“Big” rules – unfortunately, in too many venues today. It’s the folks with the biggest house; the guy with the most expensive automobile and the pro golfer with the longest drive that captures our adulation. Makes you wonder what ever happened to the balance between size and finesse, where patient effort draws a result that bespeaks quality and excellence.
Those of us that fish for fun would hope that the size syndrome would never rear its ugly head. But, fueled by the publicity given by the media to big fishing achievements, that hope is dashed time and time again. Think back – ever see a picture in the magazines or newspapers of little Billy holding up a 8-inch snapper with glee all over his face. No way – our featured angler is usually a roustabout hoisting a valiant pelagic taken on 200-lb. test.
All of that drives John Q. Public to emulate the 200-lb. test champion.
And, guess what? John Q showed up for a charter last week. In all his glory, he was, indeed, a fishing nut who lived fishing every hour of his waking existence. The only mitigating factor for our trip was that his wife had booked one of our “combo” trips for her husband, herself and the three small kids. A moment of explanation: a combo trip is a four-and-a-half-hour, half-day private charter, where you can mix-and-match, fishing, sightseeing and shelling in any time increments that fit the family’s desires. It’s pretty popular with the non-fishing set that sees time ogling dolphins and scouring the beaches for treasure shells fitting in somewhere ahead of fishing.
So our hero, we’ll call him Harvey, to protect the innocent, was a partner in a trip that had dolphin sightings and finding sand dollars as a shared priority. Harvey’s only priority was “big” fish.
It was a nice enough summer morning as we started. The temperature was accelerating quickly as we left the dock and they all spent those first minutes lathering themselves with sunscreen. All except Harvey. He stood nary a foot from me, spewing a staccato barrage of questions as to the “big” fish we would see.
Not wanting to completely thwart his expectations, I tried to explain that with the shelling and dolphin-watching, it was imperative that we stay in the backwaters, and therefore, chances for anything “big” would be slim. Trying to excite him with the action of even smaller fish on light tackle fell on deaf ears. Harvey was a big fish diehard.
With a falling tide, we planned the trip to do the fishing first, and then run to the beaches to take full advantage of the lowest water level, with more exposed beaches later on. We started fishing in a very nondescript spot – open water just off to the side of Capri Pass. It looked like a “nothing,” but Harvey picked up on it immediately.
“What kind of spot is this? We’re just off the main channel. What kind of fish can this hold?”
Gave him kind of a “Wait and see,” as we anchored and set the kids up with rods, bait and instruction. We explained that this was summer fishing, with the water temperature nearing 90 degrees, and we would see lots of our summer favorites – mangrove snapper. Great fight and great as table fare.
It was one of those mornings when the gods smiles down on charter captains and the fishing went fantastic, right from the git-go. The kids had snapper on almost every cast and could handle the action on their own. There were some nice size snapper that made it to the fish box, promising a rewarding luncheon for the family.
Harvey fished alongside the kids and caught the snapper on light tackle, but without a word of acknowledgement. You could read the excitement on his face as he tussled with 12-inch snapper, but he still wouldn’t acknowledge it. He kept asking where we could find some “big” fish.
By mid-morning, we had enough snapper in the box to put together a nice lunch for the family. Then, we picked up our gear and headed to the shelling beach north of Marco. We spotted some dolphin en route and took the time for the family to enjoy these wonderous creatures and take some pictures. All the while, Harvey was agitated and asking repeatedly “Are there any big fish over there under the docks?”
We tried several docks to placate him, but all we could draw was more snapper. The beach was very inviting as the summer heat continued to soar. With the boat snuggled up to the beach and the kids armed with buckets for their shell collecting, Mom and her three little ones set course across the narrow island to the Gulf side. Harvey was in an agitated state and asked if there were any fish on the Gulf side.
“Sure, Harvey, there are fish over there – grab a rod, a cup of bait and have at it”
He leapt at the chance and ran after the family, rod in hand. Results with fishing the Gulf off this particular island were usually very slim, but it would keep Harvey entertained for the interim. The late morning was tranquil with families enjoying the tropical atmosphere of a remote Gulf beach when the silence was shattered with a loud yelp from the Gulf side of the island. Within minutes, Harvey came stumbling back across the pathway with rod in hand and eyes the size of saucers. He was so ex cited that the words tumbled out.
“I caught a catfish and worked hard not to get stung and finally got the catfish loose and it was bleeding quite a bit. I tossed it in the water and then, like a bullet, a barracuda came out of the deeper water like a shot and nailed the catfish right alongside my leg. That’s when I shouted, as the barracuda, at least three feet long, actually brushed my leg. Man, it was really something – what teeth those fish have!”
Harvey was actually shaking. I sat him down on the beach and gave him a bottle of water that he devoured instantly. When the wife and kids returned, he was like a babbling idiot relating the event. He obviously had been overwhelmed by his “big” fish at such close quarters. As we readied for the trip home, I asked him his satisfaction level with the “big” fish encounter.
He grimaced, and with sheepish glance asked, “Can we stop on the way back for some little snapper action?”
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.