You never know if you like a food, unless you taste it. You never know if you like a type of music, until you hear it. You never know if you like a massage, until you feel it. Well, fishing is the same way. I am of the opinion that more women would enjoy going fishing, if they would just try it.
Fishing is not just a sport–it’s an experience of the senses. There is the beauty of the sunrise, the mesmerizing power of the rolling sea-green waves, the endless calm of the multi-blue sky, the rhythmic splash of the water against the side of the boat, and much, much more. It’s not just about catching fish–it’s about getting away and being on the water, far from the familiar.
For a captain, the job starts the night before, with the vigil of checking the weather conditions. What will the wind speed be? From what direction will it be blowing? What are the resulting sea heights? Is the tide falling or rising, and about what time does it switch around from one to the other? Will there be thunderstorms?
All these things factor into what type of fishing trip will be experienced. We might decide to fish inland on a high wind day, or venture out toward the Gulf on a calmer day. On those calmer days, when the tide is falling, we would put down the trolling motor and cruise the banks for that tell-tale “V” formation the red fish makes as it swims in the salty shallows. Or we may venture out into the open lakes to find schools of trout feeding on shrimp as they skip across the top of the water. We might let the wind push us gently over the reefs as we cast to the feeding trout below.
And on the dog days when there’s not much wind, we can just anchor near a pass where the water is deep, and fish on the bottom for whatever might be hungry for a cracked crab that day. Whether the intended catch is a red fish, trout, or flounder, a tug on the line and a tip of the rod is more exciting than you first imagine.
From the moment we board the boat, anticipation is in the air. It’s time for our senses, dulled by hours of breathing conditioned air, looking at things under artificial light, listening to the unnatural sounds of electricity pulsing through every facet of modern life, and the blaring sounds of traffic and televisions, to be wiped clean of all things unnatural. It’s time to be filled with the awe that awaits, just beyond the boat launch.
From the first swish of the water against the bow, your world is left behind. Being on the water is transforming–mind altering. The most awful day becomes one of splendor and redemption out on the water. And if your mind still isn’t clear by the time we’ve idled to the channel, the salt air at high speeds will certainly clear it right out for you.
The deeper you get into the estuary, the more the sea air engulfs you entirely. The heavy salt air, so similar to our own chemical makeup, becomes one with you as you take it into your starving lungs, each breath bringing you closer to total relaxation. And just as soon as you relax, the excitement begins.
You’re riding along, just like Sunrose, JG, and I did recently, and off in the distance, on the marsh bank, is a tall animal. Miles away from solid ground, and in a state of euphoria, for an instant, your brain just can’t make sense of what this might be out in the middle of nowhere. The animal stands stalk still as you pass through its neighborhood. It’s a coyote, one of the biggest you’ve ever seen–so big you’d swear it was a wolf. And once you’ve flown past, you wonder if you really saw it at all.
Your eyes settle back on the water in front, and a bump glides across the water, barely visible in the distance. Before you realize it, you’ve spoken aloud, wondering if it’s an alligator. As you draw closer, you think maybe it’s a nutria. Gliding past, you realize it’s a raccoon, with its little face barely out of the water, fur water-logged, swimming as fast as it can from one bank to the other, possibly escaping the jaws of a gator.
Next, crossing a large lake, the skies are laden with birds looking for their breakfast–brown pelicans and the ever-present noisy gulls and terns. They play their part, faithfully, and we can count on seeing them in great numbers.
Just before reaching the pass, the water looks churned–smattered with bubbles. Mother Nature has yet one more treat for us–a school of bottle-nosed dolphins feeding, showing their dorsal fins and sometimes looking at us as they come up to exhale. We can even hear them release the air from their blow holes. It is an amazing thing to watch them as they feed, swimming gracefully in pairs or families.
As we near Grand Pass, there is almost no tidal movement and barely a breeze to blow us across the lake. We decide to anchor in the pass and drop down the heavy- duty gear to see what kind of big hungry monsters we can find on the bottom. The current pulls our lines taut, as a curious alligator swims to and fro across the pass from us. They are becoming saltwater tolerant.
Sunrose sits patiently, a cracked crab soaking on the bottom. She’s the first to have a solid bite. We hope the fish is a “bull red”, meaning one over 27 inches and weighing more than 20 pounds.
We are wrong, but Sunrose still has a super good time fighting this 25-pound black drum before it finally gives up the fight to the net. These fish have very fleshy lips, so the hook was only superficial. Once removed and photo taken, it was gently returned to the salty waters of Grand Pass to eat cracked crab another day.
Soon after, we pull up anchor and head to a nearby lake, the ride providing salty breezes as we fly across it in the 250 HP outboard engine. The balmy air is a welcome respite from the heat of being anchored in the pass.
A large flock of seagulls feeding on dancing shrimp soon catches our attention. Grabbing our lighter tackle, we kill the engine and let the gentle wind push us over the feeding ground. Our target fish are speckled trout. We are immediately awarded with baits being tugged and bobbers going under. Many of these trout are too small to keep, since most of the adult trout are already spawning on the coast.
However, the larger trout still lagging behind cannot refuse the artificial bait JG offers them.
Though not as strong as a red fish or a black drum, the fight of a speckled trout is vicious. They fight all the way to the boat, and are sometimes rewarded for their efforts with a hook spat and freedom from the frying pan.
The other specie of fish Sunrose catches this day is an occassional gaftop sail catfish. They are, I think, the slimiest fish in the Gulf, and I don’t even allow them in my net, much less on my boat. They are set free as quickly as possible, with great care so that we don’t get pricked with their poisonous fins. Oh yes, that could be a trip to the hospital and a round of major antibiotics. No thank you.
With the June sun bearing down hard on us by 11 a.m., the bimini top goes up as we turn the boat around and head for home. To say we are totally relaxed at this point might be an understatement. The ride back to the landing is peaceful and quiet, all minds on things real and natural–one last chance for euphoria before re-entering the world of all things false and unnatural.
Sunrose can now return to her native Pensacola, having spent a magnificent day on the water and having caught three different species of saltwater fish. And even if she hadn’t caught a single fish, she’ll be the first to tell you that the sights and sounds of “going fishing” are well worth the early-morning effort.
Fishing isn’t just about the “catching”, and if you don’t believe me, well, you know how to reach me.
Captain Wendy aka Bayou Woman