On The Hook: Sport fishing's diversity

Bill Walsh

Considering the world’s, and particularly our nation’s, political overindulgence in the facets of differentiation these days, it stands to reason that those same separators can easily show up in muted fashion and impinge on our sport of fishing.

A sun sets off the back of a speedboat with a fishing rod in the foreground

Readily admit that this preamble is a bit of a reach, but it seems that any set of differing principles, albeit with rod and reel in hand instead of statutes and laws, has the intensity and potential to drive factions apart.

Stick with me this week as we run through a recent charter fishing event that could, in miniaturized context, mimic the occluded positions taken by people today. It may not be headlines for the nightly news, but it’s interesting in its simplicity of scope and general unimportance.

We’ll start our little drama with the weather, an “extra” that plays a causal role in the event. To say our weather the last few weeks has been a dominant influence in being on or off the water here is an absolute truism. From days (particularly mornings) that have been downright cold to mid-days and afternoons that have been windswept is a gross understatement. Many days over the past month have had strong wind-driven seas. Going anywhere outside the placid backwater would be an engagement in a chapter of “Victory at Sea”.

One evening just before the holidays, there was a late phone call from a stressed father with two preteen sons who just received notice that his “promised” offshore trip the following day had been cancelled due to correctly forecasted northeast winds from 15 -20 knots that evening and the following day.

The caller explained that his boys were booked on flights home two days out and he had promised them a fishing trip while here in Southwest Florida. He, George (pseudo), agreed with the other charter captain’s decision, and "kind of knew late afternoon that the cancellation was going to happen."

He then asked my availability the next day for a sheltered backwater trip. I had the morning open and offered to run the trip but with the condition that we’d have to find a spot out of the screaming winds and search for some clean water; otherwise we’d abort and trim the price.

He agreed. We met at the marina at 8;30 the next day all wrapped in sweaters and windbreakers.

As we transited the Marco River. George dropped the bomb: “You know, captain, we’re from coastal New Jersey and have fished a lot, but never in the backwaters. Me and my boys don’t even know how a spinning reel works, let alone how to use one. All of our fishing has been coastal and offshore. You know...the mate baits the rod, slings the rig out over the transom of the boat and hands you the rod to await the strike."

I think I pulled the throttle back a bit on that one.

"You've never fished with spinning gear?"


With that, we made a quick decision to have a “backwater school” as the first chapter in our trip and found a nice lee up in Rookery Bay where we could initiate these “Jersey Boys” in the fine art of backwater fishing. We went through all the rudiments: makeup and basic operation of the spinning rod and reel, operational technique in the shallow backwaters, and casting.

We must have eaten up 30 minutes just going through the casting phase of the training. If you’re an angler, imagine someone handing you a casting rod amidst the mangrove-lined waters and telling you to make a pinpoint cast. That didn’t happen very often that morning, especially for the boys. We re-rigged mucho equipment.

Impatience on the crew’s part was very evident after some 30 minutes of “training”, so we weighed anchor and headed for a partially-sheltered spot up along the Marco end of the Intercoastal Waterway.

Our first fishing drop that morning was along the edges of Hurricane Pass. We baited the three rigs. All three reared up and let them fly, and fly they did...straight into three overhanging trees. We put the rods down after breaking off the tangles and had at it again. It was really quite disastrous. As quick as I could move in repair the rigs, all three of them would do it again.

George was at wits' end after the second drop and the continuous fouled casts. He piped up: “You know what, captain, this ain’t fishing for us. Our background on the salt is being handed a baited offshore rod and sitting in the chair. This ain’t working out for me or my boys. We’re just different kind of anglers. Maybe we ought to close the session...what do you say?

“George, I partially understand your frustration here today, but please understand; I don’t mean to demean the procedure of being handed a casted-and-baited rod the size of a broomstick to catch a fish that requires minimal skill, but even a  20-pound deepwater fish can’t escape equipment that could tow a boat," I said. "I’ll say it once, and don’t demean your offshore efforts, but answer me...what skill does it take in comparison to deftly casting to a snook or redfish and working with the drag on 12# test to take it aboard? You guys, and especially the boys, should be able to compare and choose the type of fishing you like.”

He didn’t answer, but per his wishes we headed home sans any catch that morning. As we neared the marina, he said, “Captain, you made an excellent point. Not for me, but for my boys. We don’t want them sheltered from any activity, belief or point of view as they grow up. What do you say we set up a couple of training sessions for them, with me along, when we make it down here next summer? I want them to experience the whole deal and make their own decisions."

“You got it, George. Be glad to”

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