Gordon and Penny Blake weren’t going to let anything stand in the way of getting on the water even if it came down to sharing a boat with a total stranger.
They were here on holiday from their home in a little town outside Plymouth in the United Kingdom and had one remaining day to round out their holiday to-do list and get on the water for a little fishing and more bird watching.
They called — quite frantically — one evening, and after admitting they had overlooked making an “arrangement” for a half-day on the water, pleaded for an opportunity to make a trip the next day.
Gordon was so polite in his plea it was difficult to inform him that I already had a charter for the morning but explained it was a booking that was on the book for some time, made by a fellow from New Jersey and could not be changed.
“I say, would the fellow allow us to join him. We would be very appreciative,” Blake responded. “Let me check and I’ll call you back,” I told him.
Now — a little background on the “fellow from New Jersey.” True. He had made this reservation some months back, and I remembered him quite clearly.
It was a telephone booking, and Tony was definitely from somewhere around the “city that never sleeps.” He sounded just like the Joe Pesci character in the hilarious movie, ‘My Cousin Vinny.” He would be fishing alone and wanted to know how much he could take home. I explained the rules and size limits in an effort to mitigate a direct answer. That wouldn’t do.
“You’re evading the question” was his retort, sounding like a plaintiff’s attorney.
I answered honestly that we usually could count on enough fish for a nice family meal but didn’t fill up coolers on half-day backwater fishing trips.
“I’ll do better than that. Book me,” Tony said. So the reservation came to pass.
Now I had to call him and ask him to team up with these gentle folk from distant shores or tell the Blakes it was a no-go.
I called Tony. Explaining the circumstances was easy, and I expected a rejection but, surprisingly, his only inquiry was “Do these guys want to keep fish?” When I responded in the negative, he bought on with “That’s good. I’ll keep ‘em. Tell them that’s the deal.”
The Blakes were excited when I called back and firmed up the split charter for the next morning. Tony showed on the dock first the next morning with his own rod, tackle box and an empty 72-quart cooler (for the filets). I had to keep from chuckling as he even looked like “Cousin Vinny’s” lawyer and had the same mannerisms. “Where’s the guys from England?” was his impatient inquiry. “We’re still 20 minutes off the go time. Hang on,” I answered.
The Blake’s were there on time and offered cordial introductions to Tony. He was curt, to say the least. He wanted fish. With a mid range incoming tide, we would work the Capri Pass first for top-of-the-line pompano with tipped jigs just off the main current. Tony took a bucket of shrimp and his rigged rod to the front of the boat but not before reminding the Blakes that if they had keepers, they would be kept for him. That was the deal.
Tony fished in earnest up front and had two nice pompano keepers in the first half hour; the Blakes were more agog with the pelicans, osprey, and other sea birds than with their fishing. Tony would keep asking “Have anything yet?” The Blakes would look at one another and roll their eyes as much to say, ”Who is this ruffian?” Finally Penny landed a big pompano after a lot of squeals and shouts, and Tony left his forward post to make sure it made it into his cooler. We moved north, and the same scene repeated itself over and over as Tony not only fished, but oversaw the results of the Blakes’ fishing efforts.
The Blakes were moving purposely more toward the birdwatching as the morning progressed much to Tony’s distaste. Their world’s were moving apart. We moved back toward the areas surrounding Addison Bay, both to have Tony work on redfish that had been active over the past weeks, and also to have the Blakes have a shot at viewing the teeming number of birds that frequented the ABC Islands east of the Jolley Bridge.
While working the mangrove edges just east of the bridge, Tony latched onto a nice redfish and made a lot of commotion purposely unnoticed by the Blakes who were now staring skyward with binoculars affixed, trying to identify a gliding bird with a huge wingspan they had never before had seen. Tony landed the nice redfish, but was noticeably perturbed that no one gave him any recognition.
The Blakes looked like WWII plane spotters watching these circling, yet unidentified birds, uttering guesses like “I think it’s a hawk of some kind” or “It looks like an eagle.”
Tony couldn’t stand it any longer. “Those birds are named Magnificent Frigate Birds and they nest here in Southwest Florida and other exotic places like the Galapagos and the Ascension Islands. They are seabirds that can’t land on water but still feed mainly on sealife. Those that you see with the red pouches are males, and the pouches are called gula pouches used to attract females.”
The Blakes stood there with their mouths open, with Gordon finally asking “How do you know all that?” In full Joe Pesci jargon and style, Tony informed them that he was a regional director of the Audubon Society in the Northeast. Silence.
From then on attitudes changed as common ground had been identified. The Blakes fished harder and Tony was “nicer,” and helped with the aviary “lifers” the Blakes had sighted on this meeting. Tony left with a mess of keeper fish but not a cooler full; the Blakes left with a new friend.
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.