Up before dawn dressed in clothes I wore the night before, I was ready to go when my nephew Richie showed up at my door for the ride to meet Tuck, our fishing guide. Richie brought me black coffee to light up my brain despite the dark. Moments later we were off, on the hour’s long drive from his home on Bray’s Island in Sheldon, South Carolina, to the Broad River in Beaufort. Fishing in the dark was new to me. As Richie described it, the routine was to get onto the river as the tide comes in and chase the fish to shore as they follow the bait. I was game to try something new, but this was to be an unusual fishing trip in more ways than one.
Driving in the dark through the small towns out of Bray’s was eerie. The roadside trailers that lined the two-lane highways had large spotlights I assume to ward off trespassers in this very rural part of South Carolina. The scenery felt strangely foreign, as if I were dreaming it, half-awake in the dark without a clue to the where and the when. The road traffic was mostly massive tractor trailers delivering to large chain and big box stores throughout the South. We finally arrived at our destination and it was still dark. We met Tuck at the concrete pad where he had moored his Maverick flat fishing boat. He and Rich had a typical fishermen exchange. Rich: “Hey, man. Where you been fishing?” Tuck: “It’s been great. Just returned from Cuba and we hit a grand slam. Tarpin, Bonefish and Permit..” Rich was drooling for an adventure like that, being the outdoorsman he is. Rich builds senior homes for a living, and golfs and shoots for recreation. But he is a fisherman first–he has those Ackerman genes.
Once Tuck had readied the boat the sun was just beginning to brighten the eastern sky. There wasn’t a single other flat boat around as we flew across the water. The air was cool and invigorating. Tuck and Rich sat together behind the console chatting away about fishing trips past and planned. I turned my Tulane Law School cap backwards and let the wind brush my unshaven face. We were running from the dark as it got brighter. Soon we slowed to approach shore where the water depth was waist high. Tuck lifted himself up to the poling platform at the stern so he could spot the fish. The sun was now rising. I had never fished for Redfish or even seen one. As I was watching Tuck watch the water, suddenly things took a very strange turn. I started to hear in the distance what sounded like gunfire. As I focused on the pounding sounds I realized that in fact it was gun fire. Hunters? But they sounded like automatic weapons. Then, without warning, a military gunboat came out of nowhere with sirens blasting and someone over a speaker system telling us to leave the area. We had stumbled, or flat-boated ourselves into the middle of a full-blown military maneuver, organized by the U.S. Marines. Seems our pre-dawn hunt for Redfish was right off of the Marine base at Parris Island in Beaufort. Tuck jumped down from the tower and over to the boat controls to motor us off. As the boat turned around, a fighter plane came out of the sky with a screeching sound unlike anything from a commercial aircraft. It swooped over our heads as if to strafe the beach. We had not yet even brought out our fishing rods. It was now 7:30am and the Marines were on the assault. We were in the range of gunfire. It was surreal.
Tuck had miscalculated. His special fishing spot was under attack. We kept cool heads as we moved away from the action. Eventually we found another spot close to shore to fish successfully. Rich showed me my first Redfish. I soon set the hook on one but lost it when I pulled it up out of the water. then hooked one by accident with my fly in the water before I even cast. A lucky set but I brought it to the boat and the guys, smiling, took my picture.
Fishing for Redfish on the tide is a short duration trip. By sunup the tide was in and the fish had a II they could eat. Rich smoked his first cigar of the morning and had a full day of work, golf and shooting ahead of him. I caught my first Redfish, albeit by chance. It was a very lucky day indeed.