On The Hook: Catching fish? Then sit tight
The disarming title might be an offbeat preamble for this week’s article but it holds one of charter fishing’s bedrock beliefs.
Weeks after I bought into this line of work back in the early 90s, my mentor and prior owner of the business, lit into me when on an initial charter trip I succumbed to the taunts of the customers who insisted on moving away from a great bite.
“What are you doing? You never, ever move away from a spot with great fishing action to another spot to find action. That’s a cardinal rule.” So much for a rookie’s admonishment.
You might think that customer-initiated control on a charter trip is few and far between. Not exactly so. Too many times there is a chasm between what good fishing is available in the myriad of conditions here and what customer’s aspirations are. Our water temperatures range from a chilled winter temperature circa 55 degrees to a superheated 90 degrees late summer. Thus knowledge of available species at various times of the year is founded in experience and a sound base in local knowledge.
Most any charter captain has that level of wisdom -- experience with both success and failure has honed that. When they advocate not moving away from a great bite to target a species that is a longshot it should be considered as salient advice.
After all, if the caddie advised you to lay up in front of a snaring creek on the 18th hole at “The Club” when you were ahead by two strokes, would you listen? Probably so! It’s that experience based local knowledge that you are buying that most times makes the difference.
So, with that declaration, off we go to our storied charter trip of the week that drives the issue of local knowledge versus inordinate passion to an exampled conclusion.
It’s this time of year and couple of years back. We’re delving through a late summer of frequent tropical storm births that put the populace on possible storm evacuation notice frequently. So we, that fish, are all dancing between setting up a fishing trip or running for cover.
Our initial inquiry on the charter trip comes as a voicemail. Susan identifies her party as herself, a late season vacationer along with her sister with both husbands. They are here for the balance of the week staying in a beachfront hotel and want to see the Paradise Coast waters and get a taste of some of the storied backwater fishing.
I call back promptly. We pick a morning for a quiet backwater trip to enjoy the surroundings, the nature and the fishing. Susan explains that they are all novice anglers with the exception of her husband, Bruce, who “lives, eats and sleeps fishing” back in coastal Connecticut.
We pick a date later that week with a favorable morning tide and going with an early start to minimize the oppressive scorching mid-day heat and potential storms.
On our appointed morning, the heat arrives with the initial horizontal rays of the sun even at the ridiculous hour of 7:30. Introductions are friendly as they tuck their gear away and get their drinks on ice. It’s Susan and Bruce and her sister Marie and husband Tom. (Kept all the detail on this trip! You’ll see why shortly.)
As we start down the Marco River all are thrilled with the cavorting dolphins; well, all except Bruce who is lecturing me as to his angling experiences and filling all within earshot of with his knowledge of saltwater angling.
Bruce: “So what are we targeting this morning, captain? I explain that we are on the first minutes of a moderate incoming tide in nice clean water and we’re going north to Hurricane Pass and will see what we can do with late season mangrove snapper and, hopefully some Florida pompano.
Susan overheard the conversation: “Oh that would be great; love both species for a nice fresh fish dinner this evening.” Bruce glared and came back with, “how about some big fish action like tarpon or even some redfish.”
“Bruce, truthfully the big tarpon being spread out over the backwaters are a definite longshot this time of year and the redfish are around but the bite, in this heat is spotty. Best would be to see what we can do first on dinner for you guys; then we’ll see.
Bruce mumbled something that I didn’t ask repeated. And we were soon on our spot for snapper and pompano action. We set up two teams -- one would work the waters tight to the shoreline structure for snapper and the other tossing jigs into the incoming tidal current for possible pompano action.
Both teams had nice results; that is for about 20 minutes. Even with two nice 11-12” snapper and a fat pompano in the cooler, Bruce was not satisfied. “Captain, these fish are the size we use for bait back home; let’s go for the big stuff.”
I implored him to hold off a bit. “This is an excellent bite and expect in another hour or so you’ll have the makings of a great dinner and then the tide should slow a bit and make redfish a more realistic possibility.”
To the chagrin of Susan and their companions, he negated the suggestion. “Captain, this is our trip and on our nickel and we oughta have some say. Don’t you think? Let’s pull the plug here and move on to some redfish action.”
Stunned and never having heard the reaction to the well-intended advice before, I had all rack their rods and grab a seat. Once the anchor was weighed, we headed north to Henderson Creek in Rookery Bay which is one of the best redfish venues on the planet. I changed all four rigs over to unweighted (save a splitshot) and had them work the shaded overhangs but the tide was still too fast and pulled the rigs out of the target zone. A couple of small spec trout was the best we could do.
The remaining charter time melted quickly then and we were soon on our way home. A tense silence prevailed and sadly the day was lost. When asked the disposition of the three fish in the cooler, Bruce blurted “Give them to somebody else.”
So, true to those words of my curmudgeon mentor way back when, we caused our own failure by leaving a great bite to find another. Too bad!
Our goodbyes that morning were polite but strained save Susan who leaned over and quietly whispered “Sorry.”
Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.