Before I get going here, I need to come clean about the pitfalls of being an outdoor writer. As any of you that read my columns on a regular basis might know, the majority of my columns revolve around fishing.
However, fishing stinks from the first of the year through March or April, when the water finally begins to warm up along with the fish that have been lethargic due to the cold (combined with a serious case of lockjaw). This situation makes it challenging for writers like me to come up with interesting columns during this period.
This year in particular has been a struggle, because as ready as I was to get out there, the wind kept me tied to the dock for a good month or so when normally I would have had a couple of trips under my belt.
Even more frustrating than day after day of high winds was the itch to head out on my new ride owned by my best bud Dan Cornell, with whom I have fished for more than a decade. You might recall that I wrote about our trip to Florida last fall to pick up this beautiful vessel.
Champing at the bit to get out to the Gulf Stream in search of wahoo and mahi, we spent three days sorting all our tackle, relining and oiling reels, and organizing lures for this and that species. All we needed was calm winds and flat seas and we were ready to bolt.
But day after day when I checked the marine forecast, it called for wind and rough seas. I am not used to being landlocked for so long and depression set in, to the point I thought I was going down a dark rabbit hole.
Maybe you think that is ridiculous, but if I go a long spell without feeling salt air on my face and the scream of fish dumping line off a reel, it really does take me down.
Eventually, though, that day finally came when the forecast said “Go!” Checking multiple forecasts, I was shaking my head in despair when I learned that, of all things, the moon was going to be full on the very day we planned to go.
If you are wondering why that should affect anything, I can tell you from experience that a full moon can shut down the biting, especially 70 miles out in the Gulf Stream. My belief is the fish feed all night in the bright moonlight, so by morning they are fat and happy and ignore even the best presented baits we put out.
Thinking it over, Dan and I decided to bag going to the Gulf Stream and instead go bottom fishing. A lot of anglers scoff at bottom fishing, but both Dan and I love it. Even if the moon were to shut down bottom fish too, at least we were way closer to land while saving a ton on fuel.
We invited George Norton, a friend from Kentucky whom I have guided for several years, and Mike “Everyone Drives a Used Car” Cody, owner of Lowcountry Motors. Blasting off at 8 a.m. – and I mean blasting off, at 48 mph – we were at my first spot in no time.
Dropping our baits down, we got not a single nibble. Not wasting time, we headed a little farther out to another spot and the same-same. Running another few miles to spot No. 3, the sonar screen was literally covered with fish!
On the very first drop of our baits, all I could hear was both reels and my anglers screaming as every rod was bent double. Dan pulled up a big red snapper more than 30 pounds, while both George and Mike brought up other huge snapper, trigger fish and stud vermillion snapper.
On the next drop, all rods again hooked up and this time Mike brought up a really nice gag grouper. Sadly, both red snapper and grouper are out of season and had to be released, but that didn’t bother me one bit because all the tension I had been feeling while landlocked was instantly gone.
To say the bite was off-the-chart is putting it mildly. It was insane!
Both George and Mike were using a two hook “chicken rig” and just about every time they reeled up, both hooks held huge vermillion snapper or big trigger fish.
Those who scoff at bottom fishing must not know that just about every fish caught are prime table fare, with firm, white flesh that when cooked pretty much melts in your mouth.
We fished just a couple of hours and limited out on vermillions and trigger fish while we released Lord knows how many red snapper, grouper and amberjack.
I guess since the bite has indeed begun, I’ll have plenty to write about in the coming months. To best describe this amazing day, the saying “Variety is the spice of life” says it all.
Collins Doughtie, a 60-year resident of the Lowcountry, is a sportsman, graphic artist, and lover of nature. email@example.com