On The Hook: A fishing trip for the ages

Bill Walsh

With the Christmas season having just flown by, I dug back through the past charter trip notes to scour up an eventful charter fishing outing that would add meaning to the “giving spirit” that this annual celebration so rightly enunciates.

I found notes on a trip long remembered. It ended up as a very special trip that started with an innocuous phone call from a Naples resident. The call that winter evening started out rather routinely with the standard questions of boat accommodations, trip times, types of fish being landed and, of course, charter costs. Those were easy to handle and all in a positive direction.

Then there was a rather timid question that was totally unexpected. “What ages do people have to be to go fishing with you?”

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Stunned for a moment, I responded with “there are no age restrictions.”

And quickly came the response. “Great! Then you can take my dad whose nearing his 93rd birthday just after Christmas!

In a few sentences, I explained the special care that aged folks will require like insuring safe seating, some assistance in rod handling and the charter fishing spots would be picked to avoid rough water locations.

Jim, the caller, was positively excited about the charter booking and announced the trip was a surprise Christmas present for Great Grandpop Pete from his two young teenage great-grandsons. That sealed the deal and we set a time and date.

The morning arrived with splendid weather a few days before Christmas. Jim, the father of the boys was in the lead, as they sauntered down the pier that morning. Great grand pop was in the vanguard and was firm-of-step and demeanor. Pete introduced himself and we found him an el primo seat where he could stay planted and fish at the same time.

Fishing has a way of bringing out something special for those who participate.

Pete was chattering away with his two great-grandsons telling them “I haven’t been fishing like this in over 10 years. What a great Christmas surprise. Thank you two so much!”

We got underway and headed down the Marco River with Pete enthusiastically waving to every boat going either way. He had an un-erasable grin. “Can’t believe I’m on the water again.”

Our first drop was up in Rookery Bay. Good fishing spots and it was a “no wake” area providing flat water for Pete and his crew. We anchored up in a friendly incoming tide. The boys and Jim were in the water first and as I baited up Pete’s rod asked if I could cast for him. He turned and with the sternest of looks said nothing and proceeded to loft a perfect 20-foot cast astern of the boat.

As the morning progressed, we got into the early winter action expected on this deep-water location. That is, Jim and the boys got into solid action and had boxed two or three nice sheepshead. Pete was feeding the fish and roaring through the bait supply.

“Can I help, Pete?” I inquired as the bait supply dwindled. I got that “back off” look again. We were an hour or so into the trip and Pete was “fishless.” So, I asked him the same thing again.

Pete set him rod down and provided this heartfelt soliloquy.

“Captain, I’ve fished most all my life. From Colorado trout streams to the blue salt off the Jersey Coast. I love fishing. But for the past 10 years I’ve been in and out of hospitals and rehab centers and honestly, never thought I’d have another day on God’s great water. And here I am, thanks to two terrific kids that thought this whole thing up.”

“I am so happy just being here with rod in hand. Catching fish is secondary.”

From then on, no more questions for Pete. Just kept putting bait on.

Exceptionally, we never moved off this first spot. Kids were catching some nice sheepshead and few snappers. Pete had a permanent grin but still no catch. We were down to the last half hour of the trip and we were breaking baits into pieces feeding the now engorged bait stealers.

Then as fate often deals circumstances and results, with little time left Pete’s rod went off with a scream and he conjured up spectacular energy and strength to start the retrieve. Jim and the boys were mesmerized with the timing and response from their grandparent.

Pete was doing all the right things, checked the drag, squared his seat to the stern of the boat and was slowly commencing the retrieve which was obviously a major species; sheepshead don’t pull like that.

One of his great-grandsons offered to help. Pete responded again with that “back off” look. Jim even helped as Pete was obviously strained.

Pete was clear once more “I will do this or die trying.”

Jim whispered a question, “Can you get 911 out here?”

Pete was gaining on the fish a yard or two at a time and I had quietly fed out a little more anchor line to assist, unbeknownst to Pete.

Finally, we had the fish on the surface, a big black drum that was easily 8-10 pounds. Jim grabbed the net and with one final lunge, we got the net under this writhing fish.

With a quick photo of Pete holding the fish and the two boys grinning ear to ear on great grandpop’s good fortune, Pete asked for the fish.

He was handed the writhing and struggling fish and with a gentle, “I made it to the end of the fight, you should too” he gently released the drum back into the current.

On the way home, with an uneraseable smile on his face, Pete hugged his great grandsons and told them it was the best Christmas present he had ever received.

Those kids will never forget that day. Guaranteed.

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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.