It had turned chilly that morning in stark contrast to the steamy late fall days we had here in South Florida over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Chilly enough to have the charter captains that assembled that morning to buy bait at the marina huddle behind a building out of biting north wind.
All were close enough together to hear a most unusual fishing story being related by one of the premier captains about a trip he had run just the day before. The usual wisecracking, gruff, assemblage were dead quiet as they hung on every word as Captain Ted Naftal, Jr. deftly spun his yarn. That is, until he got to the crowning point, when the group erupted into raucous laughter.
As the event faded and the group dispersed, Ted made mention to a few stragglers “that this was such an unusual event, heartwarming and hilarious at the same time, that it should be ‘written up’ so it could be shared especially with those who love sportfishing. What an opportunity! Hope you enjoy Ted’s story Capt. Ted Naftal, Jr., and his family are legends in the annals of Marco Island fishing. Long before the “civilization” of the island, Ted’s family was firmly ensconced as one of the pioneers of fishing activity here. There are quite a few reefs established and named after his late father, Ted Sr. Ted Jr. is a tribute to those who went before ... affable, honest and above all one who loves what he does.
So, his special morning dawns bright and warmer than it should be but with but a nip of chill in the air as first light dawns. He readies the boat and sets his bait in the live well in anticipation of this day’s charter. All he knows is that he has a party of three for backwater fishing and they want to hone in on redfish.
Ted knows that will take some doing. Up in the mangrove tributaries stalking the shallows, with some deft casting, takes a high order of angling skill. He’s all ready ... hopefully his folks will be as well. They arrive 10 minutes before the start time and introduce themselves as Tom, Carrol and Barbara all from Baltimore, Md. Ted shakes hands with all three and starts the banter about their trip ... tide, water clarity, weather conditions as he leads them to the slip and prepares for boarding.
Tom is first aboard and plans to assist his wife aboard. As Carrol prepares to board, Tom floors Ted with the statement.” Carrol cannot see. She is blind” and with that proceeds to help Carrol aboard with a series of instructions for her as to where and how to step. Ted is surprised to say the least but, in character, asks Carrol gently if she would like to walk around the boat with him and get familiar.
So for the next five minutes it’s quality time for Capt. Ted and Carrol. He learns that she lost her sight in her 20s. She learns the boat and the gentleness of her captain.
So off they go. They went up into the deeper backwaters on their first stop with Ted worrying about how Carrol would handle the difficulties associated with casting in the close quarters of the mangrove domain.
They were quickly put to rest.
As they set up to fish Ted offered to do the casting.
Carrol shot back “You will not. Just hold my arm out in the direction I should cast and tell me the distance.” Ted did as instructed and Carrol began casting, time after time, right to the defined spot.
Ted marveled at the performance and expressed his amazement. Tom, her husband, jumped in and explained that Carrol had spent countless hours perfecting that technique in the driveway of their home with a weighted spinning rod and a target that announced success with a clang.
Carrol hit the target time after time. “Much better than most of the regulars I take fishing”, Ted admitted. In fact, Carrol had hooked and landed a half dozen small redfish by the time the trip had reached the final hour. While Tom and, her sister, Barb, were still zero on reds.
Then it happened; Ted sees a monster bull redfish working along the edge of the mangrove flat. It’s in between two overhanging trees. Too tough for Carrol to cast.
”Carrol, there’s a monster red on a flat over there that will be too tough a cast for you. Hand me your rod. I’ll cast it in and hand the rod back. Stand right here behind me.”
Now, to get a better angle for the cast and unbeknownst to Carrol, Ted had hoisted himself up about three feet to the gunnel (top ledge of the boat sides) and as he did the boat rocked a bit and Carrol, to steady herself, reached straight out and grabbed hold tightly to what she thought were Ted’s shoulders.
They weren’t. Carrol was latched on further down. Startled, Ted’s first cast went straight up. By this time, Tom and Barbara were doubled over in laughter and Carrol caught on, let go her grip and joined them in their chorus of mirth.
By this time Ted had launched a second cast, was down off the gunnel and had the big red on. He handed the rod to Carrol, who was a little embarrassed but didn’t let that stop her from working the beautiful bull redfish alongside for release.
All the way home, there was spontaneous bursts of laughter as they recounted the “gunnel” event. As the icing on the great day, the dolphins joined behind the boat with their leaps and jumps; ”you should see this Carrol, it’s beautiful” said Barbara. “I can. I can hear and feel the splashes.”
As they said their farewell, Ted invited them back on their next visit. Carrol shot back, ”only if you promise to stay off the gunnels.”