On the Hook: Hot fishing trip on an artic morning

Bill Walsh

You’ve readied everything and this family charter trip you’ve been looking forward to running for weeks for your corporate ex-boss and his family here for an early spring break runaway, is at hand.

On the appointed morning you step outside and instantly recall Chicago winters. “Holy cow, this is really cold! You dart back into the house. Is it too cold to subject these friends to the freeze?

Your mind whirs between the cold discomfort for the crew and losing out on their opportunity for salt water fishing they all had been “gushing” over since they arrived in SW Florida earlier that week. They, like me, lived in the planet’s icebox in Chicago where cold is a “learned” event.

So, the phone call, “Jim, it’s frigid outside and I’m on the fence as to whether to run your gang this morning … What do ...

Balazs Hepp with a huge redfish caught off Naples.

He cut me off. “Get the boat ready. We’ll be there on time.”

Background: Jim and I had stayed in touch over the ensuing post-corporate years and they booked this trip four months ago. This was a highlight of their very first trip to the Paradise Coast. It being a family of five with the three kids being early year teenagers.

I was at the marina early hoping the bait shrimp were thawed and me hiding out of the mounting gusty wind as the morning dawned bleak to say the least. They all were right on time in attire that made them resemble the Pillsbury Doughboys. I called Jim aside and gave him one more chance for a graceful exit and reschedule.

That lit his torch. “Bill, not on your life! My wife and I have been locked up in that small hotel room with these energy laden kids for three straight days and enduring the non-forecasted cold weather, no beach, no water. We are ready for the therapist or the looney-bin. We’re going fishing today, if we must break through the ice to get there. Let’s go.”

We had the kids use the restrooms to change the layers of clothing around, thinnest layers closest to the skin and heavier layers on top. To keep them reasonably comfortable as the day, hopefully, warms up.

We got underway with thermometer showing a forty five degree air temperature slicing through a cloudless but frigid bright sunlit morning. Jim was even trying to manage a smile.

As we entered the Marco River we ran headlong into the swirling west wind rifling right down the river creating an uncomfortable three foot sea surface surge. We would have to start our day on the east side of the Jolley bridge in deference mainly to the wind and rough water.

Generally, the circa 15mph westerly winds were whipping and churning the open water areas to a froth. First mission was to find clean water which we accomplished quickly well up in the backwaters of Addison Bay. The second was to find a windbreak for marginal creature comfort. We ducked in behind an old Australian Pine and we broke out the bait and tackle. Our targets in these conditions were probably limited to the two main cold water species; the sheepshead and the black drum.

Knew we all weren’t in piscatorial alignment when Jim asked me “Bill, when the big snook takes this shrimp which way is he likely to run?

“Jim, hate to disappoint you, but with these conditions forcing us to use a deep water spot and the water temperature hovering at sixty degrees, the chances of snook are slim and none.”

With disappointment etched on his face he countered with, “Well, that’s not what the fishing shows are selling. We want the big ones; not little minnows.

I assured him we would be into some “rod buster” cold water fish and he would soon forget the spiels induced by the TV fishing shows that are mostly staged to induce you folks stuffed behind a Midwestern snow drift on a waterborne holiday.

Jim gave me one of those “we’ll see looks” and tossed a bait laden hook out where the kids were having at it.

The kids were satisfied with every catch and were delivering, albeit, small snapper and sheepshead to their delight. Side issue: Kids were not doing well until we took the monster outsized skiing gloves off. Delighted with whatever they caught.

And then, one of the kids yelped when his reel began to give up line. He pulled up and set the hook and with the assistance of Dad (what else?) they were at the rail struggling for 20-25 minutes. They (as projected) landed a 20 lb. class black drum which impressed and surprised the family.

That was the start of fishing nirvana as conditions continued to improve; lighter winds and cleaner incoming water, a glut of bigger black drum all working these sheltered backwater holes.

As the morning came to an end the family had landed five 15-20 lb. class black drums, kept a couple for the remaining vacation dinners and carefully released the other three.

Jim and his family basked in the early afternoon warm up as they departed the marina with some great filets ready for the grill and even better memories forever.

For some 28 years helping thrill people is what, for me, makes this place great.

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