Mention the word “fishing” and I reckon most folks think of Tom Sawyer, cane pole in hand, chewing on a length of straw while sitting along the banks of the Mighty Mississippi. I guess this “lazy” vision is acceptable in most cases, but here in the Lowcountry, fishing can be almost treacherous, requiring lot of work on the fisherman’s part.
I know from experience that fish can be sly, tricky and in some cases downright ornery.
I know it’s hard to think of a largemouth bass and other local freshwater fish as being vicious creatures, but there’s one that is. The lowly bowfin, commonly known as mudfish, are somewhat prehistoric and usually inhabit swamp-like ponds or rivers.
Because these places usually have little oxygen in the water, the bowfin have that problem covered by being able to stick their head out of the water and gulp air. And talk about a mean fish, bowfin will eat just about anything that moves.
When caught on hook and line, their abnormally large head and dagger-like teeth will put a hurt on you if it gets hold of you. Besides that mouth, they are incredibly slimy, making handling them almost like trying to grab a greased pig. Is this experience talking? Absolutely.
On the slippery meter, I would have to put flounder right up there. Since I have a passion for fishing for flatties rather than gigging them, I have had a number of run-ins with these wet bars of soap, and in most cases I lose these wrestling matches.
Some of my more notable experiences with flounder happened during my teen years. Because I didn’t have a boat at the time, I was big into lagoon fishing on Hilton Head Island, especially in brackish water lagoons.
One lagoon in particular always seemed to produce big fish – redfish over four feet long, trout over 10 pounds, tarpon and, believe it or not, an occasional snook or two. It was during one such trip to that lagoon when I hooked into something big, but by the way it fought I wasn’t sure what I had on the end of my line.
It stayed on the bottom like a stingray often does but something was different about this fish. After numerous runs, I was finally able to see the fish and it was the biggest flounder I had ever seen – and I had landed some whoppers. My heart was pounding like crazy. With no net, my only option was to try to find a spot where I could slide the fish up the bank.
I knew I had to do it slowly so my line wouldn’t break. I had that monster about three feet out of the water when there was a loud snap and my line broke.
I threw down my rod and jumped on that flounder. It went nuts, I went nuts and the fight was on. Back and forth we went until it made it to the water and off it swam.
Knowing that flounder was in that lagoon, I became obsessed with catching it. Three weeks later, I finally caught what I am sure was that damn flounder, and it weighed in at 14 ½ lbs. It was larger than any doormat I have ever seen.
Another fish that has a tendency to get the upper hand is a dolphin fish or mahi-mahi, especially the large ones. Hooked, a big bull dolphin (a male mahi) has an extremely broad side, so it’s like pulling in a sheet of plywood with the flat side against you.
But that’s nothing compared to the moment you decide to put one of these bruisers in the boat. From the moment you gaff the beast and drop it on the deck, my only suggestion is to get way out of the way because they almost always go crazy.
I have had them flip high enough to go back over the side, but more often than that I have seen them darn near break legs with their powerful tail.
One such incident happened years back when a woman onboard caught a 50-pound bull. It hadn’t been in the boat more than a couple of minutes when she insisted on a picture with her prize catch. To no avail, I tried to warn her to give the brute a few more minutes to settle down. But she wanted that picture right then and there, so I held up this huge dolphin – and just as the camera clicked that tail took her out.
I saw her a day or two later, and from hip to foot her leg was jet black, a bruise that had to have taken weeks to disappear. I have taken dolphin tails to about every part of my body including my face and other sensitive parts.
It isn’t always the big fish that can get you. Chopper bluefish and Spanish mackerel both come into the boat snapping away. Both of these species have razor sharp teeth that can mutilate a finger or toe quicker than a Ronco Chop-O-Matic.
But when it comes to pain, nothing beats a bite from a triggerfish. Unlike mackerel or bluefish, triggerfish have a small mouth with human-like teeth that won’t necessarily slice you open because their forte is quite different. Given half a chance they will play dead and then, when your hand is within biting distance, they strike and hold on.
It’s like having a bulldog grab you. The more you try and pull away the harder they bite down. In addition, the times they have gotten me have always been in the most sensitive parts of my hand – like the skin in the palm of your hand.
My advice is this: The next time you catch one of the species mentioned and think they are cute little fishies, think again. They’re all out to get you and if you wonder if that is experience talking – absolutely, positively “Yes!”
Collins Doughtie, a 60-year resident of the Lowcountry, is a sportsman, graphic artist, and lover of nature. email@example.com