If you ever see me on an airplane, I doubt you would know it. Being stuck in a dildo shaped steel tube with 15 too many people shoved into it and 3 arm rests for the 6 arms present in your row always causes me to screw my hat down over my eyes and turn my thoughts inward. If I look around or pay too much attention to the snoring guy across the aisle, or the sweat from the fat lady’s arm next to me that is dripping on our shared armrest, I begin the think about the situation I am in: eventually reaching the conclusion, “you can’t breathe and you are never fucking getting out of here!” It takes some effort to not……..hell I don’t know what, but doing about anything in that state of mind seems like poor judgment.
On a recent flight from Atlanta to Minneapolis, for the third leg of my 4 stage journey home, it occurred to me just how antithetical this situation was to the one I had just left. I had just finished a fly-fishing trip to Hilton Head Island, SC – my first ever saltwater fly-fishing experience. Fishing those mud flats for redfish on the (aptly named) Broad River just outside of Beaufort, SC was a lesson in largess and openness.
We awoke early and headed for the boat landing, arriving at just after dawn on a gorgeous South Caroline morning in early March. I really didn’t know what to expect, short of the fact that we would be in some kind of boats and casting 8 or 9 weight rods (presumably Orvis) to redfish. I was in a group of three; my dad, brother and myself. We had enlisted the services of an outfitter and guiding service out of Beaufort called Bay Street Outfitters. This is a top notch, Orvis-endorsed, outfitter and the head guide, Tuck Scott, (one of the two that would be with us) was known in the area as a real good guide. He brought another guide, Owen Plair, who knew where the fish were and how to find them. These guys are great guides and great sports and they worked their tails off to get us on good fishing.
We split into two groups, with my brother going with Tuck and Dad and I going with Owen. Immediately I was struck with the immense size of things and the openness of it all. We were fishing an area at the mouth of the Broad River where it drains into the Atlantic. To say it drains is to present it wrong. It is more like the ocean breathes in the river; sucking water out at low tide and exhaling it back up river as the tide comes in. This breathing of the ocean seems to drive everything. The entire water scape changes, laying naked vast fields of oysters and mud when the tide is low and then hiding the fields and creating deep channels and drop-offs when the tide is in. Fishing in a place where you could not move your boat and yet be in an entirely different place in 4 hours is not a concept I can entirely wrap my head around.
The scenery was spectacular and everywhere you looked there was water. In this low country nothing is either ocean, river or dry land. Everything is all three, simply vacillating among them – leaning towards being mostly one and then moving to being mostly another. Everything is one good storm surge from being ocean floor and one low tide from being shoreline, with an impossible amount of area being both a couple of times a day. I guess it is like anything… not really exactly anything. More of a combination of all things, just in differing proportions.
Moreover, the landscape itself contains no obvious demarcations to give you a sense of being contained. I mean, there are trees and hills, but nothing like the edge of a forest as it opens into a meadow, or a line of trees scarring the prairie as it slices along the banks of a river. As you followed the horizon only the changing colors would tell you if what you were looking at was vegetation or ocean. A colorblind person may try to walk to France from here. This all made for an eerie sense of being exposed. Like the feeling you get when you lay on your back in your bed with you arms at your side. It can be exhilarating and halting all at the same time.
When we arrived at the boat ramp, Tuck and Owen were waiting for us with their boats and ready to go. I had never been on a flats boat and I still can’t believe these things draft 8 inches. It is trippy to look down into the water over the side of a boat and see that you could step off and barely go in over your boots – like looking out of an airplane and seeing that you could just step off if you wanted too. It just ain’t right!
Tuck and Owen proved to be spectacular guides. Tuck kept my brother on fish all morning (until the tide made it impossible) and in the process taught him a thing or two. Owen was the kind of guide you want badly in a situation like this. He grew up fishing the area and was some kind of savant, owning his first boat at 8 years old. He knew this water as well as it can be known. Additionally, he was a great guy and fun to be around, which was a real plus given the long periods of poling that needed to be done. He worked hard to keep us on fish and succeeded sporadically, in the way that makes for a great day of fishing to a good redfish fly-fisher and getting skunked to a poor one. For the record, I am officially a poor one.
Of the three of us, we hooked up three times, and all three times it was my brother that did it. Once into a nice redfish that got him into one of those grip and grin hero pictures, once into his hat and once into his cheek. That last one caused a little bleeding, but hell who am I to talk, I didn’t set a hook all day, and if you had told me, “you get to hookup on a redfish, but you have to hook your cheek first,” I just might have done it.