On the Hook: Johnny’s fishy Christmas present

BILL WALSH

I’ve been saving this one since last Christmas. It wouldn’t fit just anywhere, after all, it was all about a special Christmas present for a little guy that was fishing “nuts.”

When I first met Johnny and his dad a few years back, he was a second-grader who somehow got himself enraptured by fishing, literally “hook, line and sinker.” On our very first charter together, he demonstrated that he knew just about everything fishy. His dad explained that he literally taught himself to read devouring his fishing magazines cover-to-cover. And, if you were looking for Johnny on a Saturday morning, you’d find him plastered to the TV watching, what else, but the fishing shows.

He also had his time on the water, rod in hand, from the Naples fishing pier and as a tag-along when Dad went offshore fishing with his buddy. His dad sheepishly admitted that having him along was definitely an asset; he had a much better feel on where and how they would bite than the grown-ups.

So, now it’s Christmas 2008 and Mom and Dad are looking for that special gift for their son. It had to be something fishy; a Gameboy or a skateboard just wouldn’t cut it. To make the chore more difficult, Johnny already owned just about every size rod and reel and lure that he could possibly use.

One day, however, his dad saw this piece of cutting-edge fishing electronics at one of the tackle superstores and thought it would be the next step up for his son. It was a device that came in two parts: one was a very small floating transducer that acted like a regular fishfinder, transmitting radio signals of its readings back to a wristwatch-type device with an LCD display.

I’m not making this up; the deal was you would tie a light line to this floating transducer and toss it away from the boat or dock and it would transmit the depth and any fish in the area which then showed up on the “watch.”

Well, on Christmas morning, Johnny opened his wristwatch fishfinder and was thrilled. Admittedly, this was one piece of fishing equipment that he had never seen or heard about (A victory for Mom and Dad). Now, on to our part.

You’ll remember that was weather was terrific over Christmas last year and then, a few days later, it tanked. Well, Johnny’s father called me just a couple of days after Christmas and went into the explanation of the gift, Johnny reaction and then the frustration of no good place to try it out.

“He’s been to the beach every day tossing it into the surf, but it just tumbles back in with the tide and waves; he’s been to the Naples Pier and he’s afraid the transducer will get cut off by the pilings. I know it’s the holiday week, but by chance do you have any time ? Johnny is really beside himself to try this thing out.”

It just so happened that I had a cancellation by a family that had to go back home early, and so we set the date for a morning charter with Johnny and his dad. Needless to say, they were there early on their day. The weather change was just beginning, but we had a shot at some fair to good conditions that morning. We had an incoming tide and the water was just beginning to dirty up, but we’d duck back up inside and find water untouched, as yet, by the mud.

We started on a spot just off Addison Bay that we had worked before. Good spot for snapper and, if the season had started, the infamous sheepshead. As we set up, Johnny didn’t pick up a pole. He was totally engrossed in deploying his electronic marvel. It coasted out in the current and then bobbed around in the strong water flow.

Within a few minutes of deployment, Johnny announced that, “there were thousands of fish over there,” pointing to his float. We paid no attention. He announced it again. Evidenced by the amount of algae we were bringing in on every cast, Johnny’s proclamation was off the mark, because the “fish” he saw on his wonder watch were clumps of algae, leaves and sea grass, all dislodged by the wind the day before.

After a few casts into his magic spot, snagging clumps of the algae, he was convinced of the false fish markers on his watch screen and asked if we could move on and try another spot. We moved on to a spot a mile or so away that had the same characteristics as the one just vacated. Here, we had some positive sheepshead action, but again Johnny’s magic machine choked up on clumps of algae.

Johnny, normally exuberant, was noticeably disappointed and asked his dad if he could return the electronic marvel and get his money back. Dad’s advice was that he needed to continue the trial run; it was bound to get better.

The next spot was one of those that had always produced; a mid-range spot with a good water flow that always held bait which enticed a variety of predators. That is, until today. We were smack on the right spot and couldn’t draw a tap. Twenty minutes later with nothing to show, we were ready to move on, except that Johnny had deployed his gadget and was intensely monitoring his wrist display. As I moved to pull the anchor and move on he announced, “Captain, there is a deep hole over there,” pointing to a spot not more than 50 feet west of us, ”and it’s holding a ton of fish, smack on the bottom.”

My first thought was more algae, but what the heck, it was the kid’s special Christmas gift and I’d give it a try. We pulled anchor and set up right where Johnny called the spot. All three of us cast our shrimp rigs and within a millisecond we had solid strikes and brought aboard two good size sheepshead and a small black drum. Johnny was all smiles. His Christmas gift worked! We fished the spot for another half hour or so and put enough on ice for a good dinner.

On the way home, Johnny cradled his new electronic marvel. It proved that the “right spot” might only be discoverable with special equipment like his Christmas gift. His dad smiled like the Cheshire Cat and I later discreetly asked the manager at the marina to order me one of those electronic marvels.

Thank you, Johnny.

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.

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