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I had gotten up early to fish off the edges of the dying oyster bars here in the Halifax River. I dragged my 12' jon boat through the grassy muck on the shoreline...and scoured the river and my memory banks.
Somewhere....somewhere ..out there...there useta be an oyster bar.
I remembered jamming a shovel into it as a kid, and picking out the mud crabs that lived there...to use them as afternoon sheephead bait. I picked up the half-a-cinder-block anchor tied to an old frail rope, grabbed one of two oars ...and paddled my way out.
My memory banks hadn't failed me!
I found the old oyster bed about a hundred yards out, and stuck my oar into the mushy dead shells that remained....until the oar began to find the deeper water around the edges. Then I slowly...carefully... quietly....lowered the half-a-cinder-block anchor to the bottom. The sky to the east began to redden. Sunrise was coming soon, and I wanted to be well-situated for the morning bite.
"What will it be?"...I wondered.
...A nice fat gator-trout that had swum his way from the bridge lights earlier in the night?
.....Or a record-breaking 65 pound snook..., whose belly was full but could not resist the side-to-side slashing-thrashing of my Zara Spook?
....Or maybe a coupla nice old reds...whose own juvenile memories took them to a time when foraging around this by-gone oyster bed would fill their bellies as the sun would rise?
It was trout, this mornin'
....taking wild glancing tooth-filled blows at a freelined finger-mullet on a pole I had set off to the side as I delicately worked the 'ole Spook across the top of the oystery mush with another rod.
The first strike was angry! "Spoopsh! Spoopsh!" ..Or whatever that sound is when a trout makes a strike at a helpless straggling mullet..with an intent to kill it, rather than to eat it !
I freaked a little...and yanked the rod too early on the first strike. When I reeled the line in, the mullet was missing his scales...and had a distinctive big gash down the side of his body, from that single big tooth of a gator-trout. I don't know why they always have "one" single big tooth when I catch them. I think maybe it's a 'hood' sort of thing, ...kinda like a gold-tooth that was a replacement from a street fight or a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from a rear-view mirror. Hey, who knows what goes on down there?
I quickly baited my line with fresh wiggleys...and the next 45 minutes brought two fat trout and a nice red. The red skies to the east were slowly turning golden...as the morning sun turned it up a notch, and the nice , cool 85 degree morning turned to an intense 98. Time to fish bottom, I guess.
But first...and more importantly.. time to reach under that frozen bag of shrimp, and grab an ice-cold can of Bud-Light.
I could have just called it a day, I guess. Maybe get these three fish back to the shoreline still floppin'..and get home in time for Church?
Sorry, Jesus. But we have talked about this out here before .....on Sunday mornin's.....
You know I love ya! And me, You, and the critters out here...well, we have created our own little Church on the side of this old oyster bed. Many a Sunday mornin' I have prayed out here.... for my dear old Dad and Mom who's livin ' up there with you now. For advice from old fishin' buddies who's left this earth before me. For a good big fish to bite, ...or to please not let my line break as I gingerly wrestled with a sail-cat across the oysters that I thought was a big red!
I'm sorry for cursing in Church, by the way.
By the second can of Bud Light ( by the way...'this' is how we measure time out here. Not by the hands of the clock, but by how many cans of cold-beer are left in that old styro-foam cooler...and how pink them old dead shrimp that are swishing around in them beers are gettin' )....but anyways, by the second can, I had started to settle back into that old aluminum clunker of a boat. But before I could fade-off into a mid-morning snooze,...maybe I'd better bail a few buckets of water out of this leaky old boat first, so I could snooze a little more peacefully.
It was slow leaker, but you never can tell just how long a siesta this might be...
Then, I remembered the days...when me...and my brothers...and a few neighborhood fishing buddies..useta troll out on the open ocean.
Oh Man! The schools of dolphin we useta slay! HUNDREDS OF 'EM! And huge wahoo! Marlin and sailfish! We caught twelve 'granders in one day.. ..and man, we were spooled so many times we had to break out the 12/0 'just-in case' Penns we had stashed in the bow.
And I began to recall that one day we had set out on an adventure of a lifetime!
We motored past this old oyster bed in our 26' Mako, made our way out of Ponce Inlet doing 45 knots into the red morning sun.
.....Past the structure, ..wrecks and reefs, ...way , WAY past the Gulf Stream ...and out to the most fish-filled structure and habitat any real fisherman could hope for!
The effin' MID-ATLANTIC RIDGE !!!
A freakin' underwater mountain-chain!...Nearly virgin grounds! (.. if it wasn't for that crazy old buzzard Jacque Cousteau! ) Filled ..with HUGE fish!...some you never even heard of before! Most of them granders! We caught marlin, sailfish, tuna and every variety of grouper you can think of ,.. and ruddy red snapper the size of Volkswagens! We got monster looking fish with bugged out eyes and like twenty rows of razor sharp teeth! We snagged some Giant Squid that were bigger than the boat...and they tried to eat the damn thing with all of us in it! We broke out some machetes and hacked the tentacles off the things....and saved them under the deck for some big-ass calamari when we got home. We tied 6 or seven marlin on to the sides of the boat cause it was getting too crowded in there. It's a funny thing though....we didn't see no sharks. Maybe they stay away from the fishmonsters out there that got more teeth than they do! We started using the 40 lb. tunas we caught for live bait ... and dropped a coupla hundred pound squid to 2000 feet depth for the groupers. Luckily, we had brought along plenty of Mustad's Giant Demon 27/0 circle hooks. We shoved the monster fishes all to the front of the boat while we fished the rear. The bite was ON!
Then, the worst thing happened! The boat started to take on water...and was slowly sinking!
Four-thousand five hundred miles to this UNBELIEVABLE virgin fish-filled reef called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge ... and we didn't even have a camera!
We started hoisting all those monster fish out of the boat as fast as we could!...but the boat was sinking ...and sinking fast!
"Death at Sea" nightmares started to fill my head....and I stopped hoisting the fish over the side and grabbed a cold beer that had been sloshing around in the water-filled boat... stuck solidly in my peripheral vision and never out of my sight.
Then, I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable to happen.
"Jesus? Dear Jesus?" I thought silently...."Do you remember me way out here? I love ya! And I'ma comin' home..."
I squeezed my eyes tightly and waited for my little prayer to make it to Heaven. The screaming noises of my fishing crew slowly faded into oblivion as we sank.
It was taking a little longer than I thought it would so I popped my eyes open...just for a second...to see how much time I had before Jesus smiled, patted me on the head, and handed me my new fishin' rod as I passed through His Pearly Gates.
" Holy S*&t!! " ( sorry for cursin' in Church, brother Jesus). My little 12' aluminum boat was filled with water up to my kneecaps, and I grabbed my 5-gallon mullet-filled bucket and started bailing! I REALLY WAS SINKING!.
My two trout and my redfish , if they could actually do such a thing,...seemed to look at me like I was a dumb-ass as they slowly swished their tails and swam out of the sinking boat. All I could think of to do...was ABANDON SHIP! ABANDON SHIP! ...and I jumped out of that aluminum clunker and into the Halifax!
It was only 3 feet deep.
I think maybe Jesus let me catch all them fish....them marlins...and groupers...and snappers...and all of them crazy tooth-filled creatures that most of us had never even IMAGINED existed. Then, I think maybe Jesus woke me up in time to go to the 'real' Church....with my wife, and kids, and my dear sweet old toothless mother-in-law.....
About 3-minutes into the preacher's sermon, ...my head started to nod...and I was back at my own little Church on the side of the oyster bar on the Halifax River...remembering the time we trolled that "Mid-Atlantic Ridge"!!
...the most unforgettable, unbelievable fishing trip in my whole Budweiser-filled life!