As I have made it perfectly clear in my last few columns, I absolutely go bonkers during our winter. I know what you are thinking. How can I possibly complain when our usual winter is at best four to five weeks long, from around mid-January until the second or third week in February?
So why all the gloom and doom? The water temperature has dropped into the low 50s and, just like me, the fish hunker down. No matter how great your presentation might be with the finest baits out there, the fish just aren’t interested.
If I had to compare them to a particular actor, my choice would have to be Tim Conway in the Carol Burnett Show. Remember his skits where he played the sole employee in a butcher shop? If you are too young to remember such things, just know that character was hysterical. He never failed to have me laughing my head off.
Talk about slow, that’s me when it’s cold outside. Slug or turtle, I’ll let you decide.
Well, praise the Lord, because this year I decided to do something about this syndrome besides getting one of those lamps that folks use for seasonal depression. Along with my wife Karen and our beagle Butterbean, we hopped in the car and headed to Ohio-on-Wheels, more commonly known as the great state of Florida.
For you old timer Blufftonians, our destination was my sister Grace’s house in Indian Harbour Beach near Melbourne. If the name Grace doesn’t ring a bell, then how about Gay Doughtie? She was the editor of the hilarious Bluffton Eccentric newspaper back when Bluffton was half its current size.
Following a stampede of New York, New Jersey and Ohio license plates, we finally made it to her hacienda. It was 78 degrees and sunny – and within minutes I could feel my winter blues shedding away in layers, much like when you peel an onion.
Did I take my fishing rods? Absolutely! Though I almost always have them with me when I pay her a visit, for whatever reason one thing or another gets in the way of wetting a line. From the moment we decided to head south, I made it clear to both Karen and Grace that fishing was on my agenda and should they want to join me that was cool; if not, then that was equally fine. The ocean just has a way of setting my world right when all else fails.
With a few artificial lures and a bucket full of live shrimp, the three of us, plus Grace’s pal Bill, headed down to the state park at Sebastian Inlet. Known for being a treacherous inlet for boaters heading offshore, it is also known as a place with a fair amount of fish – including my target species, snook.
Almost every time I go down to the Sunshine State, snook are out of season. But this time I lucked out, as they are in season – even though I planned to release any I might be lucky to catch.
The tides could have been better but just being out in the sun with a gentle salty breeze, I felt a rebirth of sorts. Puffer fish kept us busy until we moved out closer to the inlet’s mouth. Within minutes something grabbed my shrimp and it sure as heck wasn’t a puffer fish – it was a snook.
This is when it got rather humorous. As I was reeling in the snook people all around me started cheering. Thinking they were cheering for this mostly bald guy from South Carolina, I finally turned around and realized they weren’t cheering for me. I saw the object of their cheer: A SpaceX rocket had just launched from Kennedy Space Center (about 30 miles away) and was streaking overhead.
As my father loved to say: “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.”
One thing that really impressed me about this part of Florida was all the parks and designated open spaces. Oh, how I wish our town and county councils would take up this manner of development before all our open land is gone.
Another sight that blew my mind was a small canal near my sister’s place that was jam packed with manatees. I am not talking about a tourist attraction, just a canal not much wider than a ditch. I stopped counting at 50 manatees. No doubt their winter home, due to a warm water upwelling, they were packed together – some on top of one another – to retain body heat.
As a plant freak, I’m planning to load up our car with cuttings from Grace’s incredible gardens. Succulents, air plants and oddities I have never seen before are heading back to good ol’ Bluffton. As for Karen and I, we might not head back until I hear the Lowcountry has warmed up.
Lastly, for all of you that expressed interest in my “How to Fish the Lowcountry” seminar, I will be in touch. But right now, I think I am going to wet a line, possibly take a siesta, and work on putting my winter blues in the past.
Collins Doughtie, a 60-year resident of the Lowcountry, is a sportsman, graphic artist, and lover of nature. firstname.lastname@example.org