Cast & Blast

Stalking childhood on Hilton Head Island: The redfish I wish dad could have seen

One of my very first fishing memories happened when I was around 5 or 6 years old. There was a freshwater pond not far from my house where my dad got me started on fishing, and it was at this Hilton Head Island pond that my life as a fisherman was sealed.

I think it was a weekend and I decided to go exploring around the pond, looking for frogs and other creatures. I had walked about half way around the pond when I saw it. Lying in a shallow, sandy spot in the shape of a circle was the biggest largemouth bass I had ever seen.

I hid behind a tree and watched that fish for a long time and it never left that spot. At that time in my life I had no idea that the bass was actually a female on her nest, but nest or no nest, I was going to catch that fish. All I could think was how excited my dad would be if I came home carrying that big old bass, and with that I hatched my plan of attack.

Running home as fast as I could, I went into the garage and grabbed my cheapo fishing rod. Back then, lures were pretty primitive and, like most everyone else, all I had was one of those red rubber worms that came rigged with two gold hooks and a little silver propeller in the front.

I bolted back down to the pond, praying that the fish would still be there and, sure enough, she hadn’t moved an inch from that white sandy circle.

I had a problem though in that was she was only about 5 feet away from the bank and if I tried casting to her, she would surely see me and swim away. My heart was pounding like crazy as I leaned around the tree I was hiding behind and flipped the worm past her. Slowly I reeled that worm toward her and just as it entered that white circle she opened that huge mouth of hers and inhaled my fake worm. But before I could do anything, she spit it right out.

Over and over I got her to grab the worm but every single time she would spit it out before I could hook her. This went on for nearly the entire afternoon until she finally decided to ignore that worm completely.

I was devastated and went home like a fallen warrior.

I could barely sleep that night thinking about that bass. What could I do differently? As the sun started coming up the next morning, I was already headed toward the pond, and when I arrived I crawled up toward the spot where the fish had been, and there she was just like I had left her the day before.

Nervously, I pitched the worm over a bush and on that very first cast I snagged a branch. Pulling as hard as I could, the back hook broke off and the worm came flying toward me. I had ruined my worm! With only that one worm to my name, I had no choice but to go with what I had and cast out past the monster fish. As I twitched the worm along I noticed it had more action and this time that bass grabbed the worm and held on.

Hauling back, I hooked her and immediately she came flying out of the water with that huge mouth wide open. It was a tug of war between little old me and my very own Moby Dick.

I can still remember how hard she tried to beat me as she headed for branches and other obstructions that would snap my line. I finally got her, though. She was right at 7 pounds, and my dad was so proud of me.

I swear it was that experience that made fishing my passion in life.

So why did I recount one of my childhood experiences? Because now, 60 or so years later, I had a similar experience in one of Hilton Head’s neighborhoods this past week.

I had told a friend of mine who lives there about the great fishing right there in his back yard, so he asked me to come over and show him how to fish there so he could take his kids at a later date. Meeting up with him, I took him to a spot that I hadn’t fished in years, but when I did fish there I caught some decent-sized redfish.

In a nutshell, we hooked six huge redfish that shrugged off our light tackle with ease. Even with braided line and a very, very tight drag, it was like hooking a Volkswagen bus, but there was no stopping them. Time after time they took me into pilings and, like that time when I was 6 years old, I became obsessed. These were no average redfish and all I could think was these bad boys had done some serious growing in the 6 or so years since I had last fished for them.

So this past week I went back with the sole purpose of conquering one of these beasts. If I would have had a pair of old-school Converse sneakers and maybe a bit more hair on my head, I could have been a kid again.

After sitting there for 30 minutes, I saw my line jump.

It jumped again, and then started peeling off the reel in a blur. Setting the hook, there was no doubt in my mind as to what it was. It had to be one of those monster redfish.

Back and forth he went, heading for anything and everything that might chaff my line. After 15 minutes or so, he was in my hands — and if only my dad were still alive to see that fish.

For just a moment, life had come full circle for me. And with that, I gently eased the big redfish back in the water and watched it swim away. It was a good day in a darned good life.