I don't get to fish every day, nor do I want to, but I am blessed with being asked to fish with a lot of people on their boats, and in the process I get to meet folks from all parts of the country and all walks of life.
Before I tell you about my latest offshore excursion, I thought you might get a kick out of knowing that I carry a "man bag" all the time simply because I am always hopping on and off different boats -- often at only a moment's notice. So what's the big deal about that? If you have ever hung around a bunch of fishermen, then you have probably noticed they are a pretty manly group. I can't tell you how many times I have heard "Hey Collins, is that your purse you got there?" followed by ribbing from all corners. My only defense is saying something profound such as, "If there were a nuclear war I could survive for months with all the stuff in my bag." That isn't far from the truth. I carry medical kits, granola bars, flashlights and extra batteries. On the rare occasions I clean out my man bag, I always find some gem, such as a petrified lizard that crawled in there somewhere along the road.
So back to telling you about my latest excursion, and yes, I had my man bag in tow... A couple of years ago, I met a gentleman named Bill Slate at one of my "How to Fish in the Lowcountry" seminars. I later fished with him on his 24-foot boat, so when he traded up to a 28-foot boat, he asked me if I would accompany him and his friend Michael Harris on an inaugural trip offshore. Until he purchased this larger boat, all his fishing trips were confined to inshore or near shore. This was going to be a first for both Bill and Michael. But it wasn't just Michael's first offshore experience. It was his first fishing trip in general.
Bill is a hoot. Talk about a Northern accent; I do believe he invented it. They had left it up to me to choose the type of fishing we would do, and knowing that Michael was a newbie to angling, I decided that bottom-fishing was our best bet. There's no casting involved, no special tricks. Just bait the hook and drop it to the bottom. We stopped just long enough for me to throw my cast net and load up with live menhaden, and then we were off and running.
The run was a good 35 miles and when we arrived at a spot where I had done well the week before, I put the engines in neutral and said "Let's go fishing." As I began to bait their rods, Michael walked to the front of the boat and hollered "Hey Collins, want a banana?" Whoa, that stopped me dead in my tracks.
For those who don't know, bananas on a fishing boat are the curse of all curses. Michael didn't have just one banana; it looked like he had climbed up a banana tree and brought the entire bunch. When I told him they had to go and pitched them overboard, he looked hurt. It was a close call, but now we were safe to fish.
I gave them both a primer on bottom-fishing, emphasizing that should a big fish get hooked, it is imperative to get them off the bottom as fast as you can before they head for the hole where they live. Bill dropped the first live bait down and in a matter of seconds, his rod was bent double. I was screaming "Get it off the bottom!" And he was screaming right back, "I can't, it's too strong!" Finally he got the upper hand and up came a huge red snapper. But red snapper was out of season. It about killed Bill when I dropped the fish back in the water, especially after such a battle.
Then it was Michael's turn. I can't imagine what he thought when another giant snapper had a tug of war with him. It was his first fish ever and was big enough to make a pro linebacker cry. For the next three or four hours they both got a workout as we caught red snapper, vermillion snapper, triggerfish, black sea bass and one slob grouper. We even had a 10-foot tiger shark circling the boat with a cobia right alongside.
By 1 p.m., they were totally whooped, and neither wanted anything to do with another fish. But what a day they had. The ocean behaved, the fish cooperated, and I guarantee neither one of them will ever forget that trip. Did I mention that Michael began cramping up? I had to give him one of my Powerade drinks so he could get some potassium in his system. If only he had a banana.
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.