How does that time worn axiom go? ”You can only count on three things in this life: death, taxes and that the Cubs will not win the World Series” (Sorry Chicagoans).
I’m going to officially suggest a fourth: “Fishing quality will always change.” That means it always gets better or worse from hour to hour or day to day.
It’s absolutely never the same and I think it’s that challenging feature that brings us back time and time again to days of exuberation and days of frustration. It’s the challenge of the event and not the fish themselves that makes the blood run hot.
But to the uninitiated fishing is a seemingly predictable event. One of the most frequent questions tossed to charter captains and the like is “How’s the fishing?” or even better “I hear the fishing is not that hot. Is that true?” Honest answers to those questions may seem evasive but are true when they begin with a report of recent fishing success/failures coupled with a prediction of what future fishing factors look like. Those factors are multi faceted and include things like tide strengths, weather pattern, water temperature, water clarity among others. Assembled they paint a picture of possibility but not probability.
That’s right! It’s still not a predictable event. There remains that special factor that only the fish know about and when they collectively call it into play it changes the fishing like someone threw a switch.
Unfortunately the change is usually from good to bad.
And sometimes learning about that lack of predictability can be a crushing event. I think the recount of a couple of trips with the same family, a few weeks back, will provide the painful illustration.
The family was here a week or so precedent to the holiday weeks “to beat the holiday crush” and called to book two half days fishing during their stay.
Family consisted on Mom and Dad and a set of pre-teen twins, Wil and Louisa. Dad was a fishing nut; Mom was exuberant about the sport but with little chance to practice and the twins were liking but still learning.
Our first trip was something out of a storybook. It was a picture perfect morning; the air had just a bite of a chill; the water was flat; the tides were excellent and we had good reports of fishing successes from the prior day.
When given the choice of fishing in the backwaters or nearshore where the action the prior day was torrid, they chose the latter, with the condition, pleaded articulately by Mom, that we stay in sight of land. Focusing on that rock solid shoreline offset the slight queasiness brought on by the rocking of the boat for her. I promised.
Mackerel had been the big play for everyone the day before, so our tactics were aimed at producing a repeat performance for this couple and their twins.
Before anyone dipped a rod in the water, we laced the fast moving current with a slick from a block of chum supplemented with a shot of liquid chum and gave it a few minutes to do it’s work.
And work it did. From the first casts of the shrimp tipped jigs there were mackerel on the lines all the time. They had indicated that this was a catch and release trip, so every fish caught was left cavorting in the water until the now frazzled captain could dehook and release.
And it went non stop, save for time to take a swig of water, for nigh onto two hours. No one had any idea of how many fish we caught as they neared exquisite exhaustion and the bait bucket neared an identical fate.
And then, just as they were about to say “enough” Louisa’s line went off with the unmistakable run a bonita. She struggled with this fish that matched the 12 lb test line but with a little help from Dad and Mom she finally landed the feisty bonita. There were high fives, pictures and four exhausted people as we headed for home.
The family couldn’t stop taking about how great the fishing trip was for everyone. They classified the fishing as “fantastic”; “best fishing ever”.
Our second trip was planned for two days hence and as we neared the dock, Dad announced that he would invite is fishaholic brother-in-law and his sister, who lived in Fort Lauderdale, over to join them for the next trip.
“He’s always talking about the fishing over there and I’m gonna show him what great fishing is all about”. He had the brother-in-law on the phone before we slid into the slip.
I cringed. Would the fish throw “the switch” the day after tomorrow?
Buoyed by the fact that the conditions of the second day were a carbon copy of the first, we all got underway with great expectations. Dad and his brother-in-law were betting on most fish, biggest fish etc and expectations were at a fever pitch.
We anchored up amidst the charter fleet, deployed our chum, distributed our rods, baited up and had at it.
Five minutes... nothing... not a bump ... more chum.
Ten minutes... still nothing ... some grumbling ... more chum.
Fifteen minutes ... still nothing ... outright discontent ... other charter boats begin to leave for offshore.
We moved to another reef south of the island that had always produced even on bad days. We set up again and surely the mackerel were here today.
Won’t go through the timetable countdown again but it was an exact repeat.
The brother-in-law was developing a permanent smirk on his face as we tried two more spots with the same results.
Suggesting to go further offshore garnered a scowl from Mom who wanted that rock solid shoreline nearby. So we switched the rigs around from jigs to bottom rigs and we set up on some nice bottom structure.
There might be some early season sheepshead, snapper and smaller grouper to excite this now despondent crew.
But guess what, the mackerel and the bottom fish all threw that switch together today. Sorrowfully, our combined catch on the reefs consisted of a handful of small snapper, and a ton of sand perch and lizardfish.
Dad spent the trip back to the dock apologizing to his Fort Lauderdale contingent for getting them up at the crack of dawn for the two hour trip over for what turned out to be a flop of a fishing trip.
The brother-in-law put it best: “That’s fishing and it’s what brings you back again and again”.
Viva la fishing!
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org