On The Hook: The wrangled angler

Bill Walsh

Our story this week is about a recent charter trip that I never dreamed I would have to experience. But first some background and explanation as to how it all began.

Some evenings, back when we were doing two back to back four hour half day charter trips daily, I’d arrive home totally exhausted and exhale with thoughts of “why am I doing this? This is hard work. Start before the crack of dawn; on my feet baiting hooks and releasing fish for eight hours; setting and pulling the anchor so many times that all the aging muscles are screaming for help. Then, realizing that there no coffee breaks, power lunches; staff meetings. This is hard work and it’s self-inflicted.

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The answer would always come back based on the charters we ran. From the nice families I would meet; then host them and their youngsters on memorable trips through these beautiful waters, to not only enjoy a day’s fishing but to be all together and immersed in the many fun moments.

Or the groups of retirees who got together and booked monthly trips with lots of mirth, ribbing and good fellowship with one another.

Bottom line, the general feeling of harmony and friendship most always prevailed on the charters. I got used to it.

All of that harmony took a sudden U-turn a couple weeks back, with one half day trip with two anglers.

Let me digress again for a moment. Early on I attempted to do “split charters” defined as disassociated individuals booking individually on the same charter trips; strangers, so to speak, that paid an individual fare.

Found out quickly that that was an administrative nightmare and we abandoned the policy. So we stayed away from the split charters until this storied trip.

Starts with Jim. He and his family were one was of my original customers, way back in the mid-90s. He’s a lawyer employed by one of the U.S. Government agencies in Washington, D.C., and has occasion to make infrequent business trips to Naples. When he has a morning or afternoon open, he will call, and I’ll book him as single on a private trip.

By nature he is very low key. Loves being on the water, having spent time in the Navy at the beginning of our involvement in Nam and his passion is fishing. He loves the sport. Sees a deft cast to a mangrove edge equal to making a 20’ putt on the 18th hole. He is all catch and release, returning all fish unharmed.

Well, anyhow Jim was visiting Naples a couple weeks back and had a Wednesday morning available. He called and, fortunately, I had the date open and was glad to schedule him. We scheduled a morning half day in the backwaters.

On the Monday prior to the trip, my brother, who lives in New Jersey called and asked a favor. A neighbor of his was visiting Marco for a short stay a couple weeks before Easter. He was down here all alone and could I find an open spot for Sal on a charter trip.

I was totally booked with Easter just ahead; the only possibility was to have Sal join Jim.

I called Jim back home and asked if he’d mind; as is customary for him he graciously consented with a “absolutely … glad to have him.”

On the call back to my brother he sheepishly reported that Sal was an attorney in North Jersey and, as he put it, “a bull in a china shop.” But it was a done deal; forward march.

Our morning arrived. Nice weather; OK tide and we would fish up around Addison Bay for snook (which Jim loved). Jim arrived right on time and we knew Sal arrived when we heard the commotion in the marina parking lot when the folks from the Key West Express told him he had to park across the street.

He reluctantly complied and grumbled his way down to the boat.

Don't really know how to describe Sal; boisterous, loud, assertive and a tad obnoxious. And it only took two minutes for both Jim and I to peg that evaluation.

As we exited the marina heading for the Jolley Bridge and the expanse of Addison Bay, Sal announced that he had informed his clients that he would provide enough fresh filets for their dinner planned that evening.

When I informed him that we would be targeting the legendary snook that morning and there would be a lot of action, but the season was closed and the fish would have to be released; he went ballistic.

“You mean to say we may not take anything home; that’s not what I signed up for” was his high pitched reply.

In quiet tone, I responded, “Sal, I told my brother you signed on as a guest on a booked trip. Jim is all catch and release anyway and that’s what we’re going to do this morning. But, if you catch a keeper, you are certainly welcome to keep it.”

Sal went into a string of unpublishable expletives expressing his disappointment.

The snook action that morning all along the shoreline edges was fantastic with most of the catch in the undersize category. Jim caught most and Sal a few that he always asked “can we keep.” He knew the reply as we ushered the snook back into the water.

Finally, on the last spot, Sal hooked into a small black drum and got it to the boat. Nice fish; took pictures but was a half inch short of the 14" minimum size and we prepared to release it Sal jumped in with a, “Com’on ... it would be at least two dinners … whose gonna know?”

“Me, Sal, me … let it go.”

Sal didn’t offer any thanks for the trip and left in silence without even an appreciative nod at the dock to either Jim or yours truly. Too bad.

Thankfully guys like Jim are the backbone of our sport. Living within an honor code and espousing a sincere appreciation of the opportunity to sportfish with class.

Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to dawnpatrolmarco@cs.com.