On The Hook: The joys and benefits of flexible fishing

BILL WALSH

The first contact was a phone call late one recent August evening. After introductions, the caller inquired about charter fishing availability over the ensuing weeks. Once informed that we had a number of morning openings, he followed with his specific request.

Tom Dorsey introduced himself very politely. He and his wife Sarah, here from the UK, for the traditional month’s sabbatical vacation were “keen” on fishing the salt. Then, in rather a lament, he mentioned two trips during the past week where he and Sarah went it alone in a rental boat ... “dreadful experiences, really. All we caught were tiny sharks and frightful catfish, one of which gave Sarah a bloody sting.”

He went on. “We would like to take two charter trips where we see none of those two creatures but would like a different array of seafood targets each trip. Can you accommodate us.” Reasonable request, I thought, with some restrictiveness in avoiding catfish in our brown thunderstorm driven water, but I responded with an enthusiastic affirmative; after all, August is a slow business month around these parts.

We set two dates and times over the ensuing two weeks. Both would be morning trips to avoid the afternoon ritual of thunderbangers and picked mornings with reasonable tides.

Our first trip was on a storybook late summer morning with just a trace of cool in the stillness. They arrived super early and were very proper Brits. Tom asked about any charter protocols they would need to follow and I told him there was only on, “enjoy your day on the water.”

They then asked about the fishing plan for the day. I explained that since we would be working the beginning hours of the incoming tide which delivered clean and green Gulf water into the passes, we’d have a chance at one of the premier fish around these parts, the Florida pompano, and perhaps, their cousin, the juvenile permit.

I extolled the virtues of the exceptional fight on light tackle for both as well as their table quality. Pompano filets go for $15 a pound and permit are a game fish and cannot be acquired commercially. They were impressed.

They responded in unison “Jolly good ... let’s have at it.”

We head north up the Inter-coastal Waterway to Keeywadin and it’s Hurricane Pass timing our arrival just as the flood tide begins. Tom and Sarah were mesmerized with the beauty of the tranquil backwater trip and were delighted when a couple of dolphins joined us for a ride in the wake.

Just as the water started in Hurricane Pass, the resident brown water turned emerald green and Tom had a screaming pompano on. He worked it into the net and then revered the sleek beauty of a harvestable pompano. We just got it on ice when Sarah’s reel screamed at about the same pitch as she did. Tom assisted and after a frantic struggle Sarah’s pompano joins the first caught.

“Splendid fishing, captain. Those two are more than enough for our dinner. From here on, we will release.” Nice people, huh?

We released more pompano, as well some hefty Jacks, ladyfish, and even some of the juvenile permit before we finished and headed for home.

As we finished the “fillets” of pompano, they asked the target for our second trip the following week. We talked targeting some nice mangrove snapper, which are the dominant fish here in the superheated warm water. We would fish the latter part of the incoming tide this time back up in Addison Bay. They thought that was “brilliant.”

Two days before our second trip we had that day of the deluge that pumped so much fresh water into the creeks and bays, that any fish worth his salt headed west out into the Gulf. Our plans for the second trip would have to be revised.

The Dorsey’s, of course, were not aware of the change as they arrived on the second scheduled morning. “Good morning, captain,” spouted Tom, “the pompano were fantastic and we can’t wait for the snapper. We even have snapper recipes and their ingredients already prepared.

I started to tell them that the storm two evenings back had decimated most all the backwaters into a mud pool and we’d have to be flexible to those change in conditions and set a different plan for the day.

You could read the disappointment on their faces about half way through my solilquy.

“But we were so counting on some snapper this evening,” pleaded Sarah.

My turn. “You know we had a good day last week, right? A duo response “quite so.”

“And you had a self described dreadful time on your rental boat trips beforehand?”

“Quite the correct description, captain” again, both in unison.

“Well, the difference then, is the local knowledge about fishing conditions that a charter captain or guide can bring to the fishing party; that is a lot of what you’re paying for. I recommend we do something different but it’s your trip and you can make the call; but remember how those catfish days felt.”

I waited. But not for long. “What do you have in mind, captain?”

Enroute, I described an area about four miles offshore where the water was reasonably clean and we would fish a few artificial reefs primarily for mackerel but we could have anything show up on the bottom.

When she heard the word mackerel, Sarah shot back with, “Oh, we love mackerel for breakfast with our back bacon and eggs.” Whoa! But in general they were on board with the change especially the part about “the anything that might show on the bottom.”

We set up on a reef teaming with inshore dislocated bait and were into mackerel almost instantly. They provided non-stop action for over an hour and a half with all released save a few for Sarah’s breakfast.

Finally, we set up for some bottom action (as promised) with tipped jigs under some chum. All was quiet for 20 minutes or so until Sarah announced that her line was stuck on the bottom.

She handed me the rod to dislodge it when it began to throb and pull. She had a sizable fish. Handing the rod back, she was shaking with excitement as Tom and I coached her to her catch; when we swung a big 18” flounder aboard she could hardly believe her eyes.” I caught a Dover Sole.” Well not exactly but a near cousin and we boxed it for dinner.

Trip ended with all smiles and Sarah whispering to Tom, “we’ll use the snapper fixings on the flounder ... can’t wait.”

Tom in retort, “I can’t wait to come back ... but we won’t be doing that rental boat fishing again.”

Capt. Bill Walsh owns a Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to dawnpatrolcharters@compuserve.com.

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