Cast & Blast

Sometimes sharing secrets can make a fisherman's day all the more enjoyable

Dan Cornell and a bull redfish caught at the Betsy Ross Artificial Reef offshore.
Dan Cornell and a bull redfish caught at the Betsy Ross Artificial Reef offshore.

Putting it mildly, fishermen are a secretive lot. Unlike so many other outdoor pursuits -- in which knowledge is swapped without hesitation -- fisherman guard their secrets as they would bars of gold. Without hesitation, they will lie to you, and, if pushed, send you on some pretty wild goose chases. The part about this that makes me grin is how they do it so convincingly -- stonefaced, nary a quiver or blink that might indicate they are pulling your leg. It would take a lie detector machine to catch them in the act.

Do I have this trait? Absolutely, but it seems as I get older, I don't guard my secrets quite as much as I used to. I think this is because I have caught a whole lot of fish in my lifetime and nowadays I get more enjoyment out of watching other people catch fish than I do when the rod is in my hand. This especially holds true when it is someone who is new to the sport. Their unbridled excitement when latched onto a big fish is well worth the price of letting slip a few of the tricks of trade that I have picked up over the years.

People always ask me why I didn't choose to become a charter captain. Though the thought did occur to me many times, I thought that if I were out there every day I would lose my love of all the things that make each fishing trip different and special. A perfect example of this occurred this past weekend when I guided one of my "regulars," who was down for the weekend.

Dan Cornell, who is from Atlanta, brought down two friends of his, and the hope was that we could make a Gulf Stream trip. But as she often does, Mother Nature nixed that plan with winds and seas that would have guaranteed a severe beating had we tried to make it that far offshore.

It was time for Plan B.

Since Dan's boat was too big to do any inshore fishing, and too small to make it to the Stream in such conditions, I proposed that we head to the Betsy Ross Artificial Reef, a little more than 15 miles offshore. Having never met his friends before Saturday morning, I had a twinge of hesitation about our plan when I saw the tops of the pine trees swaying in the wind. Always gung-ho for just about anything, I let Dan make the call on whether we should go or not and, as I expected, he was game, rough seas or not.

Taking the seas right on the nose the entire way out, it took a while, but we finally made it there. I knew our chances of catching a cobia were slim to none since the water temperature was still too cold, so I really didn't know what to expect.

The Betsy Ross was a World War II liberty ship that was sunk years ago to act as a reef, so I knew if nothing else we would catch lots of black sea bass. But because the sea bass are out of season, we would have to throw back these great eating fish. This trip was all about sport and not the dinner table.

Using light spinning tackle, it was a fish-o-rama. The sea bass were monsters, and because we were the only fools to make such a trip, we had the whole place to ourselves. Black sea bass are usually bottom dwellers, but on this day they were hitting our baits 5 feet down. It was like being in a massive aquarium, the fish were stacked up from the bottom to the top, and they were hungry.

About two hours -- and 200 sea bass -- later, I decided to anchor and put down my homemade chum basket and maybe draw some other species to the boat. That chum basket wasn't down five minutes when all four rods bent double. These fish were pulling way too hard to be sea bass, and it wasn't until Dan had his almost to the surface that I saw it was a redfish, a big bull redfish.

For the next hour or so, it was bull red after bull red, and the seasickness that threatened our out-of-town visitors magically vanished. They were like kids in a candy store.

So you see, it's days like this that make me glad I shared a bit of local knowledge. I had more fun watching these guys having a ball catching big reds than if I were the one reeling them in. Maybe I'm just mellowing with age and my days of blatantly lying are over.

So you want to know where I caught that big wahoo last week? No problem, I caught it right in the corner of the mouth, silly.

God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.