It was the sun glinting off its coppery surface that caught my eye. I stood fueling my flats boat and daydreaming about catching a big redfish when the brightness focused my gaze to the object lying on the asphalt of the convenience store lot. I leaned over despite fears of reawakening the back pain that plagues me to retrieve it. “How can a penny be worth stirring up the pain that could result in a premature finish to my fishing trip?” I asked myself. I examined the coin, rough and well worn, before deciding it could be an omen, a sign of good things to come on the flats, a lucky penny bearing the same coppery color of the fish I planned to pursue that day. I placed it in the depths of a wading pant pocket and tightly secured the Velcro fastener.
Three hours later, I stood on a flat near McClellanville, eyes scanning the surface for blue tipped tails exposed to the sunlight. Mike, my longtime friend and fishing mentor, had dropped me at this lonely spot before speeding away to a flat of his own. Back over the village, a heavy thunderstorm growled and barked, its darkening clouds occasionally glowing from massive cloud to cloud lightning. We had consulted the Weather Channel on my iPhone only minutes before leaving the safety of the dock. The radar imagery had suggested that the storm was heading off to the northeast, but I was not so sure now as I stood exposed holding a nine and a half foot graphite lightning rod in my hand. As I slowly ambled towards what seemed to be a slightly higher spot, I carefully reconnoitered the area, while silently appealing to the Ultimate Weatherman to direct the clouds anywhere but where I stood.
Within minutes, the first redfish appeared. It was not an especially large specimen, but it was the first red I had seen this season. I approached as stealthily as a two hundred and fifty pound man can and amazingly reached casting range without disturbing the merrily dining fish. My old standby redfish fly had been affixed to the tippet and after two false casts, it gently entered the muddy water about a foot from the fish. The fish pounced to the fly, and in my haste to catch my first redfish of the season, I overreacted and pulled the fly away from the fish’s mouth. He then departed, seeking sustenance elsewhere.
I plodded on, my neoprene shod feet sinking under their heavy burden into the soft plough mud. Soon, a second fish made its presence known. This one was already within my casting range. “Stay calm,” I told myself. “Don’t blow it. Let the fish eat. THEN set the hook.” I waved the rod a couple of times and let the fly seek out its target. Once more, all seemed well, the fish continued its search for food as I stripped the fly to make it look alive for the hungry redfish. On the second strip of the line, the fly’s hook dug deeply into a clump of spartina grass. The vibration caused by my efforts to free it resulted in the fish fleeing to an alternate area. I watched it as I worked the fly loose, entirely too late to make another presentation. I reached into my pocket and rubbed the penny.
Sweat was now turning my technical casting shirt several shades darker as I worked my way across the flat and through the mud. Furtive glances behind me confirmed that my earlier supplications had kept the thunder at bay. Over the next hour, I saw three more redfish, but had no chance to cast to them. The tide, as I had been warned, was running a foot to a foot and a half higher than predicted. The island on which I walked had been transformed into an almost uninterrupted expanse of water now, with only the odd grass clump or old tree stump protruding above the water. I reached for my radio to call Mike, hoping I had not somehow unintentionally offended him. Suddenly, I felt very lonesome. Should he elect to leave me here, I would be in serious trouble. The radio crackled on, and Mike announced he was making his way to my position. Relieved, I stood still, hoping my legs would not sink further until he could rescue me. The water was now groin deep and still rising. I scanned for fins as I waited.
After boarding the boat, Mike sped us to a very fishy location we discovered a couple of years ago that we were calling our “Double Secret Spot”. When we arrived, we were shocked to find two boats already poling along and looking for fish. The tide was nearly at its zenith, making locating tailing fish virtually impossible. After thirty minutes, the other anglers appeared to be sufficiently discouraged to stow their push poles and head for the barn. We then proceeded to our “Triple Secret Spot’ as we waited on the tide to fall off the flat enough for us to locate fish tails. After a while, our patient strategy was rewarded by the sight of a number of those oh so lovely redfish tails slowly undulating in the late afternoon air. Mike, self sacrificing friend that he is, insisted on poling my excessively heavy boat while I manned the bow, fly rod in hand. His high tech composite flats boat that we usually fish had been sidelined by mechanical woes. He verbalized his love for his easy to pole boat, wishing it, like a long lost love, would magically appear. “Well, you know a heavy guy needs a heavy boat” was the best response I could mount. “Straight ahead!” he exclaimed quietly. “There’s a nice redfish tailing.” I quickly began the familiar casting motion as my eyes locked onto the redfish. The fish was coming straight at us- a perfect situation for a fly caster, especially with no discernible wind. A new fly had been substituted for the one that hung in the grass, a homemade pattern I had tied with a weed guard. It was a new design, about to undergo trial by fire. It fell two feet from the fish’s nose. A single short strip and my line came tight. The line shot up into the guides and I saw with a sickening feeling a large knot in the fly line coming up off the deck into the guides. “Oh NOOOO!” I said. “That knot will hang in the tip top and then the tippet will break and this fish will be gone.” Mike was now working like a galley slave, pushing mightily in an attempt to maintain pace with the large redfish fast to my line. For my part, I did my best to hold the line firmly against the rod with one hand, while trying to untie the Gordian Knot of fly line with the other, letting go as necessary to manage the fish. My anxiety meter was pushed to the stops when I got a good look at this fish. It was a very nice red, one of the largest I have hooked. The struggle went on for some fifteen minutes, but ultimately, the knot came undone and I had the fish on the reel. Mike brought it aboard, and soon I was posing for a hero photo. I looked back towards McCllellanville and saw the storm slowly pushing south. We released the fish after measuring it at thirty inches. As it swam away, I rubbed the penny again.
“Mike, I cannot adequately express my gratitude. That was truly a team fish. Let me pole the boat now so you can get one”.’ He demurred, but agreed to stop the boat and wade for the next fish we saw. I reluctantly concurred, recognizing that I probably would not be physically capable of pushing the boat properly. “I see one!”Mike said. Quickly, he came off the platform, grabbed his rod and slipped over the side. The redfish tail disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared. Mike made a blind cast to its last known location. After a few strips, his fly line came tight. I literally jumped for joy. Now we had each caught a redfish, his Herculean efforts coming full circle. I pulled out my camera as he reached for the fish. Suddenly he burst out laughing. “What’s so funny?” I inquired. “It’s a mullet!” he said “A mullet?? You caught a mullet on a fly?” I responded. Mullet are algae eaters and will not normally take a fly or anything else for that matter. “I fouled hooked him in head just above the mouth. If you didn’t look closely, you would think this fish ate that fly.” We shared a huge laugh and then realized that we would have to leave the flat right away, as the tide had fallen dangerously low. Another ten minutes, and we would be stuck here, unable to reach deep enough water to make our way back to the ramp.
“I am sorry you didn’t get a redfish today, Mike, but consider this. Anybody can catch a redfish, a bonefish, or even a sailfish on fly, but you are such an expert fisherman that you have done the impossible and caught a mullet on fly!” We chuckled as I exited the boat. Together we pushed the stern to the edge of a small creek. It had been a wonderful day after all.