ON THE HOOK: Fishing or entertainment


Excuse the daft question but, do you go fishing to catch fish or for the entertainment?

To expound, let’s lay out the premise in detail; Is fishing considered a sport where one strives to lure a piscatorial resident to a bait and then catch same or is it a compilation of events on the water from which one is entertained?

May seem like an innate issue but really is one that is rapidly becoming a most important issue for those who take to the water frequently. Take all the costs rising for those waterborne experiences, plus government controls finding no end to prohibitions as to when and where you can fish and what you can fish for. And then, finally, add the ingredient of weather dependency and you begin to recognize the potential fishing disappointment envelope expanding quite dramatically.

Asking someone if they enjoyed the fishing trip sometimes runs head-on into preset expectations. For example, sometimes you have to feel sorry for folks who engage a fishing trip only to then measure their “entertainment level” on the number of “keepers” in the cooler.

The sport of fishing is hallmarked by the simple quest for hunt and catch; the screech of the drag and the throb of the fight certainly is one of life’s little thrills. Alternately, if keepers were the index of enjoyment of a fishing experience, you should rather be in the line at the local fish market; much less expensive and a “keeper” from the display case is a sure thing.

Before the weather tanked last December, we had a charter trip that sort of put this whole issue of expectations vs. entertainment right up front and center.

The young family from the Heartland, talked their folks into borrowing their condo on the beach for a week before the holiday rush wanted to avoid the crush between Christmas and New Years.

The dad called me the week before and wanted to take his three pre-teen youngsters on a backwater trip. He asked questions like “any snook around?” and “how about speckled trout?” It was difficult to give him negatives like closed seasons but it’s only right to lay it on the line. I think his summary remark was “we just like to go fishing and be on the water and can’t get into that back home for another four months at least.”

We booked a backwater trip for later that week.

The Heartlanders were right on time that morning bundled against the chill but fired up to go – three kids; two boys and a girl all just getting into double digit ages. Our morning was dull and overcast but the water was clear and the wind had taken a brief vacation. Coupled with a nice incoming tide, things looked very favorable.

Going back to the questions asked on the initial phone call regarding snook and trout, we used those species as the base targets for the trip. Quickly dispatched the snook issue recounting the kill here last winter and reciting the total closure for another nine months. Dad agreed that we’d let the rebuilding snook be.

But we certainly could put a move on some trout BUT the season was closed on the speckled trout until January. Dad took it all in stride and asked that we work whatever species that is active.

We aimed at the passes, with me selling the possibility of some pompano action. We tied on jigs and moved quickly over the nice sand bottom on the sides of Capri Pass and had at it.

Didn’t take long to determine that the pompano were among the missing but had sent their skinny cousins, the ladyfish, in their stead. The kids took to the cavorting ladyfish like ducks to water.

I loosened up on the drags and eased the boat under the diving gulls and we were into some furious action. The kids loved the incredible acrobatics of the ladyfish and the loose drags intensified the fight. Dad was grinning ear to ear and helping me unhook and release the insatiable fish.

Everything we caught was released carefully and we added a competitive dimension to the non-stop action with a little contest; one point if you hook a ladyfish; two points if you get it to the boat. The kids loved the action and were reluctant to move mid morning for another adventure. We still wanted to try for the trout even though it was to be catch and release in the closed season.

We moved north up along the ICW and were met by a squadron of cavorting dolphins. The kids went “bananas” when we got the dolphins up in our wake and they squealed with delight as they tried to get photographs with the family camera; the fishing was set aside briefly; this was definitely more fun they exclaimed in unison.

We finally pulled off the dolphin and moved onto the grass flats on the flanges of Rookery Bay and re-rigged with trout touts to work for some sought after speckled trout. The kids tossed right up on the flats and guess what? They ran headlong into another horde of ladyfish.

Dad might have been disappointed but didn’t show it as the kids went back into the mayhem that accompanies a wild ladyfish bite. Fish, kids, lines and bait were everywhere melting our charter time to conclusion.

As we neared the marina, Dad asked his three stalwarts if they had a good time. Almost in unison, they exclaimed “best trip ever” and Dad just nodded.

As we docked, I expressed regret that we hadn’t found any of his target trout and kiddingly asked what would he tell family and friends what he caught on the trip.

His response summed it up in one word.


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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