On most charter trips, after introductions dockside, the question as to “What are you folks looking for today? Wanna do catch and release or maybe take some of your fish home for a meal.” Almost always, nowadays, the taking a couple home is the choice. Guess it’s the hunter instinct in all of us.
No problem as I explain that there are various closed seasons on some species and almost all have size and bag limits, so “keepers” have to meet certain criteria. They nod. Usually not in agreement but in understanding the explanation.
It’s a tough moment in sports to be standing there with a beautiful two foot gag grouper in your hands that you spent all morning chasing all over the Gulf and be informed that the season for that species is closed and your trophy will have to be released. Bummer.
But most folks swallow hard and know these rules are there for a reason. They pick up their rod and their spirits and go back at it. They suppress disappointment.
Then we have Uncle Henry entering from stage right.
Uncle Henry was the member of a nice family that descended on Southwest Florida along with the northern escapees over the Christmas Holidays.
His nieces and nephews had booked the charter trip. Uncle Henry was a last minute guest.
It was a superbly warm morning and expectations of the family ran high. When asked the opening question as to fish disposition the response was quick and unanimous, “we want to have dinner with our fish at a local restaurant tonight.” There were mom and dad and a set of 11 year old twins, Billy and Lucy; and Uncle Henry.
Henry was a dour sort that avoided the handshake earlier and his general demeanor as he examined the boat gave me the feeling that I was being audited by the IRS.
Be that as it may, we got underway and headed for the docks along the back side of Keeywadin Island. Christmas week the water was still warm and our targets were mangrove snapper, a flounder or two and, if we were lucky a redfish or it’s cousin the black drum.
Dolphins played in the wake of the boat as we headed north along the Intercoastal Waterway to the delight of the family. Henry was reading a book and scarcely looked up.
Our first drop was just off a well appointed dock that always held bait schools. We hooked some shrimp on the rods for the twins and they had at it. Before Mom and Dad got baits in the water, the kids had hooked up two mangrove snapper and were squealing with excitement. The snapper were of reasonable size but when measured they were just a 1/2” short. We tossed them back to Uncle Henry’s first utterance; “It’s the government ... they want to control everything. Those fish were plenty big. Over control”
The kids took notice but not for long. They had their baits back in the water in a flash.
Then Mom landed a nice sheepshead that measured just an inch short and Uncle Henry was at it again. His spiel was the same as before and the kids took notice of the rant again.
The kids were delighted with their third catch of a small redfish that measured out short of 15.” Uncle Henry did his rant again and I called a timeout; not to countermand him but to offset the propaganda being induced to the twins.
We all sat for a moment and I directed my little story to the twins – one that I had published here last year.
It involved two elder gentlemen that booked me early summer for a half day backwater trip. Upon our meeting, their accent was a giveaway. A Scottish dialect is hard to miss. They were both coastal residents of Scotland and were “keen” (their terminology) on fishing the salt.
They brought their own spinning rods, lugged across the Atlantic, for their holiday and were obviously well skilled in the art of angling. All of that drove a thought that these two gentlemen expectations were well above what I might be able to deliver in the backwater on a day with marginal conditions.
Our first stop was the Capri Pass where the pompano action had been noteworthy earlier in the week. We tied small jigs on their lines and away they went. A heartbeat later one of the rods doubled and then the second followed. Could it be the pompano? Not quite – ladyfish.
But, wait a minute, the two Scotsmen were hooping and hollering as they swung the squirming ladyfish alongside. They were genuinely excited with landing these two insignificant fish. We stayed with it and they landed ladyfish or jacks on just about every cast and finally a couple of pompanos.
Before we picked up and headed to another spot. I asked them why the excitement level on catching ladyfish and jacks.
They explained that in the UK most all the fish were gone. Wiped out over the years by commercial netters and unbridled recreational anglers without any government control. They were thrilled at the level of control here in America in managing the fishing species by species.
“If we even had had a modicum of that control at home, we wouldn’t be facing a “fishless” coastline” was a well placed thought.
Easy then to ask the twins whether they wanted that to happen to them when they were grownups. They both shook their heads. The dialogue finished the carping by Uncle Henry and he finished the trip silenced and playing with his Blackberry.
To make the trip complete, Lucy had a tremendous hit and fight on one of the last visited docks and culminated the day landing a 6# black drum.
Success to the wish for fresh fish for dinner for the family – sans Uncle Henry I’ll betcha.
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.