On the Hook: Undaunted!

Bill Walsh
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Been at this charter business for some time now and must admit that there are those times of reflection, usually in the dark morning quiet making ready the day as to question the meaningfulness and worth of the endeavor

Certainly, there is a personal overarching desire to be on the water and relishing those moments of absorbing tranquility. And, as a companion issue, to engineer the victories of achievement in staging a pleasurable event to a wide range of customer groupings. Seeing families enjoying each other’s achievements whether it be “Mom’s” first catch or your condo buddy hoisting a huge redfish; it’s all about enjoying that simple interface with nature. And I get to go along for the ride. What could be better than that?

We move on to the feature story for this week that impacts that ever so important contemporary issue of achieving strong youthful character development using the standards of sportfishing as one of the common denominators. The star participants in this feature were my customers, the Lucci Family from Utica, NY, down here for a holiday attached to spring break. There was Joe and Cathy and their two sons, Mike and Rudy, two young dynamos scrambling into their early teens. The family had rightly anticipated that this charter fishing would be the highlight of their week stay here on the Paradise Coast; and were they right on!

Our adventure began that tranquil spring morning a couple of years back. In fact, the weather that year was one of the drivers for the decisions made on where to go; to catch what, and how.

We had enjoyed a couple of full weeks of unusually tranquil spring weather that had presented us with gin clear water and a flat ocean on what we referred to as the nearshore “First Reef.” Comprised of inshore bottom structure just two miles off the beach, it was a notorious gathering place for huge bait schools of pilchards and herring as well as their attackers.

In the weeks precedent to the “event”, the “attackers” were huge schools of Spanish mackerel whose routine of feeding was to slash and gorge; the tranquil morning scene could be turned into a slaughter in minutes.

As I described that scene to the Lucci family that morning, they couldn’t wait especially as I depicted the nice flat sea conditions to Cathy, who had been singled out as the family photographer for the trip.

Once we got the buy-in as to sea conditions and targeted species, I set the boat up with a couple blocks of chum and a bait bucket awash with live shrimp. The rods were all light duty and the rigs were feathered jigs to be rigged on wire leader to prevent cut-offs with the mackerel’s slashing dentures. This would be a full bore light action adventure or so I through.

We got underway on time in and amidst an armada of like-minded anglers. At 0900 that morning, it looked like the Normandy invasion fleet heading down the Marco River and with all the hoopin’ and hollering, you just knew it was going to be an exhilarating event.

The boys were excited about what was to come and asked several times as to whether we expected to see any sharks out here on the reefs.

In response with the standard patter of “you never know out here” didn’t quell their belief of a possible “Jaws” arrival.

The crowd at the “First Reef” was astounding! Looked like the Garden State Parkway on the Fourth of July. But having that experience on the reef layout we eased into a familiar spot in 25’ of water; we had “neighbors” but not amassed gunnel to gunnel like most of the crowd.

Now a mackerel “blitz bite” must be seen to be believed. The bait is on the surface jumping and leaping to escape; the gulls and pelicans are diving directly into the fray for scraps of severed bait and the mackerel are surging 4-5’ out of the water nailing escaping pilchards and herring and this morning the action “pool” had to be a quarter mile wide.

I literally could not keep up with releasing mackerel, re-baiting and fixing equipment. It was absolute mayhem.

Suddenly, Mike yelled “What was that?” Pointing straight down to a sizable blur streaking from port to starboard at breakneck speed. We all glanced down at this object just 10-15’ under the boat. In unison “Shark!” A 4-5’ shark had targeted our mackerel and was having a ball.

Now remember me admitting that we have left the major tackle at the dock. We would try to catch this marauding shark but would have to quickly improvise. We rigged one of the sheared mackerel carcasses on the light tackle and handed the rod to John who moved to the bow of the boat with his dad and Rudy as the shark, now with the mackerel bait in mouth headed due west.

The problem with the substantive shark heading west on such light tackle is that you couldn’t put undue pressure with an exerted yank without breaking the line.......the mission for the kids was to “stay the course” until we could get him alongside for release.

Time wore on as we headed further offshore with the kid’s efforts bringing in 20-30 yards followed by the respondent effort by the shark to take back 30-40 yards.  Dad was encouraging them to “stay the course” … they wanted to cut the line. It was a back and forth but graphically symbolic of pressures they would face in life to sustain in the value of any effort vs. surrender.

Forty five minutes later we were 4-5 miles offshore with the kids hanging on with Dad’s encouragement. Arms were aching and voices hoarse shouting encouragement then all the sudden the shark let up and the boy’s stood at the railing in victory as they gently released a 30# class lemon shark in worn but sustainable condition.

Victory for the boy’s perseverance and the family encouragement; ditto for the shark and a subtle victory for character development in a couple of great young men to be.


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