Editor’s Note: As Lagniappe co-publisher Rob Holbert continues to recover from an injury he sustained in a boating accident while he was out fishing last week, we thought we would re-run his column about one of his all-time favorite fishing trips. But don’t worry, we expect him to be back really soon and return to his rightful place as the pesky, loud-mouthed thorn in the side of public officials and university chancellors across the great state of Alabama.
Perhaps Michael dropping his phone overboard in the middle of the night was the perfect metaphor for our four nights bobbing around in high winds and hauling in fish at the Chandeleur Islands last week. Or maybe it was just an opportunity to make a bunch of dumb jokes about sticking his head in the water and yelling to Siri to swim to the surface.
Either way, it didn’t make much difference since we were outside cell phone range from Wednesday evening until Sunday around noon. As far as things go in the world today, we dropped off the face of the Earth for four nights.
Four of my Spring Hill College friends and I made the four-hour trip last Wednesday from Gulfport to the wind-swept, shell-covered Chandeleurs in the Hobo, a 65-foot former shrimper converted to a pleasure boat. The Hobo is the brainchild of our friend Shaw and his brother Tom. She washed ashore during Katrina and her shrimp-catching days were over. With a name change, freezers removed to make way for bunks and a new roof capable of keeping the sun off and holding a couple of skiffs, Hobo is about as fancy as a shrimper could ever hope to be. But she’s still got some grit as well.
If there was any danger of the Hobo looking too upscale, my friend Bill alleviated that by putting up his Eddie Bauer “travel clothesline” and hanging wet clothes from it. Who knew there was such a thing?
We made the same trip three years ago — sans clothesline — and had a blast. The last time, we anchored at the Chandeleurs just a day after a tropical storm had rolled through, so things were pretty rough and the fish weren’t as accommodating as we’d hoped. Still, we had a great time and have been plotting a reprise ever since.
This trip featured a steady 15-to-20 mph wind every day, but that didn’t affect the fishing much. We killed it, bringing in our limit of speckled trout and several nice redfish. I also accidentally caught 25 hardhead catfish in a cast net while trying to find Michael’s cell phone, but I’m not counting those. My reward for such stupidity was getting stuck by a catfish barb for the first time in my life.
I gained a little wisdom from that net full of hardheads, though. First, don’t throw a cast net over a school of catfish; they’re too dumb to run away. Second, if you get stuck by a barb, pouring beer over it seems to kill the catfish poison. You won’t learn that in the Boy Scout first aid book.
We arrived late Wednesday night and started the next morning with a howling wind and no sun, heading out in a skiff to a bird-infested, shell-covered island, then to a second location to wade fish around another island. Within seconds of leaving the Hobo, we were all soaked as the white caps hit us like buckets of ice water. Combined with the high wind and no sun, wading around was beautiful but freezing. Shaw was ready to push on to other sites after we struck out, but Paul, Bill, Michael and I were freezing. Michael became my hero when he threw possible ridicule aside and told Shaw to take us back to the Hobo.
A few hours later, though, the wind died down a bit, the sun came out and the water flattened. So, as all the other skiffs were heading back to their charter boats, we struck out for an island called Freemason. It was flat, covered with shells and loaded with fish. We were hauling in specks in no time. Shaw also provided us with some local lore that Lee Harvey Oswald had flown out to Freemason in a little plane shortly before he assassinated JFK to meet a mysterious stranger.
Freemason apparently was considerably larger in the early ’60s than it is now. People actually lived there and it featured a farm and a small airstrip, according to the web. But we couldn’t look any of that up, which left us all a few days to ponder the possibility of Lee Harvey Oswald landing on this low, flat pile of shells to catch speckled trout with Jack Ruby before internet searches ruined the fantasy. Still, it’s a good story and I’ve encouraged Shaw to keep telling it.
We learned enough Thursday so that Friday and Saturday we didn’t really bother putting much effort into fishing until later in the day when the wind calmed and the water flattened. The fish started biting all three days at about 4:30 p.m. Shaw was certain the other boat captains were talking about how lazy we were because we were still sleeping at the crack of dawn instead of slogging around in high winds. Boat captains are apparently a pretty gossipy group.
It was nice to turn the clock back with friends I’ve known for more than 30 years. When we were in our 20s, getting off the grid was as easy as leaving the house. We were all used to being “uncontactable” for hours a day, and I’m not sure many people were all that interested in contacting us anyway. Now we all stress out about going to the corner store without the cell phone, “just in case ….”
Taking a break from the safety blanket of being able to reach out to anyone at any time isn’t without withdrawal symptoms. I worried about my wife and kids needing me, that there was some huge emergency at work, or that Dogecoin might go up to $1,000 a share and I wouldn’t be able to sell it in time. But when there’s nothing you can do about it, you have to just let go. I’m not saying you need to let go to the point of dropping your phone in the ocean, but you have to mentally let go.
As soon as we neared Ship Island, the cell signals came back and the world rushed in — except for Michael, but you probably figured that out by now. There were close to 400 emails and hundreds of texts to deal with, and we all disappeared into the electronic world for the last hour of our trip. Well, except … never mind. I might be overdoing it.
Back at the dock, there were lots of fish to clean and the Hobo to unload. We laughed at our new memories from the trip. We’re old, so we had to enjoy them quickly before we forgot everything. There’s no doubt our experience was enhanced by not needing to check our phones every few minutes. We loaded up our cars with bags, fishing gear and fish, gave each other some manly hugs and each went our way.
I have no idea if any of us will be around in 30 more years or in any shape to handle four days at sea — or if the Chandeleurs will even still be there! — but I do know if you try to get in touch with me in the second week of May next year you’ll have to leave a message.
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