Though it was less than 20 miles from Savannah to Tybee Island, the long ride down the palm-lined, two-lane road in the old '48 Nash coupe seemed to take forever. I was only 10 years old at the time, but the anticipation of hooking a huge "bull red" was almost too much to fathom.
The tide was going out fast by the time Dad parked the car near the southern tip of Tybee Island and despite the poor visibility of predawn, I could make out a long strip of sand beginning to emerge from the pounding waves. To locals, this phantom piece of land that appeared and then disappeared with each tide was known as Pelican Island.
Because of swirling tides that passed around it when exposed, it had a history of producing great catches of huge channel bass on the outgoing tides, but Pelican Island had a nasty side too. The swiftness of the incoming tide formed fast currents that cut in behind those who stayed too long, and that earned this narrow spit of sand its reputation as a killer. Dad and his fishing friends were aware of this sandbar's dangerous side, however, and used the tide tables to carefully plan each trip.
Since time was of the essence, Dad soon had the hooks baited with cut mullet, made a long cast out into the churning surf, and handed me one of the heavy baitcasting outfits to mind. In less than a minute, I felt something pulling the big sinker and bait across the sandy bottom, so with my best baseball swing, I set the hook!
At 10 years old, I probably weighed 60 pounds, and Dad had set the drag too tight. Even with my heels dug into the sand, the monster on the other end of my line was slowly pulling me toward the water's edge. Luckily Dad got there in time to back off on the drag so that I could play "tug-of-war" with the big channel bass for the next half-hour. I was totally exhausted and ecstatic when Dad helped me drag that 30-pounder up onto the sands of Pelican Island.
Though the road to Tybee has widened, the storms and tides have shifted the sands of Pelican Island somewhat, and the Savannah area has grown tremendously since my childhood, one can still "have a shot" at a big channel bass from the southeast end of Tybee Island.
According to Capt. Judy Helmey, who is one of the most famous anglers and a lifelong resident of Savannah, Tybee Island is still one of the best places for fishermen without a boat. A virtual smorgasbord of excellent eating and fighting fish inhabit the fertile waters of Savannah's tidal rivers, creeks, and beaches.
The best sources of up-to-date fishing information are the Georgia DNR Coastal Resources Office in Brunswick, Georgia, (912) 264-7218, or Capt. Judy Helmey on Wilmington Island, (912) 897-4921.