On The Hook: Fishing - The universal participant sport

Bill Walsh

A couple of weeks back while meandering through the electronic media, I was taken aback by the coverage afforded the sport of soccer. You can hardly channel surf on the TV or tap through the offerings on ESPN without coverage of this sport jumping out at you. There is always excessive promotion of the universality of the sport by the commentators; even one assertion on an early summer evening by a UK bloke that “Soccer is the world’s universal sport.”

Sunset fishing in the Everglades.

Journalists taunt the United States as to our snail pace in the “universal” adoption of the sport. They say we treat it as an adjunct activity. That well may be the case as our new world culture has adopted differentiated sports with fast moving action and high offensive potential like football, baseball and basketball.

No question that soccer is a mainstream sport here, especially among youngsters and has a strong but not the desired universal adaptation evident on the world’s scene. It seems to me the attraction to the sport is equipment (one ball); it’s adaptable field of play (a flat field) and rather simple rules. But for many who tout the universal attraction, it’s at a spectator level only.

Being immersed in sport fishing here for a number of years, I respectfully take exception to soccer’s universal sport tag line. A sport’s fame should lie in its ability to provide universal witness as well as participation

I believe the world’s most universally participative sport is fishing, specifically sport fishing. It knows no limit to age or physical capacity. It spans all generations with no special handicaps to any one group. It treats both women and men exactly the same, allowing both genders room for lots of luck even for those with just a dash of skill. It provides thrills for all that handle the rod; no matter where in the world it’s all the same passion.

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Last summer, one of my regular customers, asked if I might accommodate his octogenarian uncle for a half day of backwater fishing. He explained that Uncle Ed is a generational hero in his family. A WWII Navy carrier fighter pilot that post 1945 became a minor league baseball pitcher in the Cardinal’s organization and then started a successful hardware store in the Midwest; on top of that he was a scratch golfer. All through all those life’s iterations, he always admitted that sport fishing was his numero uno passion.

We met Uncle Ed on a picture perfect spring morning at the marina and I had a chance to talk with this remarkable individual. He admitted that the ravages of age had taken his ability to toss the 80 mph curve ball and those 300 yard drives but it had not diminished his ability to handle himself with rod and reel and he would put on a demo for me today.

So we made the trip on a beautiful Southwest Florida morning. It was my longtime customer, his Uncle Ed and his adult son, Larry. The only apparent problem for Uncle Ed, once on the boat, was his stability with the boat rocking the bumping to other boat wakes. We maneuvered one of the cooler seats so as to mitigate the instability and he could partake in his passion without concern.

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We had fairly good action on the first and second spots that morning and Uncle Ed was the centerpiece of the action; he would handle the catch quite adequately and then recite in detail the anatomy of each strike and landing (and release).

We moved deep into Rookery Bay on the third spot and Uncle Ed latched into a nice minimum size redfish that challenged him with runs and pulls straining the tackle and Uncle Ed. But every time, I would reach in to help, he’d admonish me with with, “leave me be, I can handle this.”

And he did, swinging aboard a nice 20” redfish. He was still smiling like the Cheshire Cat from the time of the photos, through the release process and all the way to the marina.

We parted ways with a handshake and a wink from Uncle Ed with a sly grin and a “God willing” promise to return. Couldn’t help thinking, where else could an ex-Navy pilot and athlete now bumping the upper age limit get the participative thrill that was afforded by sport fishing on this beautiful morning.

Postscript: My customer, Uncle Ed’s nephew, still fishes with me tells me Ed is still doing well and talks about that trip to everyone.

But, hold on a minute, that only half the story.

Just a couple of weeks later, got a call from a woman whose opening blunt inquiry was, we have a four year old boy who loves fishing in the pond back home but wants to go “ocean fishing,” can you accommodate the three of us?

“Sure; do it all the time with families. He can do everything everyone else does except he has to wear a life jacket”

So we booked the trip. The family opted for a three-hour “on-the-water experience” where we stay in close to avoid travel time and the heat of the summer here.

As they boarded that morning, his dad proclaimed that this is the first time Gregory had been on a boat. Then, as we got underway, the wonderous new experiences came his way; the lifejacket; seeing dolphin alongside the boat; the seabirds. And then we got down to business in Capri Pass.

We set up a small spinning rod for Gregory and with dad as mentor and helper, we set up a drift on the incoming tide. Gregory was handling his own (well almost) when he got a careening ladyfish strike followed by lots of screams and shouts and Dad’s help as he brought his first ocean fish aboard. Mom must have taken a hundred pictures of little Gregory all “splattered” by the ladyfish.

He was all smiles and screams on several following landings of puffer fish and even a tiny pompano; and he handled the last of those small strikes all by himself.

Wonderful day he will never forget.

Now, be honest, is there any sporting activity conducive to the equality of thrills for those of us some eighty years apart; with the exception of sport fishing?

Good, that’s what I thought you’d answer!

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