People who don’t fish at all or folks who have done nothing but freshwater fishing seldom realize just how dangerous saltwater fishing can be. In most cases, these incidents I describe happened without any warning and – so that you don’t stop swimming off the beach – most all of them occurred offshore. So, until the fishing picks up around here you’ll just have to bear with me with these tales of days gone by.
Since I talked about marlin fishing in my last column, I guess these incredibly fast and powerful fish should be my first tale. I was fishing with Capt. Buddy Hester aboard the Cloud Nine, the smallest boat I can remember him running. To say the water was rough is an understatement. The wind was howling and the seas were so big we practically skied down the face of the waves.
If I remember correctly, there was a marlin tournament going on, because that is the only reason we would be stupid enough to be out there in those conditions.
We hooked into a blue marlin, not a particularly big one, maybe around 200 pounds, but for the life of me I can’t remember who was fighting the fish. Anyway, it was a messy fight, as everything in the cockpit would slide from one side to the other as waves swept under us.
The first mate was Dean Jacobs, otherwise known as “Bulldog.” Buddy was his usual self, hollering to do this and to do that. Marlin in this size range can be particularly frisky and unpredictable and often are harder to handle than one twice that size.
After a 30-minute fight, the fish finally gave in and Dean gaffed the fish. Though he was strong as an ox, Dean was having a heck of time getting the fish in the boat because every time he would just about get it over the rail, a big wave would force him to let go and the fish would drop back in the water.
Outraged, Buddy finally tells Dean to come to the fly bridge and run the boat and he would come down and get the fish in. Time after time, Buddy ran into the same problem with the waves until Dean comes up with a plan. “When the next wave comes, I’ll throw her in reverse and we’ll let the wave pick up the fish and maybe then you can get it in,” he said.
On the count of three, Dean slams the throttles into full reverse and a wall of water and the marlin comes flying over the transom.
But at the same instant, Buddy falls down and he and the marlin slide into the cabin, down the steps and land on the floor – with a very angry 200-pound marlin on top of Buddy.
Needless to say, that marlin beat the heck out of Buddy, breaking tables and pretty much destroying the entire cabin before it was finally subdued.
A bit closer to shore, I was tarpon fishing with my nephew Byron Sewell in Port Royal Sound. We had already caught and released three nice tarpon and the fishing was on fire.
Using menhaden for chum, I was standing at the stern “chunking” menhaden – cutting them into thirds and throwing a handful overboard every few minutes.
Now, tarpon are by no means boat shy, and I had just thrown a few chunks right behind the engines when I looked up and there, in midair, is a 125-pound tarpon headed straight toward my chest. Like a deer caught in headlights, there was no time for me to react.
That fish was going full bore, and one inch to the left or one inch to the right and I would have been history. Instead, that tarpon went headfirst into the back of one of the outboards, a 250 hp Yamaha, and went through four layers of reinforced fiberglass and straight into the engine block itself.
I didn’t stop shaking for 30 minutes. Did the tarpon live? I cannot say, but I do know it must have had one hell of a headache!
Have you ever seen a giant manta ray? Whether you have or not, they are massive. I was king mackerel fishing about four miles off Hilton Head when one of the rods bent double. Line was screaming off that reel so fast we had no choice but to chase the fish.
I was on a 32-foot center console and after chasing the fish for about ten minutes we decided it had to be something other than a king mackerel. Just for grins we decided to stay with whatever it was hoping to get a glance of what was on the line.
Paralleling it for over an hour, it finally surfaced. It was a giant manta ray – and I mean giant. Evidently, it had no idea it was hooked and had simply swum into our kingfish rig and foul hooked itself on one of its massive wings.
Easily 20 to 25 feet across, it looked like a stealth bomber gliding under the water. We estimated it had to have weighed over 3,000 pounds!
Pretty cool stuff huh? Now you can better understand why I love being on the water almost more than I like being on land. There is a sense of freedom and wonderment that just can’t be found anywhere else.
Like the old Life Cereal TV commercial with Mikey, as they say, “Try it, you’ll like it!”
Collins Doughtie, a 60-year resident of the Lowcountry, is a sportsman, graphic artist, and lover of nature. firstname.lastname@example.org