On The Hook: Unintended fishing surprise

Bill Walsh

When addicted to fishing “you never know what’s coming next ” ... ancient and unknown axiom.

Let’s start with a tad of background for our story this week. It’s named Hurricane Irma. That once in a lifetime event here on the Paradise Coast of Southwest Florida that rewrote all the rules.

In this file photo, Dawn Patrol Capt. Bill Walsh, right, heads out in the morning with guest Gary Bandelean.

The property damage was devastating. Those who left the confines of corporate America 25 to 30 years ago to live in Paradise never expected or even ascertained that such a catastrophic storm ever existed.

That is until September 2017.

Roofs were scattered throughout the neighborhoods, lanai screen and structure were twisted like pretzels mixed in with lots of other “once in a lifetime unexpected damages.”

As the storm roared north, the repair contractors, roared south. In the early hours following the humongous recognition of damage, the streets were filled with pick-em-up trucks with ladders atop going door to door to offer “free” evaluation of damage and making solicitation for contracts.

That’s where I met Dick, an experienced roofing contractor from Dade County who didn’t cut any corners and laid the bad news regarding the seriousness of the damage on the line without any sugar coating.

Making this preamble a bit lengthy, sets the stage with what happens next. He manages to put an expensive but great new tile roof on our house. I’m so appreciative, I ask him “what can I do for you?”

Think Dick had the issue up his sleeve all the time, as he blurted out, “Know you’re a charter captain and I have two young grandsons that I am desperate to have learn how to fish. Can we set up a couple of training trips for them this summer?”

The now non-leaking, attractive roof answered for me. “Dick, be my pleasure. Let me know when you want to schedule.”

That first trip went down two weeks ago. Dick lives on the Florida East Coast and his grand kids were his guests there for a couple weeks this summer. In the build up to our training charter here, Dick had called and explained that he had hosted a trip off Pompano Beach to introduce the boys to deep sea fishing and that it went well; the youngest had even caught a small barracuda a couple of miles offshore. But he wanted the trips in our domain to introduce them to backwater fishing.

They arrived at the marina right on time that Saturday morning. There was Jason, 12, and his dynamo brother Jake, 8, the star of our story this week.

Our plans were to immerse them in equipment handling and arrangements; rigging a spinning rod and then practice casting; baiting and casting, and safe and careful release of the catch.

As we boarded on a yet tranquil summer morning, the boys were divergently different in demeanor and interface. Jason was polite and quiet but Jake was a complete opposite. “This is a much smaller boat that we went on last week in the Atlantic; is it safe?

“Certainly, Jake, we have to do the same safety checks as the bigger boats. Not to worry.”

Settled now as we got underway, Jake proceeded to recreate the thrill of landing the barracuda the prior week. “It fought so hard and all the other people on the boat were cheering for me. My arms ached so bad but Grandpop reached over and helped me and we got the scary fish aboard”

“Wow, Jake, that’s a great story. Did you get any pictures of you and your barracuda?”

“Grandpop forgot his phone” lamented Jake. Then quickly asked whether we would see big fish like the barracuda today.

“Don’t think so, Jake, this is backwater where the fish are smaller but still fight pretty good. Jake immediately put on his unhappy face.

We worked some spots early up by Rookery Bay and initiated the training program. Both boys did well in the rigging training but were downright dangerous as we started casting. The snowy egrets and pelicans resting in the mangroves identified the danger level from these two guys and flew the coop. We had to retie lots of rigs before things settled down.

We moved to another spot in Hurricane Pass and, finally, the boys began to catch small mangrove snapper.

Jake: “These are tiny fish, they look like the bait we used last week.”

“All things in their time, Jake … keep fishin.’ ”

We moved back to Capri Pass, hoping for some size, when Jake had a shrike that doubled his pole. He screamed but hung on as the mystery fish headed for Mexico. Thankfully, we were drifting when the fish hit, so we just powered up and headed out into the Gulf.

Jake and his “helper” Grandpa were working a rod with 17# test, so if we could stay close to this “towing” strike we had a chance.

Grandpop faded with aching muscles and I got into the assistant’s position but Jake was still on the rod. The fish came close enough to the surface on one turn; Jake had hooked a fairly good size blacktip shark!

Other boats would pass by close aboard returning from the Gulf with shouts of encouragement. We pressed on.

The hooked transgressor changed direction and was headed to Fort Myers and we had no choice but to get this struggle over with; one way or the other.

We added power and finally got this four foot blacktip alongside flipping and struggling.

“Your catch, Jake, what do you want to do?”

“Let’s take a picture and let him go” as he slumped into a boat chair.

The disbelief that he had caught a “monster” shark in 10-15 ft of backwater was overwhelming to Jake.

As he recovered from his exhaustion, he murmured, “why didn’t you tell me that I could catch a big shark here.”

“Because fishing in the ocean anywhere is an unpredictable event, anything can happen.”

Jake, at that moment, became entrapped in the uncanny mystique of fishing the salt that can never be erased.

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