sign fall is at our doorstep.
This catch of speckled sea trout is a good sign fall is at our doorstep. Special to The Island Packet/ The Beaufort Gazette

Sitting on my screened in front porch recently, I pondered what to write about this time around.

My thought pattern was constantly interrupted by the constant banging noise at my next-door neighbor’s house. A part-time resident, I knew he wasn’t supposed to be there, which led me to listen more carefully.

You all know about Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity when an apple fell on his head. I just might be a long lost descendent of his because the banging was acorns, or as we call them down here “akerns,” falling from a live oak onto his tin roof.

Last year there wasn’t any acorn crop to speak of. This year is a whole different story. Not only were “akerns” pelting his roof and mine a furious rate, I walked down my front steps and they were piled high. It dawned on me that fall is coming and coming quick.

I’d found my inspiration for this column. After having this “ah ha” moment, all sorts of signs starting coming to mind. Yes, it is still hot as the dickens out there, but somehow nature has the upper hand on knowing when the door is about to close on summer.

Being a water person, the signs that fall is roaring this way are everywhere. Probably the most dramatic is the mullet run. What’s a mullet you ask? Those are the long, slender silver fish you see jumping in most any salt or brackish water. With a blunt, rounded head, they can really fly out of the water, often re-entering either on their side or a belly flop. Probably second to menhaden as the most numerous forage for predatory fish, something has triggered them to depart our estuaries and head to the open ocean.

Talk about an amazing sight: waves and waves of them packed tightly together are everywhere you look right now. If you don’t have a practiced eye, just watch one area of water for a few minutes. You can’t help but see this mass migration, especially on the outgoing tide. There are huge “V’s” of mullet just under the surface that are often interrupted by any number of predators with teeth blasting up through the school.

Just a couple of days ago, I saw what looked like waves breaking in the middle of the May River. There was no wind to speak of and after watching for a moment, I figured out what I was seeing. It was a school of huge jack crevelle tearing through formations of mullet. For a couple of hundred yards, the water was literally foaming as speedy jacks slaughtered the mullet. This might seem kind of morbid, but as one jack sped through the packed mullet, the mullet would spray into the air just in front of the jack’s jaws.

With the mullet run in full force, it wasn’t just jack crevelle having dinner. I saw tarpon, black tip sharks, trout and a host of other species getting in on the action. For any of you who feel sorry for the lowly mullet, please don’t. It is simply nature’s way.

Secondly, there are so many mullet that all this predation surely won’t put a dent in their population.

Other signs of the season are everywhere.

Staying on the watery side of things, our shrimp are starting to trickle out toward the ocean, too. It amazes me how much these little guys can grow in a one week period. So how do I know they are making their move toward the open ocean? Red legs give it away. I was worried that we wouldn’t see many shrimp this year after that brutal cold spell last winter. But amazingly, they appear to have weathered the cold. I am foreseeing good numbers of brown shrimp in my Fry Daddy.

Another species of concern after that severe cold was sea trout. Large numbers of dead trout were scooped up around Charleston after the cold hit. But after my first trout fishing trip last weekend, I believe the trout around these parts did just fine.

The four anglers with me caught at least fifty nice sized trout. As soon as their shrimp under a cork hit the water, the cork would disappear. They went through a ton of live shrimp and since the bite was so strong, I let them keep three trout apiece. We released at least thirty or forty others. See, fall is indeed coming when the trout start snapping.

Lastly, in the last two weeks, bald eagles are showing up everywhere. While our ospreys have had it easy all summer, that open door has also shut because the eagles wait for an osprey to catch a fish and then chase it until they drop it. Eagles are beautiful but extremely lazy.

There’s one more sign of fall.

In front of my house, my Confederate Rose is about to pop.

So hang in there folks because nature, and not the Weather Channel, knows best about what is right around the corner.