On the Hook: Fishing and the cellular snare

Bill Walsh

“Can you hear me now? Is this any better? How about now?”

This little story plays out some actual experiences on a pair of charter fishing trips where priorities got mixed up and out of focus. The backdrop deals with the contemporary craze for instant communication that includes information retrieval, voice communication and sundry recreational endeavors that occur in conflict with intended activity.

Cell phones can be a distraction, even when you're on the water.

Cellular technology presents any user that range of instant gratifications, emergency issues aside, that obliterate the attention to activity at hand. That phone conversation, Twitter interface or Google retrieval blot out the currently immersed activity.

More:Fishingcast: Conditions for Southwest Florida, Aug. 2-9

And that’s where our article is taking us this week, straight to comparative situations on a couple recreational fishing charter trips where the cellular conflict was managed in divergent ways.

The Jones Family (pseudo handle to protect the innocent) were a nice family from somewhere up north where winter ends in June most every year. They love Southwest Florida, especially in the spring when home is awash in knee deep snow. Annually, they pull their two teenage boys from school a few days prior to spring break to round out their full two week “run to the sun.”

More:On the Hook: Fishing and the cellular snare

The family had been “spring break” customers for the previous four years and the boys who started these adventures at single digit age where now pressing entering high school and carving out typical new life habits. Most irritating addition that was most obvious with their “growing up” swagger.

They all loved the water and especially with a fishing rod in hand. The trips were always planned in precise detail as evidenced by two trips each year timed to avoid having to pause action waiting on a tide change during their scheduled trip.

Our first charter trip presented us with a beautiful spring morning compete with a light breeze and a tide fully cooperating with the published tide tables. We loaded aboard right on time and headed out Capri Pass and headed nearshore for a tussle with some exciting Spanish mackerel.

Navigating through a boundless number of crab trap markers nearshore, I never took leave to glance around to check out what was going on in the boat.

As I cut the engine and set the anchor on a reef displaying surface mackerel action, I was stunned. Dad was on his cell totally engrossed in a work issue. Mom was in an animated conversation with a family member on her cell and the two boys were hunched over their phones with thumbs flying as they were immersed in “electronic discussions” with friends.

There we were, beautiful morning with chum in the water and gorgeous Spanish mackerel leaping skyward right behind the boat and no one had even touched a rod!

I was stunned. This is a family that on previous trips had the rods baited as we left the dock.

In a disturbed tone I voiced a reminder, “OK,folks … we’re here. Anybody want to go fishing?” They all lethargically slipped the cells in pockets and half-heartedly baited up. But the focus on the fishing was obviously impacted with issues dredged up with that cellular overabundance.

Bottom line, for all four their heart wasn’t in it. They landed two or three mackerel which we boxed. But it was hard for any of them to hold concentration with the cacophony of cell rings and insistent message indicators all morning long.

Here we were amidst a fishing nirvana and you’d see Mom drop a rod to take another relative’s call and the boys leaping on a return message. Bummer!

Dad had engaged the GPS feature on his cell and then slyly asked me if I’d like the coordinates of the spot we were presently fishing. He chuckled when he informed me that he had stored the numbers.

He was a bit surprised when I informed him we were on a well published spot on Marco’s First Reef that was general information. He blanched when I informed him that if we were on my private spot and he recorded that, we’d be in a wrestling match for possession of the information.

As we headed home with our “casual catch” of three mackerel, I knew the Jones’s had not fully enjoyed their trip like in past years.

The second trip was scheduled for the following week and it was time to make a bold move to change their new-found source of distraction and alter their pattern of behavior.

Borrowing a page from the commercial airlines, I asked them if they would shut off and store their cell phones and blackberries this morning as it possibly interfered with my GPS equipment which I needed to hone in on locating today’s hot spot. A “white lie” of sorts intended to elevate the attention to fishing.

They all looked kind of stunned and quizzical but, thankfully all hit the “off” buttons.

We locked into a spot a little further offshore and our action turned into as exciting a fishing trip that folks can enjoy with light tackle. Our “guests” for the day, were legions of small (10-15#) kingfish migrating north and challenging the Jones’ with their energy, aggressiveness and sheer survival tenacity on the hook.

We lost more than we landed and all were released.

The exercise was exhausting for all and they parked rods and cried “uncle” a half hour prior to scheduled quitting time. They had enough. But, on the way home, they all agreed, it was one of the best family fishing trips ever experienced.

I interjected the thought that they were focused on the fishing today and past experience with cellular interruptions belongs in another place at another time, not on a fishing trip.

Dad pronounced a final thought, “you’re right, captain, we’ll leave them at the condo next time around.”

The on-the-water experience and light tackle fishing is such a rich adventure, it really deserves undivided attention.

More:On the Hook: A remembered fishing mission

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