Over the centuries, philosophers have extolled the virtues of sportfishing in terms capturing the tranquility, charm, and genuine wholesomeness of the sport.
It was the ultimate respite from the pressures and stress of everyday life. You transfer all cares and worries to the exercise of tricking a creature with a brain the size of a grain of rice into taking your dangling bait.
Maybe the modern world with it’s self centered focus on achievement and reward has altered that historic intent or perhaps it just evolved as civilization has over time but, in today’s world, for many who participate, it has definitely been altered.
For those many, it no longer is it the relaxation, beauty and pure sport, it has become a matter of acquisition or “how many filets did you bring home.” Too bad!
Suppose for a minute that sportfishing became just that, all catch and careful release. Would it make any difference? Is it the filets in the cooler or the sheer thrill of the strike, fight and catch?
I dug through my trip notes and found a trip a few years back which brings the issue to life in a unique sort of way. Let me share what happened.
One early afternoon, as I finished a charter and was cleaning a few fish for the day’s customer’s lunch, I couldn’t help but notice a family group hop scotching from charter boat to charter boat obviously checking the volume of each captain’s catch.
They arrived over by our cutting table rubbernecking the catch without a word but moved off to make a note. Probably a scribble of disappointment, I surmised, with our take home of just a couple luncheon filets.
I thought no more about the incident until a phone call that evening.
“We were at the marina today at noon today and were checking various catches,” was the callers opening shot.
“I know. I saw you and your family,” I acknowledged.
The conversation dealt solely with how many fish they could expect to put in the cooler on a half day trip. Honesty always prevails in a inquiry like that and explaining fishing is a day to day thing with some days are better than others and that there are no guarantees, met with abject silence on the other end. The call ended abruptly.
So I was surprised when I got a booking inquiry from our inquisitive family asking about availability for the next day. I had the day available and confirmed the booking but not without satisfying my curiosity; ”you checked my minimal catch and heard my honest forecast for a box full, why me?
“You were the only charter with the day open” was the ego shattering response. Touche!
So our appointed hour arrived the next morning. Good tides but, unfortunately, the wind had picked up out of the west overnight and stirred up the water clarity so we would have some definite issues satisfying the “take” expectations especially not being able to get out on the reefs. But we’d give it our best shot in the backwaters.
Their crew was a family of four: Mom, dad and two teenage boys. All had the same drive to take every legal fish they could get their hands on. Their associated comments came fast and furious as we searched for our first spot with some clean water.
“When are we gonna start fishin.’ ... Sure hope we get some big grouper back here ... What’s taking so long, captain?” ... and lots of other snide remarks to make the trip a relaxing event.
We finally found a spot around the back side of a small island with clean water and good current. We went to work with shrimp on small hooks weighted with as little weight as possible. We had strikes almost immediately on mangrove snapper. Nice fish but, unfortunately, just a half inch or so undersized.
Convincing the kids that it’s unlawful to take undersize fish was a significant task fending off offerings like “whose gonna know?” “It’s close, we can take it.” After well over a half hour, we had the grand total of one fish in the box.
Dad and mom began to fret with the time waning and the fish take well less than expectation. They asked about other spots and we moved frequently with a continued problem of boxing fish. We were catching lots of fish, albeit most undersized.
We even put them on some undersized snook in the mid 20 inch range that gave terrific action but they were distraught when told they couldn’t even take a fish that size.
The anxiety level reached a crescendo with an hour left on the trip. They were beside themselves on the lack of “keepers” to the point where it was ruining the trip.
I asked them to take a time out and we’d discuss the issue. “Some days are like this,” was my opening shot and implored them to enjoy the day and catching the nice fish we were catching. I went on all the boilerplate discussion as to the pleasures of fishing ... not necessarily taking.
They remained borderline defiant. I asked why they needed the fish filets. Mom popped up with “we promised my mom and dad we bring home some fish for dinner.”
I did something I don’t usually do. ”Tell you what, I’ll give you guys a $25 discount on today’s trip with the provision that you spend it at the local fish market for some great snapper and grouper. It’s almost as fresh as the fish we catch and it’ll take the pressure off you, so you can really enjoy the pure fishing.”
They all looked at one another and nodded.
There wasn’t much time left but the difference in stress level and pure enjoyment of the fishing experience was immense. They all smiled, laughed and forgot about making the fishing experience a competitive event, as it should always be.