In this Doughtie family photo from a fishing trip in Key Largo, a young Collins, about age 8, is third from the left. Capt. Al Mende, far left, was the family’s captain every year. Also pictured from left, brother Tim next to Collins, brother Dan, mom Sallie and dad Charlie. The sailfish hanging from the sign is one of Collins’ first. COURTESY COLLINS DOUGHTIE

There is just something about spring that takes me into a period of reflection. With cold gray days pretty much over, maybe I am just following nature’s lead as I find myself dreaming of days gone by, while at the same time anxious to see what nature has in store for me this year. I tend to think of this transition period as a rebirth of sorts.

It shouldn’t surprise me that this happens about now since, in a strange way, I am part of the natural world. Looking out my window at azaleas and dogwoods in full bloom, I see seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago are beginning to poke new growth through the dirt, reaching for the sun. Nature is coming alive all around me.

Being a child of the ocean, this is one area where I notice subtle changes the most. The clear, nearly lifeless water of winter is taking on a more familiar greenish tint, which is actually microscopic life that is the beginning of the entire food chain.

If I had to compare myself with one animal you might be familiar with, it would be the fish-eating anhinga, those large, dark birds we often see perched on a limb with their wings spread wide. They do this to dry their feathers and soak up the warm sunlight. I won’t go as far as admitting that I stand for hours on my dock with my arms spread wide, because that might be a tad weird, but the spring sun rejuvenates me like no tomorrow.

All I can think about now is getting offshore to the vibrant blue waters of the Gulf Stream and mindlessly watching my spread of lures skipping along the surface, waiting for a flash of silver, or yellow or maybe even blue coming up behind one of these baits.

Having been blessed with big game fish since I was 5 years old – thanks to a father who was equally infatuated with all the ocean has to offer – I swear it just never gets old. After hundreds, maybe even thousands of fishing trips in this realm, it is still a challenging combination of skill, learning and, without a doubt, luck.

I caught my first sailfish when I was 6, my first marlin at 15 and in the years between, an incredible potpourri of pelagic species. If I see silver streaking across the surface toward one of my offerings it is probably a wahoo, king mackerel, tuna or barracuda. If it is yellow splashed with lime green and speckles of blue and zigzagging behind a lure, it is a dolphin or mahi-mahi.

Then we come to vibrant blue and black. That’s the mac daddy – a massive, powerful and aerobatic blue marlin – or possibly a smaller, but just as beautiful, sailfish known as “the cheetah of the ocean.”

As I reflect on some of the most memorable catches, they almost always came when least expected. A prime example might be sitting intently watching the baits for three straight hours and getting nothing. As you’re beginning to feel cross-eyed from watching so long, you mutter, “Oh well, I’ll munch on a fat, greasy chicken drumstick.” And then, wham-o, the monster hits.

Jumping up to grab the rod, you slip on a piece of chicken skin that had fallen onto the deck. Back on your feet, you grab the bucking rod and, because you have chicken grease all over your hands, it’s like trying to catch a greased pig. I swear, it never fails. 

I realize not everyone has a boat large enough to make the 60-mile-long run to the Gulf Stream here, but if you like to fish at all, I would definitely recommend putting this trip on your bucket list. I can’t think of one single trip there where I didn’t see something so new it remains etched in the very front of my memory bank.

Just this past year, I watched a 300- to 400-pound blue marlin charge right up to the transom of the boat, engulf a four-foot-long teaser (used to attract, not hook fish) of black rubber silhouettes of tuna then jump 6 feet high and tail walk 200 yards across the ocean. It was a jaw dropper.

That same day we saw the largest leatherback turtle I have ever seen – my guess was it weighed more than a thousand pounds – slowly swim right under the boat as we were stopped.

These memories and thousands more are without a doubt my spring fever.

Collins Doughtie, a 60-year resident of the Lowcountry, is a sportsman, graphic artist, and lover of nature.