When you first make contact with a potential charter fishing customer, you get one of two opening inquiries; “Captain we’d like to take the family fishing, do you have any availability?” or “Captain, we’d like to go fishing, but only for redfish and snook.”
The first caller is a dream to handle. You can go for what’s been hitting and where. If it’s all adults that want some take-home, you head for the snapper and the pompano. If it’s the family with the bunch of kids, you just head for the spot with the max action.
The second caller is bit more difficult to handle. They think the waters are like the corner deli, where you stand in front of the case and point to the pastrami and Swiss. The charter captain will always do their best to meet expectations, and for the red/snook crowd that means frisky live bait and lots of patience – capturing their special targets may only occur once or twice during the average trip, if at all.
Even as you arrange with the redfish/snook gang for the trip, you’re trying to impart, quite politely, that there are other terrific fighting fish in our waters that they might come to take a liking to, but they are tuned out. Hours of Saturday morning fishing shows back home, showing great snook and redfish action, have them convinced that everything else in the water is not worth the effort. With that as a backdrop, let me tell you about a charter that worked out a little differently.
These three guys were the poster boys for the second call example. Here on a business convention at one of the hotels, they thought a well-earned morning of fishing was a much better choice than listening to sales management fire up the troops for a fourth quarter production contest. Risky at best, in these times, to cop out on the boss, but it fit perfectly with these three. Their call came couple of evenings before they wanted to play hooky, and was just as advertised: snook and redfish, snook and redfish. I started to play out the polite bit about other fish that are great fighters, but got shut down with a slam.
Our appointed day was almost perfect. We had a great incoming morning tide, the wind was gentle and giving just enough air to negate the lingering late summer heat; the water was clear and the boat traffic was negligible – what more could an angler ask for?
They showed up and looked just like they sounded. Young, with a contrived arrogance. Prime members of the spoiled generation that never didn’t get what they wanted.
“How long you been chartering?”
“When’s the last time you’ve had a snook or a redfish?”
”Did you go out and get us some bait this morning?”
For a fleeting moment, I was feeling sorry that I even took this charter. It felt like I was calling the mortars in on my position, but I quickly perished the thought.
Our first spot looked like something that these guys had seen on one of their Saturday fishing shows – a swirling incoming tide over prominent sand bars, terns swooping to pick up rising bait and surface fish action everywhere. We deployed frisky small pinfish on fluorocarbon leader right into the fray, and we waited. Nothing. We cast again with small split shot to drop the bait a bit, and lo and behold, one of the three had a terrific strike. He yelled to the others to get out of the water that he had a snook on. That wasn’t so, but I said nothing. The fish on the other end of this line was giving one of our stalwarts the tussle of his life. He’d run straight out 30 yards, then change direction 90 degrees and do it again. That went on for a full 15 minutes before our now exhausted angler got the fish alongside.
It was a hefty crevelle jack, in the 15-pound class, and one of the toughest fighters in the salt. True, it wasn’t their snook or redfish, but it had one of the three trying to solve hand cramps and physical exhaustion. “Wow, that was really some fight,” our beaten angler exclaimed. “Do these jacks always fight like that?”
“Sure do,” I answered. “Too bad they didn’t tell you about jacks on your TV shows. Guess snook and redfish are more, ahem, upscale.”
We fished a half dozen more spots as we moved inland and the tide slowed to its slack. All we had to show for our effort was one or two small snook that were half the fight of the jack, and a couple of undersized puppy reds that were totally docile on their charge to freedom.
The “Gotta have it – Gotta have it now” gang was visibly disappointed as we moved further inland to a spot that had held juvenile permit to 20 inches on the outgoing tide over the past few weeks. I told them about the fighting nature of the permit, and if we were to get into action, it would be something they would not soon forget. They looked at me like I was telling them that the proposed health care bill was going to save them money.
It was a deep water cut and we set up with simple shrimp rigs that would bounce off the bottom as we drifted out with the new ebb tide. It only took a minute or so, and the angler in the bow had a ripping strike and yelped for help. We get the other lines in and were intently coaching our angler to not let the line hit the hull of the boat, just as it did, and the fight was over.
“What was that, captain?”
“That was a permit that got your number.”
We went back up for another drift. This time, the other two got the same ripping strikes and runs with the same results. One fish changed direction and slipped the hook and the other did the “hitting the boat” thing again. You could tell that the snook/redfish fantasy was going up in smoke as we rebaited and set up another drift. This time, we had a monster strike and a run that almost spooled the angler, but he was able to land a gorgeous permit very close to 20 inches. They marveled at the beauty of this great gamefish and all took quick photos with it before we released it unharmed.
As we made our way home, the conversation was all about how many great fish species there here in Southwest Florida, and that you’re better off going for what’s going that focusing on the heralded trophy species. There are lots of trophies here, all you need is some flexibility.
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 email@example.com.