Finding My Fishing Mojo….A Story of Encouragement
Fishing nearly every day as a fishing guide back in the ’90s enabled me to be a fairly successful fisherman. I was able to read all the factors that told me what to look for and do when it came to light tackle fishing in the creeks and estuaries along the Carolina coast. As I look back, I’m amazed at what I learned from those veterans and highly skilled guides at reading the water and determining what made a great fishing spot. It was a number of skills that grew out of the day to day repetitive process.
In the late ’90s, I gave up guide fishing for a corporate job with Sea Tow International. I gave up my faded, soft collar shirt for a pressed, button-down collar shirt. Instead of spending my days on my 18′ Bay Boat in those creeks, I found myself in a plane or my new company SUV heading to places like Miami, New York, and LA. It was a great time in my life, but I did miss the really good times on the water fishing. After about 12 years on the road, I decided to come home. I wanted to spend more time with Kathy and enjoy a change of pace. One of the first things I did was to buy a new boat and start back fishing. It didn’t take long to realize that I had lost my touch. Where I once enjoyed days of great catches, now I struggled to bring in a single fish. Finally, I decided to go back to the basics, going back to the shear fundamentals of saltwater fishing. That meant trolling for Spanish Mackerel. Instead of trying to find a productive spot and pick the right lure and waiting for the right time of day and tide, I grabbed my trolling rods, rigged them with torpedo weights and matchbook planners, and a handful of silver and gold Clark Spoons.
So the next day I left at the crack of dawn only taking the time to swing into Bojangles drive-thru for a chicken biscuit and the Circle K for a bag of ice to chill all my Spanish that I would be reeling in. I saw I was at the boat ramp early because there was only one other truck there in the pitch-black darkness. So I splashed the boat anyway and eased out of Masonboro Inlet at sunrise. Within minutes my lines were in the water with the planner lines tight and bending my weighted rods nicely. I settled into enjoying my greasy Bojangles biscuit and diet Coke. Life had suddenly become enjoyable again. Now, just waiting for the action to start…. It didn’t. Not even a fish suicide!
A few weeks later I headed toward the Wrightsville Beach boat ramp long before dawn to make sure to get a parking place. As I launched the boat at daybreak and headed out the inlet, I felt confident I could shake the bad feeling of the last trip. Conditions were perfect and the lines were in the water like I had done a thousand times before. Still nothing. While I trolled with fishless lines, anglers within mocking distance pulled in boatloads of fish while laughing at me. I felt like a naked man at the 50-yard line of the Super Bowl. The next few times were the same. Little or no fish in the boat. The only thing I brought home was humiliation.
I returned to the sound of my neighbor’s laughter at the sight of my empty cooler. One of them told me that the coolers in the fishing department at Walmart had seen more fish than the old dented cooler in my boat. I even tried telling them that I stopped on the way home and given the fish to an orphanage for starving children. They laughed louder. By this time, my wife was in the fetal position under the bed muttering, “where did the fish go” with a crazed look in her eyes.
A few weeks later Kathy urged me to finally come out of the closet where I had been hiding for days. I had been reduced to eating Vienna sausages and drinking Snapple to sustain myself while asking the Fishing Gods why they hated me. But now, Kathy said it was time to pull myself together. Time to hit the water and find my fishing self again. She was going this time despite her history of seasickness.
So a few days later on a sunny, Sunday morning we slowly made our way past the rocks at Masonboro Inlet. Numerous anglers had already beat us out there and the fishing looked busy. With the flat seas, thanks to only a slight breeze, I set out the lines while Kathy watched with a guarded smile. It was a great day for fishing and my hopes were high. As I was allowing the fourth and final line to reel out, the other long lines started to spool out. With my past failures at the top of my mind, I looked to see if I had crossed and snagged the line of another angler. At closer look, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a big fat Spanish Mackerel skipping along the surface. No sooner had I reached for the bouncing rod to reel it in, the opposite rod started bouncing as well. I first thought it was a massive Spanish suicide. But it wasn’t. I was CATCHING SPANISH MACKEREL! Kathy was cheering me on as I reeled fish after fish to the boat. Then I noticed the cheering stopped. I began to hear a noise that reminded me of my days as a partying bachelor. Even though it was a familiar sound, I couldn’t quite place it….and then I did! It was the sickening sound of a person throwing up! At the exact moment the Spanish started biting, seasickness had attacked my bride, my soul mate, my cheerleader. Kathy was on her knees hanging over the side of the boat and became a human chum machine. She was white as a glass of milk and soaked with the saltwater spray and….well, let’s just say she was soaked. Her moans and echoes of regurgitation began to attract the attention of nearby fishermen.
With only 5 fish in the boat, I had to bring a few more in to convince myself that the fish I had caught was not a cruel joke. I turned to my sick wife and assured her that I would only reel in a few more fish and then head in and end her worsening sickness. In between spews and with as much grace as she could muster, she insisted that I keep fishing. As more fish continued to hit the Clark Spoons, more moans came from Kathy. Each time I offered to return, she waved her weak arms and insisted that I continue to fish. Then finally the fishing was over. My limit had been obtained and my poor wife lay limp over the side of the boat.
It was a great day of fishing. More than that, it was a greater day of learning. I learned that in fact I was not a bad angler. I still had the skills of those days as a guide. It was just a dry spell. I learned to never give up on myself or whatever my endeavor. Most of all I learned the extent of love my wife of now 41 years had for me. She was willing to endure what must have felt like a near-death experience to allow me to have my day of fishing success. Among her suffering, she never complained. Instead, she only lifted her head to encourage me to “keep fishing.” Best of all Kathy never gave up on me. Not for a second. While I was starting to have serious doubts, she never did. That’s why she is and always will be the catch of my life.