High and Dry
If 2005 needed a punctuation mark, one was surely supplied this weekend. The last chance to spend some quality time with my South Carolina fishing buddies presented itself and Thursday night saw me burning through the backroads of southeastern North Carolina, full-tilt for I-95. I arrived to the traditional warm welcome and cold beer, getting to Beaufort (it's Byoo-firt in SC) about the same time as a small cold front which kicked up the wind and the rivers and delivered a brisk day Friday. But heck, that's fishing in the winter-it's hit or miss and a marginal day might be the best you'll see for a while. Scott and I both had enough clothes to outfit a colonial regiment and all fashion sense was waived-he had some sort of camo-fleece headgear giving him a bolshevik look and I brought my "goofy hat"-a blue, insulated bonnet with a velcro chin attachment and a short bill. Upon donning this headgear, your IQ automatically drops about 60 points. We lugged even more clothes onto the boat, hid behind the small plastic windshield and made the familiar run down the Coosaw River to our default fishing spot. Jeff and Jay met us there in Jeff's boat but did not stay long-impatient with the lack of any fish they took off to the low tide winter honey hole at Warsaw Flats. As visitor, I was afforded the favored side of the boat and we trolled along the grass bank pulling our artificial baits behind us. I had a hit and a couple minutes later a 2 pound seatrout came twisting through the water and into the livewell for dinner. Just after that I landed a 30-inch redfish and followed that up with a smaller one. The South Carolina homeboys remained skunked for the rest of the day and actually went 0-for the weekend.
A day on the water is tiring in and of itself, but when you're battling the elements it takes an extra toll-we got back to Scott's dock at dusk, threw a cast net on some rogue bait that just happened to show up in front of the boat, and called it a day. We shed the waders and bibs and hit Duke's- an all-you-can eat 30-item buffet place and stuffed ourselves with mac and cheese, bar-b-q, fried okra and other southern standards, then we waddled back to the car. After a short visit to the K-Mart to reload on the tackle that had caught the fish that day, it was home for a short night of TV and tunes and wrestling with Scott's golden lab puppy Sadie-a combination of unbridled exhuberance, long-legged clumsiness and the attention span of a gnat. Thursday night she tried to jump from the floor into the kitchen sink to get some ice and came damn close to making it.
We hit the water Saturday for the official close to our '05 fishing year-a year that began on the Texas Gulf Coast in March and would now end on the Coosaw River. Heading out at 8:30 there wasn't a breath of wind and the open water was calm as a lake. The high temp was going to be close to 70 degrees-high tide around 10:45 A.M. and low tide about six hours later. This part of the east coast has some of the highest tides for some reason. A high tide for us in NC would be just over four feet-here in Beaufort, SC, a high tide would be well over nine feet. That means every six hours, nine feet of water would either move out or in-the current created is quite strong and the same place at low tide and high tide would be unrecognizable. Seven-foot oyster mounds that stick up all over the marsh would be completely submerged and invisible at high tide. In most coastal towns, knowing the times and range of the daily tides is vital information. It governs where you can go, and where you can fish.
We fished a beautiful morning, picking up one small but legal trout and picked up Jeff at Brickyard Landing boatramp right at one. It was a great afternoon to be spent with great friends-the last four hours fishing together this year. Beer flowed freely, the fishing was slow but the comeraderie was first-rate. A prosecutor, a sheriff's deputy and a defense lawyer in one boat-what a motley and diverse crew but none better than to spend a day with on the water. We hit our favorite spot one last time just before 4:00 P.M. All of a sudden the previously barren water was busting with fish. Scott scooted us around in the shallow muddied with the pushpole and Jeff and I cast like crazy everytime we saw a fish boil in the water. It was such a spectacle that no one noticed that the boat was no longer moving and it wasn't long till we discovered it wasn't gonna move. I had waders on so I took the first crack at jumping out and trying to push us out of the six inches of water we were in-no luck-even with both guys standing on the bow to take some weight off the engine-heavy stern. Scott was next in-he had a pair of floppy yellow boots that he put over his bibs-still no luck. Jeff had on jeans and some leather work boots and as we were soon to find out, some striped boxer shorts. He went in sans pants, socks and boots and we took turns trying to configure a way off the mud bar. After several minutes of grunting and cursing, it hit us that not only were we not making progress, but the bottom of the boat had no water under it at all. Time to hit the cooler. Jeff was allowed to fish this day with the express understanding that he was to be home by 5:00 to attend some sort of shower at 6:00. A call to his wife Amy to report our situation didn't seem that well received-he asked her to check the time of the low tide and we were still thirty minutes away from that. We drank a few more beers and watched as the bare mud extended a hundred feet behind the boat. Jeff called a sheriff buddy and prepared to walk across the soft mud to the shore and have this buddy pick him up and take him to his car. We had one more toast then Jeff stuffed his boots about halfway down in Scott's yellow boots and with fishing rod in one hand and a beer in the other, took off sloshing into the mud-it was quite a sight and we were whooping and hollering when he made it up on the bank and disappeared into the yard. It was a comical end to a great year so it begged to be captured on film (or disk). It reminds me of my two favorite fishing quotes-I think that John Geirach said that "everytime you go fishing, at least one thing happens that you will remember all your life." And of course, there's the one from Thoreau that hits the nail squarely on the head-"many men fish all their lives, not knowing it is not fish they are after." Thanks guys-great year! Let's do it again in '06!