Off the Porch: The pursuit of the fish

Dec. 11, 2013 @ 10:50 AM

Lula Pemberton gave up her spots for me. I was at Todd’s Seafood Market and I needed bait for a trip to Morehead City. My son in law had given me the task of making sure we had bait. We were taking the boat out first thing in the morning and I knew we’d be too late getting down there to get it at the tackle shops, and we might have trouble finding fresh bait anyway. I knew I could get fresh fish at Todd’s because I’ve bought bait many times there in the past.
Most days, Todd’s has fresh mullet, a great general purpose bait for inshore fishing, and they have fresh shrimp as well. Frozen shrimp won’t work as bait because the freezing process breaks down the structure, and they won’t stay on the hook. Lula works at Todd’s, and she was behind the counter and smiling when I came in. She did have fresh shrimp, but she was out of  mullet. “Do you have any spots?” I asked. Spots are a good substitute bait and I’ve caught more than one citation sized red drum on a spot head, in fact, it’s probably my favorite drum bait.
She shook her head, “No, we’re out of them, too.” As I was trying to figure out what to do next, she said, “I’ve got five spots in the back I was going to have for supper,” you can have them. Lula Pemberton is now my friend.
This week, I traveled again to the Carolina Coast, this time to South Core Banks to try for a big red drum. I’ll fish for anything that’s biting, but what I really like to catch are big drum. I’d rather catch one forty inch drum than a cooler full of flounder. Most of my friends know this, and they think I’m an idiot. I understand their perspective, but fishing is about more than filling a cooler.
I suppose we all change values as we make our trip through our lifetimes. My old fishing buddy, Billy Lagle, caught drum fever before I did, and for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why he’d work so hard to beach a big drum until I caught a few myself. Imagine standing in the surf, holding a 12 foot rod, wind howling and surf crashing. To make the cast, you have to wade out to water, almost waist deep, check to see if other anglers are holding their lines off so you don’t cut them off, then, in a pounding surf with waves coming in all around you, you make the longest cast you can muster to get out to the channel where the current is so strong, an eight ounce sinker will just barely hold on the bottom.
After the cast, you have to wade back to the line of anglers and check everyone else’s lines to make sure no lines are crossed. If the fishing is slow, you might fish 15 minutes before bringing in the line and changing out the bait for a fresh piece and repeat the process. If the fishing is fast and they’re biting, your anticipation level is high from seeing big stiff rods bent in the labor of forcing an extremely strong fish up on the beach against his very strong will.
When a big drum bites, it might be a hard tug, like your line was snagged to a boat. The rod tip might dip and the line will begin to disappear off the spool as the fish has his way against the puny 20 pound test line. There’s another kind of drum bite that’s even more exciting. The line you’re keeping taut suddenly becomes limp. It feels like someone just cut the line. This happens when the drum picks up the bait and heads in your direction. You drop the rod tip and wind down until you feel some resistance, and bring the rod tip up to set the hook. If you have a drum on, it feels as if your line is hooked to a tractor. Either way, there’s a mighty head shake that makes the heavy rod feel alive in your hands. It feels as if your holding one end of a tight rope and someone is jumping on it. The fight begins and the fish takes the other end of your line towards Bermuda.
If you’re fishing alone or with just a few other anglers around, the rest of the fight is a slow slugging match. The fish will take line and you’ll get some back. That’s when you wonder if you did things right and you tied good knots. Eventually, you’ll see a big spotted tail in the troughs between the waves. You can’t pull a fish like this up on the beach, you have to get him pointed in the right direction and let the waves beach him for you. Get in too big a hurry and you’ll have a good “big one that got away” story; do it right and you’ll have a memory that will last awhile.
You can think of fishing in a lot of different ways. Fishing to feed yourself and those you love is the purest form, in my mind. Few of us are in that position, and in most cases, you spend much more money fishing than you’d spend at the market on a sure thing. This is especially true on coastal outings, where there’s expense for gas, bait, and lodging. Fishing for the relaxation is an admirable form of fishing, though I tend to be too impatient to simply wait for something to happen. Most fly anglers fish for the perfection of the technique, releasing most of the fish they catch, and pursuing the most challenging fishing. Personally, I like to feel a big pull on my line, whether it’s a big catfish, a big drum, a big striper, or even a big shark. I like to land big fish.
The point of this is that fishing is one of the oldest and most popular of all recreational pursuits, no matter how you like to fish. There are more people who fish than there are who golf and play tennis, combined.
My friend Lula likes to fish; I think that’s why she gave me her spots. Thanks, Lula.