Put a frozen shrimp on a hook, cast a line over the rail at the St. Simons Pier and you are bound to catch something.
Whiting, croaker, trout, car bumper.
Yep, car bumper.
Only in the waters of the St. Simons Sound, home for the last two years to a gargantuan shipwreck crammed with nearly 4,200 vehicles. Gary Reed figures his prize catch came from a Telluride.
On the island from Columbia, S.C., to visit grandparents Toinette and Charlie Reed, the 29-year-old decided to try his luck fishing at the pier. Then came that ol’ familiar tug on the line that fishermen know so well.
“I thought I had a fish and I started reeling,” Reed said.
With a frozen shrimp on a modest treble hook and using light tackle, Reed’s catch was putting up a heck of a fight. But even before Reed got it to the surface, he started to realize that this catch was not what anglers would call a live one.
“What’s funny, while reeling it in I saw something plastic coming to the surface,” Reed said.
With grandparents who are full-time islanders, Reed has spent enough time on St. Simons to know the score these days. He knew the 656-foot-long Golden Ray overturned two years ago this month in the waters between St. Simons and Jekyll islands with thousands of vehicles in its cargo hold.
He knew that car parts had been turning up on local shorelines ever since efforts began in November to rip the behemoth shipwreck into chunks with an anchor chain and a towering crane. License plates, bits of plastic and, yes, a car bumper or two.
But a catch is a catch, Reed thought. Besides, there was no sense in leaving the bumper out there for some other angler to snag.
It was too big to try and pull out of the water and over the rail, especially with his light-tackle spinning reel and rod outfit.
“I just kept reeling and worked it down the pier to the shore,” Reed said. “Then I got it out of the water and brought it up here.”
Good sport that he is, Reed even got a picture of himself standing beside his 7-foot-tall catch — like some game fisherman with a marlin. He also called the folks at the shipwreck salvage operation’s debris hotline: 912-944-5620.
Then he went back to fishing. Someone with the operation’s cleanup crews eventually showed up later that afternoon and took the bumper away.
A 1-mile-perimeter environmental protection barrier surrounds the shipwreck site, its underwater mesh netting designed to contain the untold number of vehicles that have slipped into the water during the salvage effort.
Still, some things get out. While this is not the first car bumper reported by the public, it is a first to come in on the end of a fishing line, said U.S. Coast Guardsman Michael Himes, spokesman for Unified Command.
But with only two sections to remove from the sound before the shipwreck’s removal is complete, most of the debris has been small plastic bits lately, Himes said.
“He caught a whopper,” Himes joked.
And it made for quite a conversation piece, propped beside Reed’s tackle box and ice chest on the pier.
“A lot of people were going, ‘What? You caught this?’” he said. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s mine.’ It was funny.”