Cast & Blast

Mama said there'd be days like this, and boy was it fun

I didn't fish over the Memorial Day weekend, nor did I fish this past Wednesday in the crazy Food & Beverage Tournament.

I think age has finally taken hold of me, and with it has come a somewhat antisocial attitude. As a matter of fact, this is the first year I haven't fished the F&B Tournament since it began nearly 20 years ago.

See, I actually thought this out. I figured that everyone would be out there cobia-fishing during the long weekend and then again two days later for the F&B tournament. It was an "aha" moment, in which I bet all my chips that no one would be fishing Tuesday, the one day between the two fish-o-ramas.

So what did I do? I called my fishing buddy Don McCarthy and let him in on my revelation. It didn't take much convincing to get Don to put his boat, the Manatee Mac, in the water. Rounding out the crew were two other Manatee Mac regulars, Harry Morales and Will "Catfish" Thompson.

The plan was simple: The early bird catches the worm. So at 6 a.m. Tuesday, we were on our way.

Along the Hilton Head Island beachfront at sunrise, we ran into giant menhaden almost immediately. It took all of three throws of the cast net to have all the live bait we could possibly use, plus four five-gallon buckets of menhaden for chum.

By the time the sun made it up over the horizon, we were already halfway to the Betsy Ross artificial reef on a flat, calm ocean. When things go this easily, I usually get a song in my head and this time it was, "Mama said there'd be days like this, there'd be days like this, mama said."

Arriving at the Betsy Ross, we saw that there were only two boats there -- and during cobia season that is nothing short of a miracle since usually you have to jockey for space. So down went the anchor and as soon as it caught we started chumming, dropped our baits down and waited. It wasn't five minutes before the first rod bent double. Another five minutes went by before Don gaffed a 50-pound cobia. Into the fish box it went. The day was already a success.

But what was about to happen will forever be engrained in our memories.

Cobia started coming to us in swarms. At one point we had eight right behind the boat, mixed in with several giant remora and a school of pilot fish.

Within 30 minutes, we had put four very respectable cobia in the box, and they still kept on coming. It was at this point that we pulled out light spinning rods and began pitching baits. Talk about fun. It was an absolute hoot. A couple of times I watched three cobia fight over one poor menhaden that was skittering across the surface, trying to evade snapping mouths. We even pulled out a fly rod -- there were that many fish.

The next two hours were pandemonium. At times we had up to three fish on at once, running around, up, over and under each other trying to keep the lines from getting fouled. Don fought a fish for nearly 40 minutes, and every time it got close it would make another 100-yard run. When he finally got the best of it, we were surprised to see it was a 250-pound bull shark. Several times we hooked monsters of the deep that were so big it would have taken blue marlin tackle to subdue them, and even then the odds were clearly in their favor.

We caught at least 12 cobia, releasing most of them. We tried our best to release the big females, but the smaller fish I cleaned were all females and they were chockful of eggs, which bummed me out.

Anyway, that is it for me cobia fishing this year. One trip like that is enough.

And the song in my head? It's still there. "Mama said there'd be days like this, there'd be days like this, mama said, mama said."