Before I get rolling, I just have to say that since I began writing for the Sun, I have received a flurry of awesome emails from readers. In particular, it appears y’all are craving more of my “Back in The Day” stories that describe what our Lowcountry was like in those early days.
With that said, I plan on going to a hypnotist, get put under, and record the session. Lord willing, the hypnotist can coach tidbits from that period that have been smushed into creases in my brain matter somewhere between old girl friends, the late ’60s and fishing.
There are no guarantees but what the heck.
Until then, something a friend of mine told me while bringing a boat up here from Florida a week or so ago spurred some memories of encounters I have had over the years with monsters from the deep. He was caught in dense fog as he left St. Augustine on the final leg to Hilton Head Island when he encountered a right whale that showed no fear whatsoever of the boat. This being his first right whale sighting, he was blown away.
Having had many a run-in with right whales over the years, I understand – at nearly 60 feet long, what a creature they are! Most of my sightings occur in early spring, and more often than not the adult has a calf alongside.
Without a doubt the most memorable up close and personal right whale meeting also occurred in the early spring as I was fishing in dense fog near the Eagle’s Nest artificial reef off Hilton Head. I was with my late best friend Warren Matthews, who sadly died several years ago of a heart attack while fishing with me offshore, and Blufftonian Chuck Robinson.
We were drift fishing, the ocean was absolutely flat calm, and with all the fog, it was kind of spooky. Even though I have had more than my share of adventures in the fog out there, the thought that a large freighter might pop out of the fog and run me over still crosses my mind on occasion.
On this day, it wasn’t a freighter – thank goodness, but it sure was big and black. As the mist swirled, every few moments my eye would catch that black mass 60 or so yards from the boat.
After several partial sightings, we slowly motored toward it when it finally took shape. It was a whale, a really big right whale. Turning off all our electronics and the motors, we drifted right up to the monster.
It wasn’t until we got right alongside that we saw she had a young’un lying alongside her. The calf was a good 25 to 30 feet long and mama made sure to keep it on her far side, away from the boat. I guess when you are 60 feet long there isn’t much to fear, because she raised her entire head out of the water – basically an arm’s length away from me – and that eye, bigger than a large dinner plate, scoped us out.
She had barnacles all over her head, but looking into that eye I swear I saw intelligence, curiosity and gentleness.
We drifted with her for a good half hour before easing off to do more fishing. What an experience!
I won’t say I see other creatures as big as right whales out there but I have had some amazing encounters with other giants of the sea. At least once or twice each year, I am treated to sights very few ever get to see.
Around 10 years ago, while I was fishing about 30 miles offshore, a fin popped up next to the boat I was in and that fin was taller than the boat’s gunnel! As a matter of fact, it was so tall it folded over slightly. Talk about rare! It was a basking shark that was just shy of 30 feet. This is the second largest living shark, after the whale shark.
The crew I had onboard were relative newbies to offshore fishing, so when I decided to pull alongside the shark in our 25-foot-long boat, they begged me to turn tail and haul butt. Having never seen one up-close, at first glance it looked like a great white – but once it opened its massive mouth, I knew what it was.
Basking sharks are plankton feeders that scoop up water with that huge mouth and strain the tiny organisms from the water. What a creature!
Sadly, I couldn’t find the pictures I took back then, but it’s not surprising since I can rarely find my glasses that I set down five minutes ago.
There have also been monster tiger sharks, giant hammerhead sharks and probably my favorite, giant manta rays. Having up-close visits with mantas 25 feet across is incredible.
Just last year, while trolling in the Gulf Stream in a 60-foot sportfishing boat, our lures must have dragged across the back of one of these mantas, because not 20 yards behind the boat it went completely airborne! Doing a belly flop, it was so big the shock of it hitting the water could be felt as the entire boat vibrated. That’s big!
If you keep your eyes open, with a little luck, you too can capture the best show on nature’s network.
Collins Doughtie, a 60-year resident of the Lowcountry, is a sportsman, graphic artist, and lover of nature. firstname.lastname@example.org