On the Hook: Fishing’s periodic exhilaration

Bill Walsh
Rich Gordon with a nice snook caught while fishing with Capt. Christian Sommer on his birthday.

Bet you’ve never been on a fishing trip where you’ve had non-stop major species action from your very first cast to your point of exhaustion. Me, neither!

Most all fishing trips work out to be hours of effort occasionally punctuated with just a periodic thrill of the major strike and struggle with a significant piscatorial target. Rest of the time there usually is action of insignificance; a bait fish, an undersized or undesirable something (i.e. a “pest” catch). 

But folks have an investment, especially in a charter trip. What’s the expected return on investment? I’ve asked apparently disgruntled customers that question frequently. Most often the response is “not sure, just want fish!” That, in reality, is an inaccuracy.

Let’s turn back the page and use a trip we ran a couple years back that played out the issue quite well.

The Reynolds clan from Evanston, Illinois called to make a charter for the “guys” of the family down here for a couple weeks escaping the Midwestern late fall weather and their wives running off to the beaches and malls. I had a mid-week morning open so we booked a backwater trip with a little more time than usual to take advantage of a full moon tide; we’d fish for six hours to catch both ends of the day’s strong incoming tide.

Learned over the years doing this that fish are like us, they want to get what they want but with minimal effort. Why swim out there to the bait fighting a three knot current when they can wait a little while and mosey on out for food when the current drops to close to one knot? Bright fish, huh?

There were four Reynolds encompassing three generations that poured aboard that morning. Even before we singled lines, they made it known that they were all Lake Michigan anglers. Decoding that information meant they trolled lures called J Plugs on weighted downriggers in the icy spring and summer waters and vaulted into action once a rod went off. Once they landed the salmon or trout they went to the back of the line and went through the process again

As expected, as we made our way down the Marco River and into their first trip in tropical waters, they pelted me with questions. “Fishing better in the morning here, eh?

“Captain, where are your trolling rods?” Your fish finder is showing a 6 ft. depth. Is it broken?

We had deliberately timed this trip to coincide with the first movement of a predicted strong flood tide. As we distributed the rods and went over technique and baited up you could see the first ripples of the morning incoming water piling up behind the channel markers. Remarkably, our timing was right on.

We set up close to the edge drop offs in Capri Pass in nice gin clear water. Two of the gang were using tipped jigs on light rods and the other two guys had plain shrimp rigs as we started our first drift. As expected, we had our first strike three minutes into the drift. It was a wallop strike and a terrific run off indicating clearly this was a nice size pompano and there was a minor struggle swinging it aboard. This was no little coho salmon, it measured out at 20” and we got this guy on ice just as the other two rods went off with the same action. We lost one of those and boxed the other.

Obviously, the Reynolds were thrilled. This is exactly what they came for. They threw quizzical glances at me as I urged them to “fish hard and fast as this bite will quit in about 15 minutes.” The full moon tide was picking up speed and creating a bubbling wake just behind the channel markers. The guys listened, as we swung two more nice pompano aboard before the “lights went out” and the bite stopped on a dime.

“What just happened?” was the question from the gang. I explained the racing tide. They stood there with questions on their faces. Didn’t dare inform them that what the next four hours would be like till the tide weakened again as it headed to slack water.

We moved on north and fished in Rookery Bay but that wasn’t anywhere close to the quality of the fishing experienced in that opening foray. Our next hours were filled with moving around trying to stay in clean water with our main catch now being small snapper, which they critically named “snaplets.” They were also fascinated with the small sheepshead that were beginning to show now as the fall water started to cool down; all of them were taking selfies with the sheepshead’s prominently displaying teeth.

We even latched onto a sizable stingray that held their combined attention, that is until it flapped up boatside.

With the end time of the trip in sight, I asked them to hang on, that fast water was slowing and action would resume as we returned to the calming waters in Capri Pass. Took twenty minutes, but we had a double header strike with a couple of Spanish mackerel which challenged their skill and strength. They too made it into the cooler.

The tide, as predicted then went slack and we headed for home.

We had seven nice fish in the cooler and the “boys” would have bragging rights about the fishing as the women returned from the romp at the mall.

As I finished cleaning the fish, I inquired as to their level of satisfaction with the trip.

The grandfather member of the foursome piped up.

“Great trip. Good results. You were spot on about the tide segments and their timing. But we should have anchored up and played poker in between”

Not a bad idea!

More:On the Hook: Overwrought snook focus

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