The late October morning was spectacular. Even hardened sea veterans at the marina made comment as the morning sun rose into a cloudless blue sky. There was just a puff of wind to put a gentle ripple on the clear green water to complete this unusually tranquil weather envelope.
Anyone experiencing the feel of that morning, that had a hankering to go fishing, couldn't help but think that this was going to be their day-of-days on the water.
And so it was for Paul and Laura Allerton, down here for a birthday getaway celebration. Well, really, it was Paul's big Five O, but it was already freezing cold in Minneapolis and the birthday was a good excuse for an early season holiday.
Laura let loose with the opening salvo, "I've promised Paul that we'd get his trophy fish from today mounted as a special birthday present. We really don't want to take any fish on the trip today, we just want that really big one for a mount".
I sort of double clutched and wanted to make my speech right then and there about fishing not being a sure thing - and that sometimes they're there and sometimes they're not, etc. But I looked at the two of them grinning like Cheshire cats and holding hands and perished the impulse.
I think I said something non-committal like, "I'll certainly do my best." And off we went.
We were on a hard running incoming tide and that improved our chances, and quickly I developed an itinerary of spots that we could work for the "big" fish.
For the first hour we worked so hard and were so focused on the big fish that we actually lost track of what we were catching. Anchored on a backwater spot, we were getting nice 12-inch snapper on almost every cast. Any other day and there would have been celebration when we limited out on mangroves. Today it was ho-hum, as we gingerly released these nice snapper and kept looking for "Mr. Big."
Undaunted, onwardly we went. On almost every spot we had nice fish: snapper, some early season sheepshead and even some baby black grouper. But none of them counted today.
By the time noon rolled around we had been at at least eight good spots. My arms felt like they were six feet long from casting and retrieving the anchors. We had tons of small fish but nothing in the target range for Birthday Boy.
By now the Allerton's had lost their sense of humor. When I kiddingly said we might take some of the nice size snapper and staple them together, they just glared at me. Joke time was over.
The trip's final minutes were flying by and the Allerton's mood was sinking faster than the afternoon sun. Their conversation began to swing toward statements like, "Wow, the weather was really nice." (That statement, verbatim, is like the kiss of death for the charter captain).
They had racked their rods, resigned to the failure of the mission, when I told them I had one more spot I wanted to try. They both looked at me with that look that means, "What's the use?"
But they were nice about it, and off we went on a final long shot.
It was on the last cast that it happened. Laura had ceased fishing and was sipping a cold drink, and Paul let loose with a deft cast that brushed one of the downed trees and dropped a magnum shrimp just on the edge of the current. The explosion took Paul and Laura by surprise.
They both yelped as what was obviously a big fish had his way with them. The fish would run off line screaming, then be docile on the difficult retrieve only to reenergize and do it again. We had been at it for about 20 minutes and you could see that Paul was wearing thin. But, he doggedly stayed with it.
All the while, Laura was like a cheerleader on Prozac, flitting around the boat with a camera at the ready with little screams and shouts directed at her husband.
We finally got the fish close enough to the boat to see what we had. It was an enormous redfish - well beyond the slot limit and probably over the breaking test of the line (12-pound test).
Back and forth, back and forth the struggle went and then with one final lunge, I got the net under the big red, and we swung him aboard. Paul nearly collapsed; Laura was hyperventilating as we readied the fish for photos and careful release. Some trophy: a 30-inch redfish that weighed in at 13 pounds.
That trophy was on the last cast of the day, and as we swung for home they kept saying that over and over.
They had learned the lesson that every cast on a fishing trip can be the marquee event - you never know. It can even be the last cast.
So all you guys and gals looking for the big one, never give up on your fishing trip. That is, not before the fat lady sings!
Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to dawnpatrolcharters @compuserve.com.