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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Catching fish and a suntan off the Georgia coast

“Is it a stingray?” my husband, Mark, asked as I was pulling up my catch. Stingrays have a distinctive pull.  I’ve mentioned in an earlier column that stingrays are the bane of the south sea fisherman because getting them off the hook is challenging: there’s always the chance they’ll whip their tale around and sting. We catch them frequently when we’re fishing on the salt-water creek Dad lives on in Georgia.

That afternoon Mark and I took the boat out, just us two, up the creek just a little ways from the dock. We’d seen minimal action there during earlier trips.
We’d been sitting in one spot for nearly an hour with no action when Mark commented that all we were catching was a suntan. Despite the lack of action, we were enjoying the heat of the early October sun and each other’s company.
A minute later, my line started twitching. Excited, I set the hook and stood to reel it in. Mark coached me, reminding me not to pull too hard or reel too fast. He and Dad have drilled into me that I need set the hook only once; I have a tendency to reel and jerk, losing my catch, likely ripping the hook from the fish’s mouth.
Mark asked if it were a stingray because they do put up a fight, as my catch was doing, but stingrays don’t pull on the drag, stripping line, and whatever was on my line was strong enough to do just that.
“I don’t know what it is, but it’s not a stingray,” I answered, adding: “I don’t think it is,” to ease my disappointment just in case.
Soon my catch was at the surface, and we saw the sun glint off the bass’s sleek, silver scales before it dove below. Within a minute I steered it to the net Mark held. He lifted it into the boat, and I gave a victory whoop. Mark got it off my hook and measured it: 22 inches.  This sea bass—aka red fish—was the biggest fish I ever caught besides a shark.
Mark slipped the fish into the Igloo cooler with the frozen squid we always bring as back-up bait in case we run out of shrimp, which was not likely to happen that day.
I rebated with a live shrimp, cast out behind the boat into the honey hole where the bass had bit and let the weight take it to the bottom.
Forty minutes after the red fish bit, I borrowed Mark’s comment that we weren’t catching anything but a suntan. A minute after that I pulled in an 11-inch whiting, big enough to keep. Whiting are what we hook most frequently, even more than sting rays, and they make for a tasty dinner.
That suntan comment was our good luck phrase and 25 minutes later Mark made it again, and I pulled in a 17-inch flounder, which Mark had to capture with the net.
After he put it into the cooler with the other two fish, I said how I wished another boat would come by and the people on it would ask us if we’d had any luck so I could tell them about my two great catches, to revel in my victory. Mark shook his head and said that fishermen never reveal that they’re having much luck.
Five minutes later a small boat with “BAIT” printed on the side, with a phone number, slowed down as it passed, the only boat we’d seen all day. It was a crab boat, and the two young men on it, one shirtless, were on their way to collect from their traps set out further along the creek.
As they coasted past, the shirtless one asked, “Caught anything?
“Nothing but a suntan,” was Mark’s response.

I laughed out loud. The flounder flipped around in the cooler. Too far away to notice either, the crabbers nodded in commiseration and motored off. It’s our secret spot now.


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