On The Hook: Fishing’s sequel to ‘Vacation’

Bill Walsh

The vivid recall of a particular charter fishing trip a few years back was triggered recently when dialing through “old movies” I came across a presentation of the movie “Vacation.”

Whom among us, who sat through that comedic film starring Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold, where he takes his family on an adventurous and ill-fated vacation to Wally World only to find it closed, can ever forget it.

Well this particular charter trip, we recount this week, is a boating episode that would give the classic film a “real life” run for its money.

Our story begins a couple years ago when a nice family from the Heartland visited Southwest Florida for the first time and were trying to experience all the excitement that this place has to offer. Thus, in amongst the beach time and dolphin watching they chartered us for a go at the sportfishing experience and a trip on the water.

Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo star in "National Lampoon's Vacation" in 1983.

During our mid-week morning charter, they meekly participated in some routine activity and thankfully, all five of the Parker family caught fish. All was catch and release and generally uneventful.

Except for one thing. They were fascinated with the number of rental boats on the water and were full of associated questions. “Can anyone drive a boat?” “How do you know where you’re going?” “Has anyone ever gotten lost?”

It was obvious they were more fascinated with the boating trip than the fishing and you could sense they wanted to be behind the wheel on their own. But you could literally feel the apprehension that bordered on dread that emanated from most all of them.

Even, laughingly, assuring them that the undertaking was safe and that the rental operations “had never lost anyone” you could still sense the uncertainty.

“What are you guys afraid of?” was the question I finally asked.

“Clark” in chorus was the response from the wife and daughters.

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Upon inquiry, they acknowledged that “Clark” was the nickname bestowed   lovingly on their Dad; nicknamed for the error prone hero Clark Griswold in “Vacation.”

One of the daughters volunteered that on their last family vacation on a lake in Wisconsin, “Clark” had the throttle on their small rented skiff get stuck with the engine at full throttle and had terrorized the other vacationers on the lake with an episode of what all affectionally called “Bumper Boats.”

The boat rental company had seized the keys from “Clark” after the episode and disinvited his return.

And then the daughters continued on with more hair-raising episodes that Clark carved out for them on vacations. I quickly changed the subject and dropped answering any more rental boat questions. No use putting the family and all the rental boats here in potential jeopardy.

I had completely (well almost) forgotten that charter episode, that is, until I got a call at spring break time this year in March.

“Hi, captain, this is the Parker family from Iowa; remember us, we’re the family with the father nicknamed Clark. We’re back!”

I froze at the receiver. My memory light flashed danger.

“I remember you guys vividly. I thought you were going to rent a boat the next time around.”

“We did, that’s why we’re calling you” was the startling response.

“What happened?”

“We’ll tell you when we see you, hopefully. Do you have any dates open later this week? Hope you do.”

Unfortunately, just so happened that I had a morning open and was mischievously curious as to what Clark had gotten the family into this time.

We booked a trip.

That appointed morning they arrived early anxious to spill the beans of the latest boating adventure. “Clark” climbed onto a seat in the front of the boat wearing sort of a catatonic grin as his girls and wife in the cockpit began to relate the detail of Dad’s latest boating calamity.

As it went, they had rented a nice, safe pontoon boat and had received precise instructions and charts from the marina associates to which “Clark” had nodded vociferously that he totally understood and would abide by the directions.

Once on the water, his wife explained, he became another person. He became distant and aloof to any suggestions. Like one possessed by the spirits.

“Clark’s” first trick that morning was to roar right through Capri Pass going west out into the expanse of the Gulf. Unfortunately, the beach he had been directed to was due north. After he passed the Sea Buoy with the girls crying and other boats screaming at him, he “came to” and headed back inshore and tucked into the Intercoastal and made the correct moves heading to the beach.

As he, at first, slowly and carefully made his way to beaching the pontoon boat, the possession spirits returned and he remembered the instructions to put the boat firmly on the beach lest it drift off in the current of the rising tide.

With that he opened the throttle.

His approach must have reminded those on the beach now scattering north and south of a military amphibious invasion landing. He hit the beach at not less than flank speed sending a screaming wife and daughters tumbling forward amidst a collage of coolers, picnic food and equipment all now residing behind the boat’s front railing.

His beach neighbors regained their composure and returned to their boats and beach spots just shaking their heads.

But it wasn’t over yet. After finally extracting the beached pontoon boat from the beach, “Clark” thought it a good idea to do a little fishing before the trip concluded. So he anchored up in the waterway on the way home and cast his bait out into a catfish infested section of the Intercoastal Waterway.

He caught fish alright; all big, mean catfish and he was rather adept in “flipping” the catfish off the hook and into the water. That is until he flipped a huge catfish too energetically and it landed in his daughter’s handbag perched on the console.

They didn’t even want to describe the mayhem that followed trying to extract the writhing catfish to the screams of the family women.

As they disembarked at the marina back then, they all (save Clark) were thankful another “Vacation” adventure had concluded and Wally World was still closed.

We finished our trip that last day with more hilarious storytelling, no fish and the family firmly urging “Clark” to head for the golf course when he is smitten with the next boating compulsion.

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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.