Some years back, two of the major beer producers here in America ran ad campaigns that competitively taunted one another with the major advertised features of each other’s product; remember “Taste great!” or “Less filling!”?
In a rather sublime undercurrent of advertising, they were in fact acknowledging a primary attribute of their competitor’s product while hoping to lionize theirs.
That same principle, believe it or not, shows up as “sides” exchange evaluation of success of a fishing excursion. That beer slogan might be exchanged to “Great action!” or “More keepers!” Which is it that drives anglers back to the water’s edge time and time again. Is the sheer joy of hooking and landing the catch or the contents of the fish cooler on the way home?
We had a memorable trip a few seasons back that will give you a look at both sides up close and personal.
The principals in the early winter trip were two bothers here from the East with their teenage sons. They admittedly lingered here in the warmth that year in the aftermath of the holidays using excuses of cancelled flights to employers then using the time to pursue their joint passion for sport fishing. The trip that January morning was the last hurrah before returning to the cold and the grinds of school and work.
They were new to our charter, so opening chit-chat gave evidence that these two brothers were divergently different. Not physically, since they looked like twins but, decidedly, in their personality and resultant demeanor. Dan was a schoolteacher from rural New Jersey, reserved and laid back, while his brother Harry was the supreme extrovert, loud and aggressive and poster boy for Type A.
Although not evident at first, as the trip developed the two teenagers were carbon copies of their dad’s.
We had a seasonally chilly start to our trip and picked the clean water in Capri Pass on the incoming tide to start our adventure. We rigged up some tipped white jigs and set up by the mid-channel markers for an in-bound drift.
It doesn’t happen very often, but just two minutes into our first drift, Harry’s son got a hellacious pompano strike that doubled his rod. The pompano species are not early quitters and this fish gave the youngster quite a workout before we netted a good-sized pomp.
Harry took pictures and, then devoid of any other instructions, Dan lifted the pompano off the hook and returned it to the water. The dads said nothing and we all went back to fishing.
We then hit a school of smaller pompano and all were engaged in great tussles with their fish, lots of pictures and smiles and excitement as we continued our drifts. A point: now, we had zero in the cooler just yards and yards of exciting action, the two boys were excitedly over the top with the action.
We then moved out a little deeper and Harry hooked onto a formidable pompano which gave him a struggle that he finally landed. It was of keeper size and Harry yelped “put this bad boy in the cooler ... he’s heading to dinner.” Dan was tactically reticent for the moment. Harry was delivering boisterous high fives to both boys.
Strange as it may seem, everything changed at that moment. No longer was the thrill of the catch the ultimate achievement. From then on, thanks to Harry’s antics, the day would be measured by the weight of the fish cooler.
As we repositioned the boat again, Dan finally spoke up. “Hey, Harry, we had a good thing going here early this morning right from the start. We had fantastic action with great fish on light tackle … to me that’s fishing”
“What’s that mean,” retorted Harry.
Dan went through the true anglers’ code, i.e. “fishing is in the sport and not in the keeping. It’s one of the ultimate challenges of man against nature. Keeping fish just works against the abundance of sea creatures needed for perpetuation of the sport.”
Dan continued, “Harry, if it was the fish in the cooler we were after, we’re in the wrong place. We should be standing in line at the fish market; heck of a lot cheaper than being out here with rod and reel in hand hoping for dinner.”
It was evident now that the Rubicon has been crossed especially for the boys. We continued to catch very active smaller fish that were non-keepers that were now disappointments, not triumphs as they had been when we started our day. Too bad.
Mid way through our charter time, I decided and headed out to some good action spots on the First Reef two miles offshore. Explaining that we should see some different species out there, reenergized the gang and they were excited as we transited the nice calm waters on the way out.
We set up on a known spot that presented great action. And true to form, we hit action right away. We had a triple header strike by whiting, a good table fish with no size limit. When Harry heard that he went back to his insistence on keepers.
But with those first catches being super small, Dan jumped in and objected … “these are small fish let’s release them and compromise that we will only keep those over 12.” The boys agreed readily; Harry groused.
We caught a lot of fish on the reef and got to box about a half dozen. Harry was cautiously satisfied with a couple pompano and a half dozen whiting in the box.
As we turned for home, my thoughts were about the lasting impressions of the day on the two youngsters. Know that decision as to keep or release, food or sport, wouldn’t be evident until they were in the driver’s seat, perhaps with their own offspring, somewhere down the road.
I had an innate sense about which way they would go. How about you?
Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to email@example.com.