On the Hook: Catch and release (well, mostly)
Dan Jennings wanted to go fishing bad, but had a difficult dilemma standing in his way. “Captain, I’m down here on a ‘family togetherness holiday’ with my wife and my two grown daughters. The only way they’ll go fishing with me is if I can guarantee them that the caught fish will survive after we catch and then release them. What should I tell them?”
I told him that, in the best of circumstances that is a tall order. The release part is a piece of cake. the ultimate survival would be a real long shot.
An offhanded suggestion I inappropriately suggested that Dan go it alone and give the girls the credit cards and directions to the shopping center. That met with an icy stare. He reminded me that this was a togetherness week, sort of like the Three Musketeers.
With the shopping option closed, I told him we could set up a trip and use all known precautions to ensure every fish we caught made it through the event. But there would be no absolute guarantee. After all, how can I do that? Even charter captains have limitations.
A few days later, Dan called back with the news that he had convinced the family they're taking these special precautions would try to be all they best anyone could do. We booked a trip and he cautioned me that the girls would be very observant and discerning of the special handling we would enact. We booked the trip.
We stopped on the way down the river and discussed how we would handle the catch and release trip. All the hooks that day would be a circle hook. I demonstrated how the hook when taken by the fish cantilever's out and leaves it unscathed.
Thus, the fish are only lip hooked and don't swallow the hook, thus is very likely to survive. I got a trio of doubtful glances from the girls.
Next, we discussed in getting the fish alongside as soon as possible so it didn’t exhaust itself. The drags we're all set at optimum, so didn’t want to fool with them. Time the fish is in the struggle to survive counts. All three of them nodded.
We’d land the fish (if possible) without a net, keeping their scales would be important to them. You began to see the girls eyes rolling with all these preventative actions to remember.
Finally, we were ready to go. Dad fishing, the girls saving.
We had drifted into Capri Pass on the incoming tide and decided to use that as our first venue. As luck would have it the extremely active ladyfish were wall to and baits were engulfed in milliseconds with lots of screams and tangled lines, but thankfully, most released themselves to the delight of the women it was the nirvana of a fishing trip.
That accelerated action was emptying the bait bucket and the women’s nice summer outfits looked like they were designed by Dalmatian puppies, the “splatter” from both the ladyfish and pompano don’t do much to enhance the wardrobe.
But, thus far, the victory, per se, was well in the hands of the “releasors” most every creature had been returned to the briny unscathed.
But we were sitting right next to the First Reef off Marco where there is great shallow and top water action most days and we had a good action morning going and suggested to seeing if the upscale activity extended offshore. The girls were quick to warn “with the same release rules, right, Captain?”
“Absolutely, we’ll fish the same way in the deeper water. But you can expect some bigger fish out there.”
Reaction was a bit apprehensive but acceptable if the fish continued to escape unscathed. So off we went to the heart of the inshore reefs where most anything could be lurking in wait.
We anchored up in 25’ of water right on top of a renowned inshore reef on good late morning incoming tide. The water was remarkably clear, and you could clearly see darting fish screaming past just below the surface. The girls were fascinated with the “show.” Dad couldn’t wait for the resident predator to show up.
That didn’t take long after we took a small blue runner and tethered it out on wire leader in the gathering slick. Almost immediately, there was a hellacious strike and the line literally peeled off the bigger rod, whatever was on there was big and heading elsewhere. Both girls shattered the calm with a reverberating scream as the line on one of the bigger was peeling off as the caught creature headed offshore.
I was totally engaged in trying to get the anchor aweigh and dad was assisting the girls now in panic mode as whatever it was heading offshore. It was a moment of pandemonium.
It took a few moments for all of us that we were being towed westward, fast. Something none of us wanted to happen. We made a power turn aiming back inshore with the boat, now with dad on the rod and the women cowering. We were in total “struggle” mode.
As we crossed over our prey, we got a clear view of a mega shark; probably a blacktip or a tiger and that set all into panic mode. The women huddled midships; Dad was thrilled with the action.
But that was enough for these folks didn’t want to harm the fish let alone themselves. Grabbed the line cutter and asked dad now struggling, “Let’s cut and call it a day.” Amen!
We headed home. Traumatic experience for all.
Think they ever graced a visit to the salt again. Doubt it.
Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to email@example.com.