An east wind isn't good. The crew knows that as the shrimp trawler plows through 3-foot swells in the cold dark. The catch has fallen off since October. With only a day left in the season, few other boats will bother to launch.
FOLLY BEACH -- The carcasses have been floating in for nearly two weeks now, bloated and decomposing. What's left of the dolphins has been found in the Stono and Kiawah rivers, on the Isle of Palms, Fripp Island and Waites Island.
The anglers were just offshore Charleston, following birds circling above baitfish, when they stumbled onto something unheard of -- trophy red drum, hundreds of them, thrashing the surface in a feeding frenzy. They pulled in and released one after another last November.
ACE BASIN -- The couple look like they're preening, side by side with their chests out and long necks curved like pitcher handles. It's a darling image, until you see the bald eagle stalking from the overhead limb of a dead tree.
Capt. Sonny carried a rusting .38-caliber pistol whenever he boated out to Limehouse Creek to work his crab pots. He once stuck the barrel up to the nostril of a poacher and told the man if he took another pot, he'd take his nose off with it.
Vic Depuis is out to kill.
His prey fights back with a numbing venom that feels like a cross between sandpaper and mace. Any one of dozens of slender spines along its body can prick. The spines are so prickly that, if you run a finger down the prey's back, the spines stick straight up and drip the venom. Depuis keeps his fingers in Kevlar gloves.
They call it "speed boat shrimping" — running a skiff with the hull planing, dragging a shorter net than the big, outrigger-winged shrimp boats use. It might be the future. Fred Dockery might be the vanguard.
EDISTO ISLAND -- For five years, Marian Brailsford kept after the owner of the old Paradise Shrimp Farm -- gracious, soft-spoken and relentless. Finally, Bob Underwood signed a conservation easement before he died, to protect 550 acres along the North Edisto River.
Maybe the most incongruous thing about Ellison Smith's life has been his work. Smith is an environmental attorney, a man who forged a reputation as one of the lawyers of choice for developers struggling with regulatory agencies.
MYRTLE BEACH -- In the mid-August heat, fishermen began pulling in flounder after flounder on Springmaid Pier. But the fish weren't fighting. Susan Libes could see bottom- dwelling flounder in the surf below the pier.
An orange moon is setting over Charleston when Lee Craig steps out of the sportfishing boat cabin. It's more than an hour before dawn, and the Top Pryority is more than ready, but the mate checks the rigging supplies, the hold, the bait ballyhoo on ice.