Cast & Blast

What’s an angler’s most important tool? Rod? Reel? Boat? No way. It’s their eyes

Cast and Blast columnist Collins Doughtie spotted this scaly bit of nature during a recent float down a Lowcountry river.
Cast and Blast columnist Collins Doughtie spotted this scaly bit of nature during a recent float down a Lowcountry river. Special to The Island Packet/ The Beaufort Gazette

A couple of days ago, I was out fishing with a friend who had asked me to show him the ropes about saltwater fishing.

He was the first to admit that pretty much all the fishing he had done had been in freshwater. Having just bought a boat, he felt rather lost in the big world of saltwater fishing.

“Everything looks the same,” he told me. “One creek looks like the next so how in the heck do you find places that hold fish?”

How many times have I heard that same question? I think that number would be in the thousands. But no matter how many times that question has been asked of me, my answer is always the same — use your eyes because saltwater fishing is no different than freshwater fishing.”

“Look for points, look for structure and if you keep really keep your eyes peeled, saltwater fish will often reveal themselves as they blast through bait, just like you’re used to seeing a largemouth bass going after a minnow or small shad.”

I decided to take my friend to one of my redfish honey holes. Right off the bat, he was taken aback by its location. His boat was a little 15-foot flats boat, a boat that can get into some pretty darn shallow water. But to get to where I wanted to fish, we had to tilt the motor all the way up and paddle in toward the shoreline until we could go no further.

Instantly I could see a look in his eyes that said a light bulb — a 150-watt bulb at that — had gone off.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said, “I would have never imagined fish could be in such shallow water as this.”

If everything went according to plan, I knew the redfish would show up, so I told him to keep his eyes open and look for fish busting on the flats. I wanted him to look and see the things that I am so used to seeing.

For the first twenty minutes, I got a bit frustrated because as he was looking one way, I was seeing reds busting the other way.

“Did you see that?” I would ask.

“No, what?”

I felt like I was on Candid Camera because I was seeing fish tailing all over the place. But by the time he looked to where I was pointing, they were gone.

Finally, after nearly an hour, we both got on the same page and he saw his first tailing red fish. Up until that point, I was certain he was convinced that I was just messing with him. It wasn’t until he saw that gold back and blue tail come out of water that he realized I was telling the truth.

I don’t care if you are fishing in six inches of water or six hundred feet of water — your eyes are the key to being a successful saltwater fisherman.

You can have the most expensive rods and reels, the coolest and most expensive flats boat ever made but if you don’t use your eyes, you might as well hang it up.

Some people are naturals when it comes to being observant of their surroundings. On the flip side, I repeatedly notice some who struggle with the art of “seeing.” Maybe it has something to do with where and how you were raised. For example, whenever I go to New York City or some other large metropolitan area, I notice that people simply won’t look you in the face as they pass. Maybe it’s a defensive mechanism (or maybe I’m just plain ugly) but for this southern boy, I can’t get enough “people watching” when I hit the big city.

Even right here in the Lowcountry, I am always looking around. When I’m driving and notice a bald eagle soaring above me, I can’t help but watch these magnificent birds. But when I stop at a stoplight and look at the person in the car next to me, they not only haven’t seen the eagle, but also couldn’t care less even if it was a massive B-52 bomber flying directly overhead.

I truly believe that most avid outdoorsmen have honed their senses to see things differently than the majority of the general population.

Using this God-given ability, my plan for this coming fishing season is to target a certain species of fish that are pretty much overlooked around here — the tripletail.

In the past four or five years, I have managed to catch a fair number of these prehistoric looking fish, but only because I have gone looking for them. My eyes and brain now appear to be working together so that when I do pass by a tripletail drifting along on the surface, my eyes now instantly see it.

So work on training your brain to see and you’ll be amazed at what a difference it will make the next time you head out, no matter if it’s on the water or simply walking to the end of your driveway.

Believe me when I say a whole new world will come into focus.

And what a world it is.