On the Hook: A defining sports fishing class act

Bill Walsh
Jimmy Jam from Somerville New Jersey fishing with Capt. Christian Sommer.

Occasionally, life will present you with a marvelous display of human nature’s benign qualities.

And it seems that anomaly occurs often when you are immersed in lock-step with nature fortunate enough to deal with the marine environment on almost a daily basis.

In those “moments of truth” the real values and often hidden character of an individual’s substance is on display.

More:Fishingcast: Conditions for Southwest Florida, June 7-13

Having the marvelous opportunity to share those moments makes this Paradise Coast environment even more special.

Here’s how one of those moments played out awhile back.

Spring fishing here is defined by one thing, the arrival of the Spanish mackerel. Annually, with the chilly waters of the Southwest Coast abating, most all stricken the “fishing fever” go into overdrive when the word that “the macks are here” is excitedly pronounced.

The mackerel will first arrive in small tight schools searching for the bait schools that have preceded them north as the waters warm; and the gulls and sea birds become the action scouts as they begin to ravage the bait schools posting up on bottom structure all along the coast.

For the uninitiated in experiencing the resultant spring fishing here, a fishing trip will produce a memory for a lifetime. The water literally turns to a tumultuous uproar with birds diving; mackerel churning the surface to a froth and legions of small boats trying to interfere with their quest for catching.

As soon as the announcement that the long-awaited mackerel et al spring bite is upon us the waters are flooded with aspiring folks with rod and reel and high expectations.

Our special storied trip began one beautiful Saturday morning with two brothers with their two teenage sons. They were residents of the Florida East Coast and had made the trip here specifically to partake in the “mackerel rodeo.” As one Dad put it “I hunt for big game and take ‘em over on the East coast. Today we are looking for excitement that will bend the rod and race the kid’s hearts”

They introduced their terrible twosome cousins of Paul and Jimmy who were obviously cranked to go. We got all aboard, checked the equipment and headed out to the “First Reef” which was already a scene of a fishing melee; birds were thick on the water and diving into bait already slashed up by diving birds. Mackerel were literally leaping out of the water and nailing thread herring and small blue runners on the fly. Boats were everywhere. One of the anglers shouted out as he swung another mackerel aboard, “this is a fishing circus!”

An hour later, we were still at it and so was the rest of the “fleet.” Everyone agreed it was heart stopping!

As the morning wore on, the gang also agreed that they were tiring of the exhausting action and getting nicked by the toothy mackerel trying for quick safe releases for the fish and the anglers.

All four of them sat down and asked, “what could we run into if we went a little deeper.”

Thought that would be a good idea, getting away from the craziness of the fishing armada and maybe run into some species a bit heftier.

We switched some rods and tackle around and headed west just beyond a couple published reef locations, which too, were stacked with boats and frantic anglers.

The newly rigged medium weight rods with heftier reels were harder to handle but the boys were “all in” with the opportunity for something to challenge them.

We were about 30 minutes into our deeper water venture for a fish with “shoulders” that would challenge them, and we had blotto; not even a tap and the crew was beginning to get restless. My thought was, here we were stalking slim chances after we had walked away from non-stop action on mackerel closer inshore.

When the fathers, the big game masters, began to squirm, I began to consider a retreat of position when, one of the big rods went off with a raucous scream followed by a unanimous “fish on!”

Jimmy grabbed the screaming equipment and was being assisted to the bow of the boat by his Dad where we could better maneuver to follow the departing creature. We changed boat speeds to be able to keep up with the fish deep exit run.

We were a good fifteen minutes into the run; the big fish was taking us due west. Jimmy was putting on a good show as he struggled with the surging and hightailing fish. You could notice his stress and strain with evident perspiration and hand cramps and noticeable muscle contractions.

I offered to have his cousin take over and he was blunt in response, “My fish, I can handle it.” Time rolled on and we were passing over 50-plus foot depths as we were continued being whisked west. 

Finally, on one of the surges, the fish breached the surface, huge king mackerel, that the father’s pegged the weight somewhere in the 40-pound range. Big fish!

The fish was noticeably showing signs of slowing and exhaustion as the struggle went on, but the battle continued. Jimmy inquired of his father “Dad will the fish survive if we finally get him aboard.”

“Probably not, Jimmy. He is showing first signs of total collapse.”

With that, is one single effort Jimmy made a move which will hallmark his life’s character. He grabbed a knife out of the holder and severed the line. The fish made a single surface roll and dislodged the hook and leader and headed off.

“Dad, it’s not worth the thrill of the catch to kill that valiant creature. We’ve both had enough”

We headed for home. No fish pictures. No big fish. But the pride displayed on his Dad’s face was all Jimmy needed.

He knew he did the right thing!

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