Santee Cooper

November 14, 2013
Getting that call was like remembering it was Friday, in the middle of Friday. It was shocking, an instant overwhelming. My papa Rodney was calling me, letting me know that we were headed to Santee Cooper, a body of water not too far from Charleston, to go on a week-long fishing trip. He and I don’t see each other that often, so we were both happy that we were going to get to spend some time together. Not only that, this was an opportunity of a whole week out of the daggum house that I was cooped up in all summer.

My mom hates me leaving for long periods of time, but loves to see me doing things that I love. Especially the safer situations like these. I mean heck, I’m with my papa, what is the worst thing that could happen?

Getting prepared for the trip was probably the least fun part about the trip itself, except leaving, that was definitely heartbreaking. We had a lot to gather, including: the poles, bags, a week of clothes for three people (Me, my papa, and his wife), Food that wouldn’t go bad on the three hour drive over there, about 150 pounds worth of tackle and supplies needed for when we were in the water, the pontoon, getting the truck situated and doing all this, not forgetting ourselves on the way. We nearly brought the entire house with us!

I had trouble sleeping the night before. I was a little kid on Christmas Eve. Lying up, eyes wide open, mind wandering. He had told me there was gators there, it is pretty much a swamp, connected with a huge canal and two lakes on each side. I was trying to picture it in my mind but I was so excited and my mind wouldn’t pause to try and picture the serenity of the swamp. I guess you could say I don’t have your typical view of a swamp. Most people wouldn’t dare to enter a place like this, little alone, be excited to visit a place infested with muck and filth. Well, I am. It’s like a dream to me, better than any beach trip or wild excursion.

Waking up that morning was great, except the fact that it was five o’clock A.M. We had to get up early so we could get to the cabin at check-in time, right after breakfast hours. I got a wake-up call at 4:30, pretty much four hours after I had finally fallen asleep, telling me to be ready because he was going to be at my house at five o’clock sharp and he wasn’t wasting a second of our fishing time.

Waiting for him at the house was dreadful, it seemed so long. Even though that was seemingly horrible, it did not seem nearly as long as the car ride heading over there. I started off driving because my papa was still sleeping and I and his wife was the only ones awake. She didn’t feel like driving and there were no other candidates, so I was the one to drive for about an hour and a half. April (My papa’s wife) and I was spending the majority of our time eating snacks and talking about the odd ingredients and listening to stand-up comedian, Mitch Hedburg. We definitely know how to entertain ourselves on the little things in life.

As almost four hours went by we finally arrived. By this time, April was driving, and we had out-played every episode of stand-up comedy on YouTube. So, we were basically bored out of our minds and ready to real us in some big boys! When we arrived, my papa had already been awake for a few minutes and he and I headed to the marina to receive the key to the cabin he had rented for the next week. When I spotted the marina, I must say, I was pretty surprised they even called this thing a marina. There may have been three boats outside and a small bait shack sitting outside that reeked of fish guts and herring. The building that the office sat in had a small kitchen where a very nice black lady named Ms. Kay cooked our breakfast for us every morning. There were a few tables that sat in front of an opening next to the kitchen where Ms. Kay would call out your order from.

The manager of the “camp” was fairly old, but a nice man. You could oddly imagine he had money by the way that he carried himself, you could just obviously tell, he wasn’t carrying his workplace with him. It wasn’t the worst sight; it just wasn’t the most beautiful place in the world. Although the marina was slightly run down, the beautiful salt/swamp made up for it.

After receiving the key, we headed back to the cabin to find April standing scared next to the boat. Without second thought, I took my papas previous stories and warnings into thought and grabbed the rifle. There had seemed to be a water moccasin that had crawled up from the bank next to the dock, and decided to slither itself across our walk path leading up to the front entrance of the cabin. With one shot, we were confirmed that the snake was dead. That was only the first danger we ran into.

When we finally gathered our bags and made our ways into the cabin, we realized that this place was truly paradise. Not because the cabin was a beauty, but because we had a couple bucks in our pockets, fishing poles, a boat, a cabin that would shelter us for a week, and an amazing fishing trip that was awaiting.

I did my normal routine and checking of the cabin, the same procedure that I usually take when on a trip to the beach or a resort. I always go around and check the room I will be sleeping in, my bathroom, the porch/balcony, the kitchen, and I even paid their room a visit, just to catch a swift glance of my environment for the next week.

After I got a thorough checking through my surroundings, we set towards the chow building for some afternoon breakfast. The kitchen wasn’t very pretty, but the cook, you could say, got the job done. Ms. Kay was our cook for the week. She was a more heavy set, dark woman with an explosive yet friendly personality. I took a quick scan over the small, laminated piece of paper that they called a menu and discovered a mixture that caught my eyes. It was a sandwich, called a “SharonWhich.” Probably the most amazing thing to ever reach my taste buds. I tell you, I ate this thing literally every day for breakfast. This particular sandwich had: a layer of bread, mayonnaise, lettuce, bacon, lettuce again, mayonnaise, another layer of bread, mayonnaise again, lettuce, bacon, more lettuce, mayonnaise, and then to top it off, another layer of bread. The bread was toasted to golden brown perfection and had a crisp crunch to it. I am not exaggerating when I say, this was the best thing I had ever tasted. Overall, the food was amazing through the whole trip.

Finally, when we got done stuffing our faces, and had begun to get ready to head out for a quick detour of the swamp with rifle in hand. We didn’t have much to do, it was mainly already packed up from when we had arrived, so we had already docked the pontoon and we grabbed the things we might need back at the cabin and headed out. Getting out of the dock was kind of rough with a pontoon in a swamp. Considering the fact that there is lilies and weed that settles on the top and muck that settles near the mid and bottom of the water, the engine has a rough time starting and moving too quickly. I was actually the driver when we were leaving because my papa was untying the boat from the pillars. We had the radio blasting whistle 100.5, country music when I punched the gas to get us out of the rut we were in. There was a small opening that led to the canal and we were staying in one of the many camps that were in coves that were aligned parallel to the canal. It’s a Very interesting way that it is set up, kind of like and interstate with boats and the coves are small exits leading to different towns, very small towns, only consisting of maybe 50 people who live there. Everyone knows everyone.

When I spotted the first gator, we brought up a conversation of coming back next year, which would be this year, and buying tags to gator hunt. Legally. It seemed like a good idea, so we made it a plan. So now we are planning on going back to Santee and hunting alligators and fishing for probably two weeks.

It was pretty cool seeing gators for my first time in their natural environment, until they became a pest. This place was swarming with hissing, gators with bad attitudes. They are very territorial reptiles. They always got in the way of the boats in the coves and you definitely don’t want to stay near the bank at night because they would snap at your legs in a heartbeat.

Gators weren’t the only dangers at night, snakes were a HUGE problem. They were the main reason for the continuous use of our 22. Caliber ammo.

Even with the pests being out of control, we never ceased having a great time.

While cruising around, jamming out to some music, and sippin’ on a cold drink, out on the glistening water, we stayed focused on our mission. Finding fishing holes. We obviously didn’t know the area that well considering we had arrived only a few hours ago, so we were very unfamiliar with the techniques and procedures you should take to catch the biggest sum. So, with quick agreement, we headed back to the cabin area to ask some locals if there was any information they could share with us.

On the way back we spotted some pretty good areas that we figured we would try and catch bait fish or maybe bass. My family loves catching what they can, especially if it is record size or large quantities, but our main focus, that would be catfish. We catch pounds and pounds of catfish from dusk, ‘til dawn. It is precisely our main focus.

When arriving back to the cabin area, we met a very nice man. His name was Sam. Short for Samuel. A very interesting character. He’s one of those old men, who wear the white sailor caps and drive a big shrimp boat and have wispy white hair. I guess you could say, he had a very broad vocabulary as well. If I was guessing, he was sailor in the past, just by the way he carried himself, and it appeared that way.

He gave us some pretty cool advice. It seemed confusing at the time, but yet, in the long-run it assisted us very well. Unfortunately, my papa wasn’t willing to try out his technique, until he had come to the conclusion in his own mind, that he didn’t quite understand how to fish in these conditions.

He shared with us a technique of how to maneuver the boat, and a special knot that would give fewer tangles on the bottom of the canal as the water flows, and it would help with drag.

He carefully explained how to tie a knot called a pallamar knot. This specific knot consists of tying the hook above the sinker using a very complicated technique. This allows you to drag the line near the bottom of the canal, without your hook being tangled in weeds or even rocks or logs and stumps.

He also let us know that we shouldn’t anchor in the canal, which is kind of ironic because we had previously attempted that. Therefore, losing a 50 dollar anchor because without knowing, the current was a lot stronger in the canal than it appears. Once you get your anchor at the bottom, it’s gone. Forever.

With telling us that, he also told us that we should do something called “drifting”, the canal. Which consist of letting your boat kind of flow with the canal, starting at upper lake, and making your way near lower lake, and that actually took about an hour in itself.

After receiving this information, we considered going out on the swamp again, until our appetites argued with us. We had first decided to go back to the chow building at the camp site but figured we would eat at the cabin instead. Just to save some money. I ended up eating like three ham sandwiches. After a full day on the swamp, you start to work up an appetite!

We tried not to spend too much time in the cabin during the trip, so we didn’t take very long breaks like this one. We decided that we would wait until tomorrow to fish because the marina had just closed for the night about an hour ago. We couldn’t go fishing without this special kind of bait called “stink-bait.” It is a mixture of different kinds of compost of some sort and it smells absolutely retched. (Hints the name). In total we caught roughly nine or ten of the fish off of stink bait, the rest was off of herring and brim heads that we used for cut bait.

That night, I was pretty excited that we were there; the place was still semi-new to me. Of course we had been there a while, but I still wasn’t use to some of the things you had to get used to. (The gators, snakes, mysterious waters, and wide open waters.)

The next morning, we woke up pretty early, unless you consider 4:30 a decent hour. Especially after staying up until twelve watching the Braves game and the people on ESPN arguing about A-rod being suspended for hours. We got up and almost immediately went to eat breakfast. It wasn’t too often that we took showers in the mornings, because in a few hours, you’d look and smell like you didn’t even know what the word “shower” meant.
After a few minutes of sitting around trying to figure out what this day would hold for us, we went ahead and headed towards the chow hall. We decided to just walk, it wasn’t far enough to waste gas in the truck, and we didn’t have too much money to spare on gas for vehicles because most of our gas funds were going to the boat for the week.

When arriving, you could actually hear Ms. Kay rambling out orders in her gentle, yet piercing voice, from about a 30 foot distance from the actual building. She didn’t exactly yell, but her voice wasn’t really a whisper, or anything close to a whisper. When we entered we were greeted by the many taxidermy works and the fountain in the main office which actually has a few live fish in them itself. The man at the main office entrance was busy helping a customer, so we didn’t get much of a greeting from him, mainly just a quick glance and wave.

We found our way to our seats and took our quick, unnecessary, glance at the little lists that they called menus and decided that we would all have the exact same thing as the previous morning when we arrived at the camp. I always got the same order, a Sharonwich with a glass of water and coffee. Don’t mistake me as one of those “coffee drinkers.” If you woke up at 4:30 with roughly four and a half hours of sleep, and immediately being responsible for getting a boat ready for a day long trip on a swamp, you would need a “pick-me-up” too!

I basically devoured the sandwich and threw down the coffee and only had a few sips of the water, just to chase down the coffee. So did my papa and April. You would not realize the effects of coffee in the morning until you wake up as early as I did, with that little of sleep, and not very much time to get everything prepared. It was truly a vital substance needed on this trip!

While walking back to the cabin to get our supplies gathered, we met the man that gave us all the tips on the techniques. He was loading his boat at the dock and was headed out in a few hours. So we said a quick, re-assuring thank-you again, and goodbye because we didn’t have much time to talk. We had already wasted too much time as it was.

We rushed back into the cabin to grab our belongings when we heard April scream near the boating dock. My papa and I gave each other an obviously unsurprised, yet panic type look. So he walked to the corner where the rifle was held and tossed it to me, saying, “This will be your job for the week.” I kind of figured it would be when we were talking about it on the ride over here. My papa is absolutely petrified of snakes and April, well, obviously. So I excepted that challenge for the week and killed off about thirteen to fourteen snakes, and most of them being cottonmouths and others being normal, non-venomous, black (rat) snakes.

My papa came out a few minutes later to find that I successfully killed another cottonmouth that found its way onto the bank. He wasn’t surprised. He of course, was the man who taught me how to shoot a gun, if I would have failed. He would have been embarrassed.

Now that we were prepared for the day, my papa ran and grabbed his chewing tobacco and his cell phone and wallet just in case we needed to stop by the shop near the bridge in the middle of the canal.

We finally headed out at about eight-thirty that morning. With full stomachs and hopeful hearts, we were finally ready to catch some fish.

When leaving the dock, we had some trouble. The pontoons engine wasn’t “peeing.” It’s an expression of how the engine squirts a small trail of water out of the back of it because the motor has to pull water through it to keep it cool. If not, it will blow, and you don’t want your engine blowing on you in a place like this.

It took us maybe another 15 minutes, but we fixed it. My papa and I ended up having to climb into the swamp behind the boat and fixing the motor. The problem was “dirt-dobbers” had made a nest inside the pee-hole. So we got a pocket knife and cleared it out.

Before coming to conclusion that we were ready to finally un-dock ourselves and leaving, we did a quick bathroom break and grab a few extra snacks. My papa was the one who had the idea of a bathroom break after maybe a minimum of thirty minutes since the last time we had to stop and wait for him to get out of the restroom. He has the bladder of a kitten.

We were finally ready. April was comfortable on the back couch seat of the pontoon, my papa was getting the herring in the live tank at the front of the boat and I, of course, was getting the boat un-roped and cranked, ready for sailing.

We had started to leave the dock and we had already spotted a gator and two snakes. They were in the water, so we didn’t have to waste any ammo.

When leaving the marsh areas and entering the canal, you entered through a small opening. Like I said before, the way that the canal and camps are set up, highly remind me of and interstate with exits and little towns. When cutting into the canal through the opening though, you must be careful, there are plenty of idiots who speed through the canal going downstream in their pretty little bass fishing boats just to catch a rush of excitement. It’s pretty much like looking left and right at a stop sign before entering the highway.

When you finally get into the canal (the fun part), you get to punch the gas and give the upstream battle a go. There are plenty of currents within the top and bottom of the canal. Not all of it flows into the lower lake. There are mixtures of directions in the current, which can sometimes create dangerous currents called “whirlpools.” These so called “whirlpools” have been known to not only tear the engines off of boats bigger than ours, but to even sink boats that are a little bit smaller than ours compared in size.

When we reached the end of the canal, I overheard April speaking to my papa about the technique that the man told us back at the camp. My stubborn excuse of a relative did not choose to try it out until we fished the upper lake for about three hours and only caught four fish. The fish we ended up catching there weren’t the big boys we were looking for. They were decent sized for records back home, but still short of the fish that we could catch there, being one 13 lb. blue cat, and two 6 lb. channel cat fish.

When my papa finally decided to test the technique that the man told us, we were a whole lot more successful, reeling in about two catfish per thirty min. We came home that night with about thirteen catfish in our cooler.

On the way back, I was exhausted. I had never seen so many fish, that size, reeled in, in one day. It was truly amazing. By that time, I was very grateful to be in the shower. Instead of feeling the lukewarm, murky, musty, air being breathed in with every toke, I felt the warm tingling sensation of the shower water hitting my body and running down. It was heaven.

Before heading to bed, I grabbed another quick snack. We packed a lot of snacks for this trip, mostly little Debbie cakes and chips. I had probably five fudge rounds before brushing my teeth and lying down.

Turning off the light was kind of symbolizing for all sounds and motion to turn off with the light in the room. It was instant quite. Stillness in the room, in the air. I could feel the leftover excitement of me being present at the swamp still murky within the environment. It was calm. Very calm.

When I hit the bed it was a soothing yet quick disappointment. We had already been through one day of this amazing trip. I was hoping that the rest of the trip wouldn’t go by so fast. I guess the old saying is true, time flies when you’re having fun, and that we were! The first day was great. The most amazing day I had all summer. It was very fun, and yet, we were only day into this trip. We had more to come.

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