We slept in. Alarms set for 6:30. Not because we were slugs, mind you, but because we needed the sun to melt the ice glaze from the Ankona’s decks and to begin to warm the frigid salt marsh waters. It seemed to make sense, hanging in the trailer a bit longer, and had nothing to do with the jumble of dead soldiers sitting on the kitchen table.
Despite our delay, it still felt early when we arrived at the launch, the sun not yet separated from the eastern horizon. Early, that is, until we found that the duck hunters were already taking out, stout johnboats draped in camouflage and full of dark decoys, their sporting day already done. A different breed, duck hunters. Hardy or crazy, I’m not quite sure which.
Tough morning, the men said. More bird watching than hunting. They hoped that the fishing would be better.
“You after drum?” asked a close-cropped lad as he pulled off his gloves and shook himself out of his thick camo coat. “Saw a ton over on Boar, maybe a half mile down. Stacked up like cordwood. If I’d had a dip net I could have filled the boat.” We’d intended on hitting King’s, thinking they’d be where we’d found them a couple of weeks earlier, but fishing plans change when the intel is fresh. We pointed the skiff east, instead of west, out of the launch.
This time of year we look for the schools. While there are few fishing opportunities more enticing than chasing tailing reds in the grassy flats, winter patterns make that a challenge. Instead, the redfish congregate and when you find them in the channels you can catch them in numbers; tussle with the ornery spotted bulldogs until your arms ache, keeping a steady bend your in 7wt and chewing through your pocketful of white-on-whites. “Stacked up like cordwood” was just what we were looking for.
The intercoastal was glass. Sky and sea displayed inverted images, separated by the thin pivot of barrier island horizon. Up and down merged, becoming indecipherable and slightly disorienting. Such mornings on the water are spectacular.
We slid into Boar Creek and made our way inland, progress through the endless tidal channels measured in the transitions from outboard to trolling motor to pole, and searched the mazes of sedge and rush for the pod. Searched till the tide fell away, encountering only heron and an occasional oyster digger, wading in thick neoprene, prodding the silt, gear and harvest in makeshift tubs, cut-away oil drums, floating behind him. A solitary endeavor, the oyster harvest, and one that we chose not to interrupt, any more than we would the heron, with queries of unfound puppy drum.
In time, we let the skiff bottom out, dug into our lunches, and talked. Mostly, we spoke of how good it was to be there. Then, for a while, we sat in silence, all the more effectively communicating the very same sentiment.
And with the turn of the tide we slid back onto the IC, fishless, and headed in the direction of the launch. Although it was late, we motored past the takeout, for a bit, and continued on to King’s Creek where we’d first planned to spend our day. Just to see. And it was there that we found them. Just where we figured.
Stacked up like cordwood.