On the Hook: The #98 fishing trip

Bill Walsh

Been a bit hesitant to write about this charter trip that we ran just a month ago. The best description of the event was that it was radically different but well describes just how sportfishing can appeal and create enjoyment no matter what. So, bear with me; here we go!

More:On the Hook: Catch and release – something to consider

It kind of fits this time of year, as the initiator of the trip was my tax accountant and his family. George has been my go-to tax guy for years starting back to fading years in the corporate life in Chicago. His work has always beyond competent but tragically delivered just hours before the filing deadlines.

Anthony and daughter Liz from Chicago with a nice catche.

As we annually received those breathtaking numbers, I would call George and express my appreciation, albeit with a last-minute rush to the bank and post office while extending an invitation for a fishing trip for his family if he ever made it out of the Windy City.

He never did. That is until early March when he called and announced he and his teenage kids were heading our way for a pre-tax rush holiday and he would finally accept my invitation. We scheduled a trip on an early March morning.

George tumbled down the dock that chilly morning surrounded by his four teenagers all with muted excitement levels created by late night activities and an early alarm clock. George introduced his two daughters, Cynthia and Emily and his sons Bret and Bob.

As we readied to get underway, he announced that “these are city kids from Chicago; they have never fished before, ever! They know all the Cubs batting averages and the Bulls scoring numbers, but they have never had a rod in their hands.”

I blanched and doubled back to the bait shop for some additional bait shrimp; four rookies with zero experience; this would be some trip.

Our first stop was just off Hideaway Beach where we opened the book to Fishing 101. We went over fishing rod handling and operation and then had them practice a series of “casts” into the shallow open waters. Most casts made it, save a few that wrapped around the boat antennas and each other. Lots of laughs as they came awake and marginally excited about what lay ahead.

George laughed most of the time; to him (and them) this experience was all about having fun and you will see how that played out as the trip went on.

Our first fishing spot was up in Rookery Bay. We were on an outgoing tide and there was a good spot to hook into some late season sheepshead (I thought). I helped them bait up and they did the “casting” in various directions and distances. The sheepshead was there as witnessed by the endless rebating as the group were off-kilter with the nudged strike and stealth of bait. George was the photographer and “laugher”. We had to move if this trip was going to go anywhere.

We picked up and ran over to an east edge in Hurricane Pass where we had experience in the past few weeks on schools of small mangrove snapper set up all along the tree line edges. 

We set up on a sheltered spot in and amongst the Irma downed trees. Took a few minutes to switch over to small circle hooks and got all four of them going again.

In milliseconds, all of them had strikes and landings on small undersized mangrove snapper just as expected. Excitement reigned, these were the first fish these guys ever caught. George was flitting from one to another taking pictures; I was carefully releasing the undersized snapper.

We put baits back on and repeated the catch again and again.

Brett spoke up, “Dad, we’ll have a contest with you as accountant (what else) and let’s see how many each of us catch and release. Prize: a pair of tickets to a Cubs game”

George: “Let the contest begin.”

It was obvious that this was fishing and releasing for sheer fun for the next two and a half hours. There was celebration on each catch; I released, and George recorded. With the activity level so consistent, we had decided to use half shrimp baits for the remainder of the event. “Half’s” worked just as well.

I intervened about an hour or so into the constant activity and inquired about a move to see if we might find a pompano or a big mangrove snapper for dinner and there was a unanimous “no”. “This is so much fun, and we don’t want to kill any of these creatures”.

An interesting aside: About 11 a.m. we went through a change of tide; from incoming to outgoing. Bob was fishing with an unorthodox method of moving his bait back and forth quickly most of the time. It’s quite the norm that fishing slows or quits when the tidal water stops moving; and it did that morning as the water stopped and changed direction; except for Bob, he had seven or eight hook ups’ in ‘dead water.” So, moving bait is the key strike motivator.

We finished our trip as the noon hour past and got ready to head home. And as fate would have it, Bret had a huge strike and run off. Everyone came to a halt and hovered around him clamoring encouragement. Took a while but he finally landed a gorgeous big pompano. After pictures, I asked about taking the fish for lunch; there was a unanimous response of “let ‘em go; we had a great fun morning; let him enjoy his life.”

George, the accountant extraordinaire, had tallied up all the catch numbers for each of his four and they tallied up to a total of 98 fish caught and released. Emily, one of the quietest, had won the event with 31 fish and was the grand prize winner of two Cubs tickets.

In this business for 27 years, I’ve never ceased to marvel at the delight that sportfishing provides folks whatever their intentions are.

Finally, hope, George takes it easy on me this year …

More:On The Hook: Breaches in fishing’s code of conduct

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