On The Hook: Incentive fishing

Bill Walsh

With the shortened “spring break” and Easter season, being one and the same this year, not only was the island packed to capacity, so were the waters and the fishing expectations. Boat after boat on almost every charter trip was hosted by parents, grandparents entertaining family offspring.

To borrow a popular axiom, it became a world of “kids rule.” The youngsters and their take on the action of every trip became the affirmation of the success of same.

Parental hosts and financiers, held their breath awaiting final results, succumbing to that final “grade.” That led to leadership issues on many trips where the hosts called the shots if satisfaction levels of the crew started to wane.

Our article this week is all about one of those trips a couple years back where an inventive grandparent saved the day.

Now, kids love to fish. But it’s a condition that they have constant action. If they don’t have something tugging on the other end of the line every 10 milliseconds they begin to lose interest and attention wanes. With a gaggle of those guys aboard, you know you’re in trouble if they begin abandoning rods in favor or the rod holders.

A secondary causal factor for halted participation is exhaustion; late times to bed the night before and early reveille on fishing day. No way around that one, well almost, with the exception being the introduction of competition among the youngsters.

We had a little of both on that highlighted trip a couple of years back. Crew was grandpop and two teenage high school granddaughters along with three pre-teen middle school grandsons and nephews.

Our trip started in silence. Grandpop admitted the crew was zonked out watching late evening television even after frequent reminders of the next day’s planned activity.  He gave me a non-too reinsuring “They’ll wake up shortly”

We started on the last hour of the morning incoming tide working the Capri Pass under good conditions with hopes for a continuance of the week’s very good pompano action. We tied on small jigs on light rods for everyone and started a tidal drift in nice clean water, perfect conditions for hot pompano action.

Everyone was in action, the kids were presenting the same lethargic approach but at least giving it a try for the first couple of drifts. Then their jig action slowed and couple of rods hit the rod holders. Trouble was sensed immediately by grandpop and he sprung into action.

“Captain, let’s make a run out to the first reefs … I’m about to energize this crew”

He asked me to turn off the engine and then announced the Great Fishing Shootout Contest to the assembled youngsters. He surprised them with the proclamation that there would not be one dollar of prizes awarded. It would be something new, different and totally unexpected. All the prizes would be privileges.

The winner for the biggest fish would be excused for any kitchen duties for the balance of the vacation. That got some “yeas” from the kids and gained their attention. The one who caught (and released ) the most fish would get to pick the DVD rentals for the balance of the vacation. That got another set of high fives from the boys. And the girls liked the one that gave the one catching the most species first dibs on bathroom access for the rest of the stay.

The competition caught on immediately. We headed post haste out to the first and second reef domains. As we anchored up, the kids were pushing one another out of the way to get bait and all lines were in the water almost immediately.

We got into immediate action out of the reefs after setting some chum on the now early incoming tide. There was lots of action as everyone had a chance for any of the prizes. I got to be baiter and releaser and Grandpop was the catch accountant trying to keep track of the contests.

Goliath grouper

The interim biggest fish was a nice 18” gag grouper taken by one of the girls. And the leaders of the various contests would brag of their intended actions. The boys boasted that if they won the DVD contest “they would rent all Action Hero movies. Ha, Ha, Ha.”

One of the boys who had opted to use a heavier rod and was working live bait latched onto a medium size (30-40’ goliath grouper) and that stopped the fishing by all as he struggled to win the award and vacate his kitchen duties for the balance of the holiday. Trying to surface a goliath of that weight was akin to landing a VW Beetle and being in the competition he had to land the fish alone. After 20 minutes of struggle and seeing that the contest was a stalemate, grandpop announced a new category, Biggest Fish Not Landed, and awarded it to this youngster with the prize being grandpop’s first class seat on the trip home. The goliath was brought to the surface, hook removed and gently released,

In the final moments out there on the reefs the Spanish Mackerel finally showed up and the action went crazy. Grandpop again:  Announced the “blue light special.” The one with the largest Mack would get a window seat on the flight on the way home.

Everyone was dead tired from the activity and excitement of the fishing as we headed home. They were all engaged and the awards worked out that everyone received one … how grandpop worked that out is beyond me.

But it was his “eventfulness” that made the trip a success.

Try it the next time it’s your turn to entertain your gang!

More:On The Hook: Barracuda!

More:Fishingcast: Conditions for Southwest Florida, April 27-May 3

More:On The Hook: Deep sea? How deep?

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