On The Hook: Even the odds

BILL WALSH

Much too often the fishing trip success is measured by "the displayed result." Sometimes it's how many; sometimes it's how big; and sometimes it's how superlative the species caught.

Just consider for a moment what the marine creature is up against in it's effort to sustain existence by following it's instinct to feed. They have literally no where to hide any more.

Get a seat at any launch ramp some morning and watch the parade of equipment headed out to do the fish in. These are no longer your "fathers fishing boat." They are doubled or triple-engine missiles electronically over-engineered to win the fight against primitive creatures.

Armed with GPS positioning systems they can pinpoint a bottom reef to within a few feet. Once there, high definition sonar takes over, pinpointing the piscatorial population right down to the individual creature. And today, there are even sophisticated marine video systems that photograph the resident population right down to discernible species.

Then, if all shows positive for the attack, the modern angler unleashes highly odiferous substances into the water aka chum to excite the feeding followed by a withering array of succulent baits impaled on unforgiving hooks.

Really? What chance does the fish have? Sportfishing is labeled a sport. Oh yeah?

Drawing a modern day parallel to professional sports, maybe equipping the angler with all these advantages is like fishing on steroids.

Recognizing that perhaps having a charter fishing captain entertain such thoughts is professional anathema, nonetheless, let me share the experiences of a trip run awhile back that puts the premise of sportfishing back in perspective.

The initial contact was a phone call from two guys on separate extensions. "Would like to ask you some questions as to your fishing technique before we sign up.....OK with you?"

Fire away

What kind of bait do you use? Live shrimp passed the first test. Do you use any artificials other than jigs? Two for two. Can you operate without using chum or artificial fish attractants in the backwaters? We passed the test and the two inquirers booked a trip for the following week.

Our morning dawned and I fully expected two college professor types to show garbed in Orvis' best loops and velcro instead we got two guys that were obviously recent ex-military, right down to the buzz cuts and "yes,sirs."

Conversation outbound from the marina centered on expectations; they expressed it in a vernacular that centered on fishing being an absolutely fair fight and being able to release their catch totally unharmed. As we talked they asked me to use all circle hooks and to smush the barbs flat against the metal. Completed that task before we reached the end of the Marco River no-wake zone.

As we commenced our drift in Capri Pass on a nice incoming tide, they mentioned a stop to the Sport Superstore on I-75 as they departed the airport with their wives for accomodations they had arranged in Naples. They both expressed being overwhelmed with the array of lures, crank baits, plugs et al that were available for saltwater angling. As they put it... " a marketing game by opportunists to reel in the angler; forget about the fish."

Anyhow, here we were working shrimp tipped plain jigs in Capri Pass with an expectation of some wild and wooly pompano and mackerel action. Unfortunately the "wild and wooly" turned out to be frantic ladyfish and jacks; great action but not normally considered top-of-the-line. But it didn't make any difference to these two. They were hooting and hollering as the ladyfish towed lines under the boat and jacks made the reels sing; all to be released on those now barbless hooks with just a flick of the wrist.

They would have been just as happy if they worked the jacks and ladyfish the whole trip but I convinced them that some bottom fishing for late season sheepshead and mangrove snapper would give them another dimension in fishing the salt. They agreed and off we went to deeper water spot north of Rookery Bay.

As is usual for those unfamiliar with the light bite of the sheepshead, they both struggled getting them hooked before the bait was stolen. Then when they finally caught on to the soft lift technique, not having a barb to hold the hook from slipping when the hooked sheepshead surged up and down on retrieve, really frustrated them. But, even when I pleaded for them to use a small barbed hook to enhance their chances of landing a sheepshead they refused ... " if we don't hook 'em barbless; we don't hook em. Period"

Didn't suggest that again. But did move to another spot close in that had provided good trout action and had them work some whole shrimp strung under a popper hoping for some nice spec action.

We had caught several trout and made it boatside for release, when one of their reels screamed and doubled over. They reacted well not touching the drag as the 12# test mono melted off the spool. We knew the event was a mismatch; with that light line you either opened the drag and fought the fish to near fatal exhaustion or tightened up and had the line break off leaving the fish dragging a "snaggable" line and tackle back into it's lair.

They asked for the anchor to be pulled and boat powered up to close distance on the fish. Not easy in tight quarters but we managed to inch closer and take back some line as the struggle continued. It was a foot of recovery at a time but we finally got close enough to slip a net under what had to be a 30" bull redfish.

They carefully extracted the hook in the water and then with a saltwater soaked towel held the big redfish moving it to force water through it's gills. Took a long ten minutes but then the reds tail thrashed and off it went; none the worse for the experience.

Lots of work but these guys had engineered another save on a great fish.

Trip ended with my admiration for a couple of military veterans who left fish as they found them, to complete life cycles and hopefully thrill the next angler that came their way.

Sportfishing can be just that – a sport – all you gotta do is have the heart and make the effort.

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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