Cast & Blast

How a former Lowcountry ‘bait boy’ passed along the tricks (and memories) of the trade

Collins Doughtie
Collins Doughtie

Does it seem that childhood memories stand out brighter and clearer than memories that may have been created just a few years ago or in my case, just yesterday?

The memories I had while fishing with my dad when I was a youngster just seem to hold a clarity that is almost spooky. For instance, not only can I remember the event but also vividly recall the smallest details about those trips that would probably slide right by me now that I am an adult. Maybe it was insatiable childhood curiosity that causes such clarity but whatever it is, I can remember things that happened to me as a child a whole lot clearer than anything that has happened since.

I was one of those pesky kids that never shut up. You know the type I’m talking about where every question is closely followed by another question.

”What is that?”

“What makes it do that?”

“Why?”

And on and on it went.

Being the youngest of five kids, I can only imagine the patience my folks had to practice, especially after going through the same question and answer periods with my four older siblings. With two children of my own, I’ve had my share of questions but the way I saw it, their curiosity needed answering because it was crucial to the process of learning.

I may be balding and a tad wrinkly but under that disguise, I am about as childlike as they come (or so I have been told on a regular basis) and this attribute comes in mighty handy when I take kids fishing or hunting.

A fishing trip not long ago was a perfect example of this camaraderie when I went with Martin, a precocious, red-headed third grader, and his father Ron. Sporting a brand new set of state-of-the-art braces on his teeth where every other metal piece was a different fluorescent color plus fire engine red hair, Martin was about as cute as they come.

Every time I glanced over at him, I felt as though I was looking at a comic book character because, in addition to being a living kaleidoscope of colors, he was a pistol.

Kids today seem way smarter than kids from my childhood and when you talk to them, many times I feel like that child was really an adult that stepped in front of a shrinking ray gun.

Martin was no exception. Having cut his teeth on fishing with his dad in fresh water lakes, Martin wanted to catch redfish, which gave me a chuckle because of his red hair. I wondered if it was a kinship sort of thing, but if it was redfish he wanted to catch, so be it.

I had just returned from a trip the night before and because I had gotten back very late, I hadn’t had time to catch bait. So off we went in search of some fresh mullet and possibly a few live shrimp. As I pulled back the throttles at one of my favorite bait-getting spots, I told Martin that he was going to be “bait boy.”

From experience, being “bait boy” is great for kids and it entails picking up the critters that drop out of the cast net and putting them in the live well.

Not only did we catch mullet and a few small shrimp but baby crabs, a small flounder, squid and a host of other critters.

Kids really seem to get off picking up and examining this by-catch,and with every new species comes the questions:

“What is that?”

“How big do they get?”

And on and on it went.

It’s a great learning experience for them and it gives me the opportunity to educate them on how important it is to return the small creatures to the sea so that they can get big while keeping the ocean well stocked.

Those are the smallest memories that I was talking about earlier, memories that will hopefully stick for a lifetime.

With bait in hand off, we went in search of redfish. It didn’t take me long to see a spotted broom tail of a redfish scouring the oyster beds for food.

Quietly slipping the anchor overboard, we began fishing with chunks of mullet under a cork. I don’t think five minutes had passed when one of the thunders began swimming away like the barrels in the movie “Jaws.”

I coached Martin as he held the rod, telling him to let the line come tight before reeling. Like a pro, he followed my instructions to a “t.”

When I finally told him to reel like crazy, he hooked into a red that instantly went haywire and began pulling out line with ease. I knew it was a big red and as much as Martin wanted to pass the rod off to his dad, I encouraged him to finish the fight.

When I finally eased the redfish into the boat, Martin’s eyes were like saucers.

Though the fish was too big to keep, Martin will never forget that fight.

For the next hour or so, we landed another five fish, all but one too big to keep.

Martin was fired up.

From there we decided to go after some trout. Using live shrimp, it was a troutorama.

As his dad fished off the bow, I helped Martin from the stern and it was dad versus lad.

We caught some beautiful trout and it was after Martin’s sixth trout that he said it.

He looked right at his dad and almost nonchalantly stated, “Yep dad, I was off my game there at first but now I’m in the groove.”

Out of the mouth of babes.

I was laughing so hard my stomach hurt.

So all in all, it was wonderful day for Martin and his dad.

As for me?

I just hope that day remains in Martin’s mind for all time because it will forever stick with me.

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