On the Hook: A remembered fishing mission

Bill Walsh
Logan Wells with. Blacktip Shark caught with Capt John Brossard off Marco Island, it was released alive to live another day.

It’s a special time this week as we celebrate the foundation of this great nation of ours. There is no better way to toast that event, than to give honor applauding those who have put it all on the line in defending our freedoms. Our article this week attempts to do that by reaching back to a special charter trip we ran some years back.

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As usual, it’s vitally important in managing this business to pay vital attention to electronic communication. Email is probably at the top of that list. So early, on one spring morning, in reviewing the email traffic, there was one communication that stopped me right in my tracks.

The communication was from overseas and a “stopper” … to wit, “My name is Chief Dan Reynolds, I am a U.S Navy Seal currently deployed to the Middle East. Tough duty here but getting a two-week “home” leave later this month. My family will be meeting me in Southwest Florida for a holiday. We have two pre-teen boys that love to fish almost as much as I do; interested in seeing if we could set something up for a trip when I get back. Just thinking of Florida backwater fishing has gotten me through some long tough nights over here.”

I shot back an answer same morning, “Give me your dates and I will clear the schedule for you.”

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Within a week, I got a second communication with a range of dates later that month. Picked out a date that had good tides and reset the schedule for those other folks who were already booked, who graciously consented to change schedule when the circumstances were explained.

Chief Dan and his family showed up super early on their appointed morning. There was Dan, his wife Nancy and two youngsters, David and Danny. There was lots of excited chatter and high expectations. The weather conditions were a bit dicey, sporting some bothersome wind, but the trip was totally doable if we stayed in the more placid backwaters.

We got underway on time and as we rounded into Factory Bay got hit with a strong northerly wind that was gusting into the mid-teens. Chief Dan expressed concern, but I assured him there were good spots all through the Marco, Naples backwaters where we could gain shelter and, hopefully, the fish would be there waiting for us.

Our first drop was on the wind sheltered edges of Capri Pass where we had a chance on some pelagics, mackerel, bluefish and, more importantly, some tenacious pompano. With tipped jigs Chief Dan and the boys loaded up light tackle rigs with a 1/2 oz white tipped with shrimp on the business end and had at it.

The bottled-up euphoria of “fishing” soon gave way to some quizzical looks as all three anglers drew blanks save a couple of catfish and brace of puffer fish. All disappointed but Nancy, self-designated as the family photographer, as we teased the puffer to blow up for candid photos.

We moved to another spot on the north edge of Capri Pass and it wasn’t much better. You could sense the disappointment especially in the boys. This salt water stuff was all new to them and their expectations fueled by watching those Saturday morning TV fishing shows with continuous action. All that, didn’t help Chief Dan, who took the boys aside and talked to them about sustained effort always; the rest just must happen, just like in combat situations.

Buoyed by reassurance by dad, they settled down and said they, too, would deal with “what comes.

We tried several other spots along the Calhoun Channel and it was a continuum of disappointing results. When asked “how you guys, holding up?” There were meek smiles and a couple feint nods.

Time was running on and our results were a smattering of small undesirable; bold move time!

Let me introduce the permit fish species to the uninitiated. Permit are much sought after pelagic fish that habitats within the warm sub tropic water of Florida and beyond. They are pelagic voracious feeders that can top out weight wise in the 40-plus pound range, but they start out, like most other subtropical fish, in the sheltered backwaters feeding on crustaceans of all sorts and species. They look much like a pompano and match the latter’s table fare favorability index.

Well, just so happened that we accidentally had run into a school of juvenile permit in a surprising spot fishing for snapper a few weeks back. They were all in the five-pound class and of acceptable keeper size; that spot was about 15 minutes away now and certainly worth the chance to salvage this trip with time running out.

So off we went. It was a chancy move but worth the try with this family. We were set up in a deep natural channel and would drift with the last of this incoming tide bouncing our shrimp loaded rigs right on the bottom in 18-22’ feet of moderately flowing incoming tide.

We set up with David in the front of the boat and Chief Dan and Danny back aft and started the tidal drift. In less than a minute David had a strike that ran like a banshee but broke off; good sign. We re-rigged his rod and swung back to the start.

This time, in less than a minute both the boy’s rods went off and they began the struggle in landing. Chief helped Danny; I did the same for David. It was quite a tussle; the permit doesn’t surrender easily. But we finally swung two beautiful 16” permit aboard to the thrill of everyone including yours truly.

These were four fresh delicious filets heading to the table compliments of the boys. We doubled back on this magic spot many times and had permit on most every drift; all of those permit were carefully released but mom’s camera recorded the historic events

On the way home, Chief Dan was beside himself in gratitude for the results of this day in the salt. I politely cut him off and offered him our civilian gratitude for his dedication and unfathomable love and support of his country. Least we could do for he and his family today was have a successful trip.

As we finished up delivering the four filets, I asked the boys, “What’s the best thing about the trip, this morning?”

In unison, “being with our dad. He’s our hero.” Amen.

God Bless America.

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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.