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.
After our inaugural fishing expedition to Beaver Kill in 1990, Jay and I embarked on a fishing romance spanning 24 years until our trip to Iceland in 2014. I returned to Iceland again in 2017 but that time as a loner. Jay was not fit to travel after a bout of illness and I, suffering from a back injury, plowed through the trip with a distressing inflamed something or other. Leading up to that last trip alone, was a wonderful series of travels with Jay and a few other friends, some now gone. Our first real expedition together was deep sea fishing in Gardiner’s Bay off of East Hampton, with Captain Paul Dixon, on the hunt for bluefish and stripers. Eventually, Jay surpassed me in his collecting of flies and gear as he had a number of friends and work colleagues in the dental profession who regularly went to the Catskills to fish on the Delaware. Jay, being a surgeon, was into the technical intricacies of fishing. I was more interested in finding sources for English country fishing attire, and of course I was into the travel.
Our next outing together was trout fishing on the Connetquot River on Long Island. More like fishing in a bathtub, with assigned beats where fish waited for meals. The fish dined on a schedule, and as long as you were on their timetable you caught plenty. Like shooting in a barrel. After that, we were ready to explore beyond the shores of Long Island. Thus began our European adventures and over the years we went to Scotland and Ireland, and to Iceland twice. We often took local trips in between–during economic recessions and off times in the real estate practice, Jay and I would do the three-hour drive to Al Caucci’s fishing establishment called Riverfront Lodge, on the West Branch of the Delaware River in the Catskills, near Hancock, New York. Caucci was an interesting fellow– a fishing guide, entrepreneur and hotelier, who wrote the basic treatise on fishing entomology or, for us simpletons, the guide to flies that attract fish. Interestingly, with Al it was technical fishing but rarely catching. It seems there just weren’t many fish. It was with Al that I first heard all the immortal fishing guide sayings that begin with “should have.” “Should have been here last week.” “Should’ve been drier—the water’s too high.” “Should’ve rained—the water is too low.” Once there was a dam release issue on that branch of the Delaware. Al must have been a bit amused watching us beginners wade in so far over our heads we had to swim back to shore.
The best part of a trip to Al’s–aside from the exceptional motel décor–was the dining. Always outdoors, weather permitting, the meals were first rate. Al would bring in talented up-and-coming chefs on the weekends, one of whom was Tom Colicchio. Later on, we would see Colicchio’s name in print in restaurant reviews, as he gained fame from his many restaurants in New York and beyond. Al knew beginner fishermen faced a lot of frustration on the water, and casting all day was tiring, so in the evening a special dinner put everything right again. There were always stories from the day’s events to tell over a meal, and it was always a happy exhaustion, from casting away for those supposed fish in the dark waters of the Delaware.
Katie was sick with Covid for a month, quarantined with Greg in their cozy family home in Drew Plantation, Maine. After gaining some weight back as well as her appetite for fishing, Katie pronounced that she was about crazy from being cooped up and wanted to ice fish—her favorite sport after fall moose hunting. The stretch of East Grand Lake where Katie and Greg have their summer camp was not yet frozen over. They would go to the Cove on the lake instead–their sweet spot for ice fishing. In a secluded area north, off Route 1 in Danforth, the Cove provides easy access and 5 feet of ice.
The preparation for ice fishing began the day before. Greg assembled the deer blind tent for transport while Katie organized all the essentials: an ice drill, a “Mister Heater” portable unit that runs on propane, as well as rods and bait. Then, the provisions for the long hours out on the ice: a small, metal barrel with a grill attached to serve as a fire pit for hot dogs, plus water and beer. Finally, the attire: heat-lined camo snow jackets, long underwear, flannels, wool sweaters, hats, gloves with hand warmers, wool socks, foot warmers and rubber boots.
The next morning, Greg and Katie left at daybreak–5:00am– in below freezing temperatures, for their day of ice fishing. On the way, an unexpected snowstorm blew up. Typical Maine couple dream date. On arrival, Greg set up the tent with the heater then drilled through the ice so Katie could jig the fishing line to her heart’s delight. After being Covid sick for a month, Katie was now happy and energized by the outdoors. Then Katie started catching. A 17” salmon for starters followed by a 13” salmon, then a 13” trout before lunch. Lunch was Greg’s special “red hots” cooked over the coals in the fire pit. The only mishap was when Greg dropped his dog in the snow, which he rinsed off in the fishing hole. Katie said it was the best ice-fishing holiday she has had in years. A true Maine vacation day… and the best antidote to a bout of Maine Covid.