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I know I am home now. For a while, there was some doubt, a dread suspicion that Thomas Wolfe was right. In some ways, he was, I suppose, but now the salt wind coming off the marshes is cutting right through my slicker and chamois shirt and touching something deep inside me.
My fingers are numb with the cold, numb as they have not been for years. The closest thing to it that I have experienced recently was the iciness of spring mornings fly-fishing along Connecticut's Housatonic River or in small streams in Dutchess County, N.Y.
That kind of fishing was an alien sport, something acquired from Abercrombie & Fitch. It went with the house in Connecticut, the station wagon and the Brooks Brothers suits. Had you looked for my soul, you would have found it here in the creeks and marshes of the South Carolina low country.
There are countless recollections of the low country lodged in my mind: crabbing with handline and dip net along tidal creeks; fly-fishing for bass and bream in the geometrical canals of fallow rice fields; casting for lumbering channel bass in the warm October surf at Cape Romain; shooting doves in autumn fields; and following a liver-and-white pointer bitch named Mary through frozen sedge for bobwhite quail.
But none of them is as fondly remembered as fishing for speckled trout. It is our trout fishing. They are not truly trout, of course. They are weakfish (named for their tender mouths, not for any lack of fighting ability), members of the croaker family. Cynoscion nebulosus. The spotted weakfish. Sometimes we would hook into one of their northern cousins, Cynoscion regalis, the common weakfish.
The fish never stray far from the low country. In summer they cleave to the deeper waters offshore or in the sounds. There is a period in deep winter, too, when they slip back into the sea. But in late October, when the tepid waters of the creeks and rivers cool down, the weakfish come in marauding packs. It is when they are schooling like this that angling for them becomes a passion for the low-country fishermen.
My father was one of the preeminent fishermen of Beaufort County. From his earliest days in Port Royal until he died in 1960, most of his waking moments were filled with schemes to go fishing. For that reason, the nomadic life of the insurance agent suited him perfectly.
In the trunk of his car was a baggy Army field jacket, a pair of oversized trousers, two huge rubber boots, a tackle box and a rod and reel. If he had an hour to spare, he rushed to the nearest creek, slipped the oversized clothing on top of his business suit and fished.
If Daddy was a hell of a fisherman, he was also hell on equipment. For reasons I still cannot fathom, he never made the connection between salt water and corrosion. Reels went unrinsed and frequently froze solid. To be within earshot of my father then, or when he got a backlash in his line, was to broaden one's knowledge of language considerably.
Daddy found that railroad trestles frequently provide access to good trout-fishing holes that otherwise could be reached only by boat. In the lean war years we did not own a boat, so we frequently fished from these spans. One of our favorites during our brief residence at Lobeco (where my mother was principal of the three-room school) was the Seaboard Airline trestle. I recall memories of it: setting dynamite blasting caps on the rails to signal engineers to slow down for a message from Grady Byers Johnson's dad, the local telegrapher, and, feeling that faint vibration in the rails, exchanging glances with Daddy and hightailing it down the crossties behind him—our rods and bait buckets clanking wildly—to safety before the Orange Blossom Special thundered by.