Unlike most young folks that grew up in South Georgia, I had the luxury of spending my weekends in-shore fishing on the gulf coast. And, as a young girl and teen – I hated every minute of it. I was a bit of a girlie girl back then and I wanted none of the salt spray and fish slime that comes with fishing. I would have rather been hanging out with my friends or dressing up and putting on makeup. Now of course, you’d have to drag me off a dock or boat, but back then, I was held captive by my parents each weekend as they hauled their center console fishing boat the two and half hours to the coast for the weekend and I sadly mourned the death of my social life. Much like those with Stockholm syndrome, l learned the ways of the fisher people. How to bait a hook and what bait caught what, what the tides meant and what species liked to hang out where. Those weekends of torture taught me to be more than proficient with a spinning reel, capable on the fight and adequate on the release with most any fish.
As we made the seven hour trip from the north Georgia mountains to the gulf shores, I kept insisting that we snag some fishing gear from mom and dad’s so I could at least fish off the dock. My parent’s have not taken the boat down to Florida yet, but if I am going to have to LOOK at the water, at least let me wet a hook. Everyone somewhat ignored me, but dad was nice enough to grab me an old rod and a handful of tackle.
As soon as we stopped the truck at the house, I was on a mission to find bait. Live bait. My mom suggested that frozen shrimp would work just fine, but live is always best. My dad offered me an artificial shrimp lure, but I google searched bait stores until I located the closest one. Ten minutes to live shrimp. We swung by the bait shop on the way back from getting groceries – like true Floridians do, I imagine.
In between odd jobs at the house, I wandered down to the dock and threw out my line. Nothing was biting. Not even the little ones. It was not a good sign. I did manage to catch a nice stone crab with my rod. It was just too hot. I decided to come back out after dinner to try my luck.
About 5 pm, the skies grew dark and the winds bustled and before anyone knew what was happening, the bottom fell out. The rains poured for over an hour and blew sideways. It was a spectacular sight to watch to storm roll in across the water. The temperature dropped over 20 degrees in a matter of minutes.
After the worst had cleared and we had finished eating, I went outside back on to the dock. The tide was rolling out by this time and the water had a much different color. You could now see bait fish feeding and mullet jumping. Time to try again.
I cast my shrimp out in the deep water of the canal and let him float a bit, but nothing happened. I decided to try my luck up on the high decking. The dock had an upper lever for reaching the boats when they are pulled up out of the water on to the slips, which is about 20 feet over the water. It gives you a great vantage point to see fish and where you are casting. The only drawback is that the deck is only about two and half feet wide and there is no railing. It’s a long fall to the water from up there. I walk up to the high deck and I can see tons of small bait fish in the shallows. Since there is nothing else biting, I decide it might be fun to try to snag one. I dip my shrimp in the water and I see three small fish follow when I pull the line back up. I dip again and I see six small fish when I pull the line back up. The third pull and ZING! The line is stripping out on the reel faster than I can reel it in.
I work to adjust my drag as the peanut gallery starts yelling advice to me…. “Don’t over work it!” “Don’t get stuck in the pilings!” “Don’t fall off the dock!”
After I get the drag adjusted, I start to work the fish back toward the dock and catch a glimpse of her. It’s a nice red. Hooked in about 2 feet of water, right off the dock.
So, here comes the real story…
I am on a dock that is 20 feet up in the air, above the water. How in the hell am I supposed to land this fish? There is absolutely no way, from where I stand, I can reach this fish. I have no net. No gloves. No pliers. No nothing. And, to make matters worse, there is no beach. Just a sea wall. So, we can’t even get her to shore to unhook her.
Also, at this point, I need to mention – we are here this weekend, in part, to work on the dock. The dock, it’s self is about 15 years old and has seen as many seasons of hurricanes with little to no repairs. As I am fighting this fish, at the very end of this high dock 15 feet off the shoreline, it’s swaying about a foot in every direction, all the while not inspiring confidence in its structural integrity.
I reel the fish up as tight as I can and walk her over to the edge of the dock that is closest to the other side of our lower dock. At this point, I have to lay on my back, holding the rod and pass the rod to my dad, holding the rod by one hand, to him, through the docks (under one, over the other). Then, run around and grab the rod back from him, thorough the docks again. Then, we have to walk down the dock that is at water level with the fish on the rod and have him hold the rod while I lay on my stomach and grab the fish out of the water. Except, she is too big and too slippery for me to just grab up by the tail, so I have to grab her tail AND lip her (which is not a great idea for salt water fish – they have teeth).
All and all…it was an ordeal to get this big girl out of the water….And she was POOPED when we finally did. I spent almost a minute holding her in the water before she could swim off on her own. But she did swim off and was fine. I sustained minor bruising, cuts to my hand and emotional trauma from all the people yelling at me – but I caught one hell of a fish and got a good story.