Some places and things just remind you of vacations. If you grew up going camping, it’s a tent. If you grew up vacationing on a lake, it’s a boat. On occasion, you find a place you like so much you decide to spend all your time there, like Justin Carter did.
Justin competes internationally in tournaments where all competitors fish from kayaks and he also guides on the South Carolina coast.
“I knew I would move down here ever since I was a kid,” said Justin. “After a vacation to the beach, I asked Mom, ‘Do people live on vacation?’, meaning at the beach. When she said, ‘Yes,’ I knew that’s what I wanted to do . . . live on vacation.”
Justin gave me a crash course on redfish. No stranger to a fly rod, I had left my wisp of a trout rod at home and traded it for one slightly more flexible than a broom handle. My waders were dry, hanging elsewhere in a closet, while I sloshed quietly along in old sneakers whenever we stopped to cast. Otherwise, we stalked the flats in kayaks.
As we eased through the shallow, grassy flats during low tide, oysters clicked on the exposed ground as if complaining about the loss of water and summoning in the tide. Snails crawled up the grass stems, escaping temporarily from fish cruising in the shallows. Sheepshead searched with dorsal fins and tails cutting V-shaped wakes. The horizon ran forever and a bank of clouds threatened, something to be concerned about later.
Redfishing the flats involves listening, looking and shuffling along, disturbing as little as possible. Back in the grass out of sight, reds churned the water, sounding like gators feeding.
“You can’t chase every splash,” said Justin, “or they’ll run you in circles.”
Shortly after that comment, the shoulders of a fish pushed the grasses aside as it came toward us. I lofted a fly to its left; it turned right. I cast again and the wind caught the fly, carrying it far to the right. The fish circled. “Third time’s the charm,” I muttered.
The fly landed ahead of the fish this time, sank, the fish approached, I twitched, it swam, I twitched again and the water exploded.
I’d like to tell you about the fight, the drag screaming and my skill in bringing a big red to hand. But the rest of the tale is one more normal to fishermen than most of us like to confess. I struck and my fly sailed back past my head without touching the fish.
We shuffled on, pointing at splashes, guessing thundercloud directions, comparing notes on big fish in seasons past. A swirl could bring the anticipation back, the way a lightning bolt anticipates the thunder.
The storm clouds finally stopped bypassing us and soon a wall of water met us head-on. Taking respite on high ground, we shared a pack of crackers and watched lightning and counted the seconds until the thunderclap while we discussed fisherman’s luck, good or otherwise.
Wading the flats among snails, sand in my shoes, soggy from stepping into holes, laughing, swapping tall tales true between fishermen, separated by a generation and connected by a marsh, I realized trips like this have merit in themselves. Fish are just the excuse.
Wet wading a marsh simply brings out the kid in you despite your age. Perhaps Justin has figured out how to live on vacation.For more information on redfishing in South Carolina, contact Justin Carter at 843-725-8784 or e-mail DIGCharters@yahoo.com.
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All photos courtesy of Jim Mize.