CCU’s Saltwater Anglers keep it reelby Derrick Bracey
Every Friday, whenever time and weather allows, a group of Coastal Carolina University students meet up at the jetties in Murrells Inlet to fish and enjoy one another’s company as members of CCU’s Fishing Club, the Saltwater Anglers.
On this stretch of beach, down by the jetties, a remarkable incident occurred that showed the kindred connection and the selfless bonds of friendship between these fishermen. One Friday, back in September, Louis Schaab caught a shark.
It probably would’ve gone mostly unnoticed, if not for the fact that Schaab is confined to a wheelchair, and the shark was a 90-pound black tip.
Schaab is an avid fishing freshman at CCU from Laurel, Md. When he saw the fishing club’s booth at CCU’s club recruitment, he went right up and asked, “Do you think it would be possible to join even though I’m in a wheelchair?”
The members welcomed him with open arms. “We told him we would do whatever it takes to get him out there fishing,” says Josh Gray, CCU sophomore and treasurer of the Saltwater Anglers. Soon Schaab was traveling south with the club to cast a line into the inlet.
“Louie is a great guy who just loves to fish, and after he joined the club, we started devising ways to get him out there on the beach fishing,” says Steven Vanden Heuvel, a Wall Fellow in his sophomore year and president of the Saltwater Anglers. “He’s very independent, but he’s come to trust us. He wheels as far as he can, and we carry him the rest of the way on the beach to the jetties. We didn’t even think Louie catching the shark was a big deal, just another day at the beach.”
Fishing the jetties every Friday has become a tradition since the club began five years ago. “It’s hard to believe all this started with a couple of students going out fishing on my boat,” says education professor Joe Winslow, CCU’s director of Online Learning and the club’s faculty adviser. “Now, we have more than 40 active members.”
When Louis’ mother Melissa Schaab heard about the event, she was so struck she sent an email to CCU President David DeCenzo. In the email she describes the fishing club using these words: “generosity, humility, friendship and sense of community.”
Before that Friday, Louis hadn’t had a chance to haul in a big fish. “I’ve only caught small fish,” says Schaab. “So to be able to pull in a 90-pound shark was special.”
The fishing club runs year-round. The members can make connections by donating labor on charter fishing boats and contacting corporate entities for sponsorship. They travel on fishing adventures to other states. And they have a chance to participate in five tournaments a year, including November’s Southern Kingfish Association National Championship in Biloxi, Miss.
“We almost won the darn thing last year,” says Winslow. “These students start by surf fishing on my boat, and I teach them what I can. Then, they go on to become mates on local charter boats. They improve and grow, learning with other captains and from each other. It’s really nice to see them learning something that they love.”
The day of Louis Schaab’s big catch may have started like any other day, when 18 members of the club gathered down by the jetties to take turns reeling in the catch. Vanden Heuvel kayaked out into the surf about 200 yards, dropped the line and bait, and returned to the shore. It wasn’t long before the shark took the bait and pulled the line out. He handed the rod to Schaab and said, “This one is Louie’s.”
Schaab hammered away on the fishing rod. “The shark took a run to the left about 50 yards, and we picked Louie up in his chair and maneuvered him as he increased the drag (resistance) on the line. The shark darted back and forth in the surf,” says Vanden Heuvel. “Louie was reeling the whole time. The whole thing took about 20 minutes, and it was a team effort. Every time we reel in a shark, we all have roles to play.”
Vanden Heuvel, from Houston, grew up fishing and would fish every day if he could. “I fish so much that sometimes I want to watch other people catch the big fish,” he says. “It’s an adrenaline rush, to see that smile, to hear that laugh when they’re pulling in the big one.”
After the shark was on the beach, he was kind enough to pose for a few pictures with Schaab and his teammates – in other words, the shark went into a catatonic state. “The students who were handling the shark are professional mates on various charter boats in the area,” says Winslow. “They know how to safely handle sharks.”
After the photo opportunities, the shark was released back into the waters, and the Saltwater Anglers went on fishing, talking about their lives and telling their fish stories. “The whole experience was just incredible,” says Schaab.
“Fishing is a humbling sport,” says Winslow. “It teaches you life skills like patience, hard work, humility and teamwork.”
A few weeks later, people starting approaching Schaab about his catch. “I asked some of the other members how so many other people knew about the shark,” he says. “That’s when they told me it had been posted on YouTube and Instagram.”
“Louis is only a month and a half into his college experience at CCU, and already the individuals in this club have made it exceptional,” says Melissa Schaab in her email.
Local news organizations have contacted Schaab about his story. But the members of the Saltwater Anglers seem to have other priorities in mind. “We’re trying to get Louie a beach-accessible wheelchair so he can have an easier time in the sand,” says Vanden Heuvel.
“We’re working out the safety concerns with a couple of local captains who want to take Louie out on their boats,” Gray says.
“We look forward to showing Louie more and more of our waters,” says Winslow.
But Schaab has a modest outlook for his future in fishing. “The day I caught the shark, I hadn’t expected to catch anything,” he says. “That’s the way it is every time I go out fishing. I don’t expect to catch anything, so when I do, it’s nice.”