On The Hook: When fishing’s outlook goes negative

Bill Walsh

Remember the highly heralded movie with Tom Hanks, playing the well-remembered Forrest Gump, who made unforgettable history with the classic line “My mama always said, life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

That’s kind of like the way you feel as a charter captain when that phone rings, especially late in the evening. Almost always that’s the beginning of a great fishing adventure for the caller and their family but once in a great while in that box of chocolates you miss that Carmel bon-bon and end up with the Brazil nut.

Our account this week is all about that happening that went down a couple months back.

The late evening phone conversation was rather abrupt. “My name is Rodger Jones (sic) and me and my family are coming to Southwest Florida for a week’s holiday early next month; wife and three kids want to go fishing in flat water. Got anything available?

Tom Hanks in a scene from the motion picture "Forrest Gump." CREDIT: Phillip Caruso, Paramount Pictures [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

I responded with a series of open dates and an inquiry, “Rodger, will you be joining them?

“Guess so,” he said reluctantly. I’m an offshore private angler up here; don’t care much to chase the “bait size fish” you take in the backwater … but got to keep peace in the family; yeah, I’ll be there.”

So we booked a morning trip a couple of weeks out and he gruffly hung up. Thoughts of Rodger’s attitude rekindled several times in the intervening weeks and thought of calling and announcing an engine failure that would cancel the trip. But I banished the thought; good chance the kids will be thrilled with the light tackle fishing.

Our day arrived overcast with threatening rain and Rodger phoned before our start time and his opening shot was, “Thinking we should cancel, captain? Looks kind of dangerous to me.”

“Rodger, just got off the computer reviewing the morning’s forecast and also checked the local TV stations as well and they all forecast a clear morning with a chance of intermittent rain early evening.”

“That’s exactly what my wife just told me, she checked too!” he reticently muttered.

“We’ll be there within the hour” he blurted. Could hardly wait.

The Jones family was right on time. Mom and the three kids, boys in their teens, boarded enthusiastically and bubbling with questions about what we planned to do; would we see any dolphins; were the fish we catch good to eat etc. Rodger arrived last. He was checking offshore tackle in the Marina store.

Rodger plunked down in a seat with ....  “Pretty small boat, captain; sure you can handle five fishing at the same time?”

His wife scowled. “Rodger, I’ve run over four thousand charters in this boat over 20 plus years and that’s the first time anyone ever made that observation.”

His wife stared Rodger down. I started the engine and took in the lines. This was going to be some trip.

We were on a late part of an incoming tide and had selected a backwater spot near the top of Hurricane Pass where we could get started and not have a problem transiting the shallows. Later we would move to more spots in the Pass and, if time permitted, take a run over to Johnson Bay for the first part of the outgoing early afternoon tide.

We went through the initial familiarization spiel and disbursed the rods and readied the live shrimp as our bait. The boys were familiar with the “push button” spinning rods so instruction on the traditional upgraded spinning rod was a breeze. Mrs. Jones had already had some past experience with spinning rods and she, too, had an easy start.

But Rodger was dead quiet. “You ready, Rodger?” was my question as he observed the start of action by his kin.

“Come on, Rodger, you need to get in there with your family,” was my challenge.

“Don’t have any experience with spinning gear, casting or otherwise. My experience is offshore working up to a hundred-pound test line on a mega spool reel on a deep water drift”

“Well, come on, I’ll give you a first lesson.”

We went through the basics and he was functioning; not well, mind you, but well enough to get a bait in the water.

It didn’t take long to latch onto some interesting species of fish back here albeit all undersized for dinner. Now, as Rodger caught a few fish and had a number of unfouled casts, his mojo returned.

“Hey kids, those small fish you’re catching, look like they were born about eight o’clock this morning; we use that size fish offshore for bait.

“But, Dad, we’re catching fish, where’s yours?

Truth is Rodger had hooked every conceivable tree limb creating a full time job of tackle repair with absolutely no remorse.

Just then, the kids and mom must have hit a school of transiting fair size pompano and landed two. They measured out circa 11” and were legal.

“Oh boy, can have these for dinner, Dad?”

Rodger, in typical negative mood now “No, put ’em back; two fish ain’t gonna feed us all and we’re definitely looking for something above ‘mini.’ ”

We released the fish.

As the incoming tide ended, we pulled anchor and made the 20-minute journey to Johnson Bay to work the outgoing tide. We sighted some dolphin on our journey, which was a kick for the kids and settled into our new spot with positive thoughts of “take home” fish for dinner.

Well, you’d have to classify it as a bonanza. Within 10 minutes, we began to land a few whiting one after the other; that is, the kids and Mrs. Jones were landing the nice fish. Rodger had retired from the fishing activity and was now the “overseer” auditing everything taking place.

He directed the “crew” to continue to release the small whiting with the contrived reason that a fish doesn’t exist under mega size. Then the kids landed two or three minimum size seatrout that were all similarly released. By that time Rodger’s negativity had scuttled the dinner expectations. Everything had been released.

Too bad. Felt sorry, particularly for the kids.

Kept thinking they didn’t even know they had missed that “Carmel bon-bon” and gotten the alternative from that box of chocolates on this particular fishing trip.

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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.