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A life on the water

Cast off with Collins Doughtie and discover how beautiful our waters can be.

Collins is shown with one of only two cobia he has harvested in last six years. “I am heavily involved trying to protect these great gamefish, especially changing the catch limit from six to two fish per day,” he said.

Story by Barry Kaufman

To understand the love that Collins Doughtie has for the Lowcountry’s waterways, you first have to understand that he sees them differently than most.

For him, they’ve been a constant unchanging presence in his life, a vital a part of his story as with any first love. Growing up in early Sea Pines (by his reckoning, they were one of the first dozen homes built in the community), the water was essentially all there was. And he fell for our waters as surely as any romantic.

“Having lived here all my life, I’ve lost a lot of girlfriends because of fishing,” he said. “Luckily, my wife is great. She knew what she was getting into.”

In fairness to those long-gone girlfriends, the water was here first. As a young fisherman, Doughtie reeled in his first sailfish at age 6, and his first marlin at 14. “I’ve just been doing it pretty much my entire life. I love it,” he said. “Every single day, it’s different.”

While he served as a mate in his teens, he never served as captain. Instead, he happily takes a handful of regulars out on the water, guiding them on their own boats. Each of these expeditions is different, but at their core they’re equal parts a chance for him to share his love and knowledge of fishing.

“I enjoy teaching people what we have here and the importance of taking care of what we have here,” he said. “With the growth of what’s happening here – we have one shot at it.”

His conservancy efforts take place largely on land, working with Waddell Mariculture Center to raise the state’s saltwater license fee (“Ours is less than half of what you would spend in Georgia, North Carolina or Florida. It’s a joke.”) and encouraging waterside homeowners to switch to sewers from septic tanks, which help contribute to pollution when rainwater runoff seeps across them. That’s to say nothing of his columns, which regularly serve as open-ended love letters to the waters that surround our Lowcountry home.

He also organized Waddell’s annual Run for the Bulls fundraising tournament and has been a staunch supporter of Fishing with Friends, giving those with special needs a chance to get out on the water. It’s this last part that dovetails his two passions – fishing and spreading his lifelong enthusiasm for our waters, even if that enthusiasm proves dangerously infectious.

“One of the people I started guiding several years ago had a 23-foot boat when I met him. Two years later it was 28 feet, then 33, 35, then 45. Now we’re up to a 60,” he said. “I don’t know how wives feel about me, but Grant at The Boathouse likes me a lot.”

To those water widows, we can at least offer this reassurance. That 60-foot boat is now part of an entire armada of boaters inspired by Doughtie to get out on the water and preserve a way of life that was here before us. Through his example, they are helping more people see our waters the way Doughtie does.