On The Hook: The gentle side of sportfishing

Bill Walsh
Blacktip shark caught by Mason McDermott on chunk bait.

One of the infrequent but important inquiries as you put a fishing charter together is “OK if we bring the “missus?”

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The question is “out of the question” and has always been so here.” Of course, everyone is welcome, to either participate or just observe the wonder of this this place”

Have often wondered where it emanates from maybe from those “guy” trips to Canada or the overnight trips on the boss’s 38’ ocean cruiser for Yellowfin Tuna after the corporate annual meeting. But for what our charter fleet believes in here, is that the best crew available is a family grouping out to enjoy the beautiful waters and the joy of sport fishing. Period.

And here’s an event that played that adage out in spades.

When John booked the charter, he was gentile enough, to inform me his party would include his wife and two teenage sons. He didn’t ask “permission” for his wife’s inclusion, much to his credit, but once on board quickly informed me that Kathy wouldn’t be fishing but would love to see some dolphin up close and personal. Told them all we then have would have dual but achievable goals.

His two boys, Eric and Lance, were in those “wonder years”, between 16 and 18 and knew everything. Ignoring what parents told them was part of that package and today they would add charter captains to that list as you will see.

The two boys were like live wires from the moment they stepped aboard. They had rigged their own fresh water rods with fresh water plugs on heavy duty Fireline and ignored advice to switch over to light duty saltwater rigs. They would sit for short periods of time as we transited the river and were relentless in asking “when will we get fishing?”  … and “can’t we go any faster?”

All of that reminded me that this charter captain thing takes a lot of patience and I continued to practice saying “soon” and “no” in that order.

Our first order of business that morning as we transited the Marco River on a good incoming tide was to find some dolphin action for Kathy. We found a pod of dolphin working the seawall on the edge of the Isle of Capri and hove to on several drifts while the dolphin worked their feed along the seawall. Kathy took pictures of everything as the boys grumbled as they saw the time as a delay in their fishing time.

When Kathy gave us an OK, we headed nearshore to work the inside reefs for mackerel and bluefish action. The action had been super over the previous couple of weeks, so our expectation for success was quite positive. As we approached the fishing spot, I mentioned to the boys that the most successful rig for this action was a shrimp tipped jig on light wire and offered to rig their rods for them. Like I wasn’t even there, they readied their top fresh water plugs. They knew better!

We anchored up; set some chum and gave John a rig with the prescribed tipped jig on wire leader and had at it. The boys, recalcitrant to advice, tossed their fresh water rigs into the chum slick. Seconds later, John had a nice mackerel aboard; the boys had ripped up Fireline and lost plugs.

Felt sorry for the kids, so I tied small jigs on their Fireline and tipped them with a fresh shrimp and pleaded with them to work the surface waters.

John, using the top water action had landed another nice mackerel. The recalcitrant boys let the rigs drop to the bottom and had a brace of squirming blue runners. That same pattern of John with mackerel and the boys with “junk” repeated itself three or four times over.

That’s when Eric let out with “this fishing sucks” … followed by his father’s “why don’t you listen to advice?”

Kathy, whose camera was now laden with dolphin and fishing pictures, politely asked if I had another rig available that she might use; she was smitten with the fishing urge.

We put another top water rig together and we went through a short instruction on casting and working the surface with the tipped jig for her. We practiced a couple of casts and she had at it. Within milliseconds she had a strike and with a couple of yelps she had a nice mackerel aboard and again photographed; and, like all the catch that day, released.

Accolades from John on her success and continued grumbles from Eric and Lance who were still bottom fishing and landing small grunts, and blue runners continuously.

Kathy was now a fisher woman and repeated the mackerel event on most every cast. She presided over every release to insure the fish was in great condition prior to release back into the briny.

You knew this exposure to fishing was getting into her psyche when she told John “this is really quite exciting and especially when the fish are released unscathed.”

The morning went on with non-stop action for Kathy and John; another story for the boys who caught lots of bottom dwellers and were resistant to the top water approach.

So be it! They were zero for zero on the top water fish and a tad embarrassed on their mom’s success. But Kathy was “pumped.”

Heard her ask John as they left the dock, “John. I’d like to talk to you about joining you on one of those Canadian fishing trips next year. I really enjoyed the fishing experience today.”

John blanched.

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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.