On The Hook: Competitive, no; comparative sport fishing

Bill Walsh

If you’re ever around most any marina that is home to charter boats late in the afternoon, you’ll witness an unusual ritual. All of a sudden it gets crowded with folks just idly standing around. Waiting patiently for the arrival of the charter boats returning with the day’s catch. 

For most of those bystanders, it’s a chance to size up the day’s catches as they scurry from one cleaning table to another with lots of “Oh’s & Ah’s” as bigger fish are tossed up on the table for filleting. Followed by a chance to then chat with the lucky angler’s waxing heroic yarns of struggles with these piscatorial beasts.

Sport fishing with two salt water rods and reels

That is standard routine for most people partaking in this late afternoon ritual. But in the midst of these admirers dwells a group of folks with definitive ulterior motives.

These folks are running among the cutting tables comparing catch results that will be the basis for selecting a boat and captain for their own charter trip. Nothing wrong with that technique of sorting out performance. Correct?

Well, like most everything these days, there are extremes; things taken too far!

More:Fishingcast: Conditions for Southwest Florida, Aug. 31-Sept. 6

Our poster boy then for this week’s fishing story is Gus. A day or two earlier he had introduced himself and his wife and two middle age sons as they stood around waiting for the armada of charter boats to appear. They were rental residents here for a full month and, as you will soon see, fashion themselves as fishing nuts extraordinaire.

The following week, I noticed Gus flitting from one cleaning table to another on two separate days with a crumpled notebook in hand copying down the various charter boats names and other notes, that I assumed was data on its fishing success that particular day.

I really wasn’t sure what his technique was, that is until he sauntered up as we were finished up cleaning a meager number of moderate size snapper caught that morning.

Gus wasn’t shy as he asked questions in staccato fashion .... “What kind of fish are those?” “Where did you catch them?” “There’s only a few here. Where are the rest of them?” “Do you ever do better than this?”

His questions and general emboldened attitude while the day’s customers were standing alongside went over like a lead balloon and I asked him to step aside till I finished the cleaning.

He left in a huff. Thankfully.

I had conveniently forgotten the episode until one evening the following week when the phone rang. It was Gus, lovable Gus, that wanted to book a trip for the following week.

“Why me, Gus? You saw me cleaning a handful of fish, while other captains on the dock that day had done particularly better”

He explained that he wanted to give the family the experience of backwater fishing as well as nearshore reef fishing and there were only three boats at the marina that did that and two were already booked for his chosen date.

Talk about negative selection; but I said OK probably for the experience to be gained from these seemingly torturous people.

Our day dawned warm with a good tide and light breezes. Gus et al showed up early and spent the intervening time annoying other captains with inane questions and observations.

As we transited down the Capri side of the river, Gus was in full comparative mode. He saw a couple personal boats fishing the docks and pilings “What are those guys fishing for?” “Why don’t we fish there?” “Oh, look at the nice fish that guy just caught.”

With all of the constraint, I could muster, I muttered something like, “My decision … we will fish away from the boat traffic.”

The first spot picked was one where we had good snapper action earlier in the week. I went through the ritual of rod handling, baiting and casting and they had at it; well kind of.

The three guys were the fishers and Mrs. Gus was the critic (of everything).

All three of them made it to the top of the mangrove trees on the initial cast. Which necessitated the first of, seemingly, a thousand errant cast repairs that morning.

When they did get a legitimate cast and bait in the water they would either rip the rod on the first tap or yanking just after the fish took the bait.

We had zero fish in the box after that first drop and you could almost see Gus’ displeasure rising. On the way to our second spot we passed a small skiff with two guys fishing a mangrove edge that had stringer of nice caught snapper dangling from the boat.

Gus didn’t miss the sighting “Look at that, those guys are murdering them and we got “nuttin.’ ” I hurried to spot two.

Here the energy was expended getting their lines unattached from the anchor line and out of the trees. But a small victory of sorts; each of the son’s had landed a keeper snapper. Gus was still shut out and the Mrs. was reminding him of it every five minutes.

With half the trip time elapsed, it was time to head nearshore and hopefully partake in some hot mackerel action. I anchored up with a few other boats that were having success with some nice size mackerel. We equipped our crew with tipped jigs and showed then how to work the bait over the descending chum bits.

Big mistake, I recognized almost instantly. Too close to two other boats.

Gus assumed the role as announcer. “They just got two more.” “They just got really big one.” “Landed two more and their all laughing.” All three were spending more time comparing action than fishing.

They would forget to “jig the jig” letting it fall to the bottom and hook a blue runner. We were catching so many runners; some for the second and third time, the Mrs. began giving them names.

Time ran out and we had managed two mackerel out here. As we reached the no-wake area, I could overhear words from Gus and the boys like “terrible” … “worst” … “ashamed.” Every so often the Mrs. would chip in with “some fishing trip.”

As I put the four fish in the filet bucket; the son’s wives showed up and added to the punishment with, “Is that it … is that all you got?”

Gus’ final words, “Bad trip, ladies” … “Captain’s fault.”

Have thankfully never seen Gus again but am absolutely sure he’s on someone’s charter boat, somewhere, ruining the great experience of sportfishing again!

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

More:On The Hook: When fishing’s outlook goes negative

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