Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving is by far my favorite. I love that there is very little pressure to do anything – other than cooking, of course – and most important of all, it just seems to bring out the best in everyone. This year was no exception.
I guess it was around three or four years ago that my wife, Karen, and I began the tradition of spending Thanksgiving with my sister Grace at her home in Indian Harbor Beach, Florida. Since her kids and mine have now grown up and all of them are leading their own separate lives, stretching from Costa Rica to L.A., it just seemed logical that she and I should catch up after 20-something years of being apart while we raised children.
Besides, I can think of worse places to spend Thanksgiving than beachside in good ol’ sunny Florida.
Like me, Grace is a kid at heart. I would love to know what it is in our gene pool that makes us so childlike. Like the cast of “Seinfeld,” we find it way too easy to get our jollies from the simplest things. It might be the server at a restaurant that discovers that his tip will greatly increase if he or she notices the faces we created on our plates with our leftover food.
And people watching isn’t just a pastime for us; it’s more of a religion.
A quick run to Wal-Mart can easily turn into an hour-long game of dodge ball as we sneak up on one another – no matter what the department – throwing those huge, brightly colored rubber balls at each other. That alone is worth the drive.
And speaking of driving, even that aspect of our jaunt to Florida is somewhat sophomoric. Due to my back condition, my wife Karen does most of the driving. We don’t listen to books on tape – no siree! We sing dreadfully off-key almost the entire way there and back. We play “Name that Tune,” “Name That Performer,” and “What Were You Doing When That Song Came Out?”
I thought a lot of people sang their way down the highway until I started asking my friends if they ever tried this mode of traveling. I have yet to find one “yes” couple that didn’t also give me that “you aren’t quite right” look. Oh well…
One downside of being on the coast of Florida during a family get-together is the ocean is just too darn close. I can smell it. I know what you are thinking: “What’s so bad about that?”
For me, being surrounded by crystal clear water that just has to be teeming with fish is akin to an alcoholic walking into a room with a fountain only to find that the fountain dispenses vodka with a twist of lime. I simply can’t resist it.
When I should be thinking of turkey, giblets and stuffing smothered in gravy, all I can think about is the snook that has to be hiding behind that dock or that dock, and for sure under that big dock over there. Snook … they’re everywhere… they’re everywhere!
I will admit I have managed to get through my past Florida Thanksgivings without fishing. This time may be different though because instead of just hanging out at Indian Harbor Beach, I considered heading to my old college stomping ground in Sarasota, where I attended Ringling School of Art and Design when I wasn’t out fishing.
I planned to leave all my gear at home. Then the thought of chartering a guide for a day on the water crept into my psyche.
Thinking back to a prior Thanksgiving in Florida, I remember Grace called before I left Bluffton and told me to make sure to bring my rods because I was going fishing the day after Thanksgiving with her late husband Kevin aboard his boat. I was so excited Thanksgiving night I barely slept, even with 10 pounds of turkey and pumpkin pie in my gut.
Hooking up Kevin’s boat at first light, we headed off. Much to my dismay, the wind was blowing too hard to go after snook, but he informed me that the big trout should be within reach.
Typically, Florida trout are much bigger than ours, so instead of shrimp, the bait of choice is live mullet – the bigger the better.
The fishing was slow, so I reached into my Lowcountry bag of tricks for free-lining live mullet and soon nailed three huge trout. This impressed Kevin, a true Floridian, to no end. I wanted to release them, but Kevin said, “No way!” as he had grand plans for Panko crusted, pan-fried fish.
As we were heading in, a wildlife officer stopped us. I handed him my license and, as he admired the trout with a broad grin, he said, “So who caught ’em?” Brimming with South Carolina pride, I quickly said, “I caught ’em – I caught ’em all!”
With that he replied, “Congratulations, sir. You Carolina boys are quite the fishermen, but you DO know that trout are out of season here, right?”
I reckon it was my pitiful look that prompted him to let me go ticketless – only if I dumped the fish overboard.
This year, whether I decided to go fishing in Indian Harbor or Sarasota, you can bet it was only after I checked all the rules and regs.
Collins Doughtie, a 60-year resident of the Lowcountry, is a sportsman, graphic artist, and lover of nature. firstname.lastname@example.org