It’s the end of October, 2010. This was the last trip of the season. I just stepped off the charter boat “Gulf Winds”, in Destin, Florida. My deckhand is cleaning the day’s catch as the customers watch, anticipating how they wanted to cook the booty they had caught that day. Nice Red Snapper, a few kings and a mixed bag of Scamp with some White Snapper to boot. They had just put their parents to rest at sea, my first burial at sea. It was really a non-event on the outside, but I knew how they must have felt. We got out to a place where it would be easy for them to revisit at any time, and they said their peace and off they went. The cardboard containers were sinking as we pulled away, turning our attention to the next 5 1/2 hrs left on our trip.
As they turned around, I saw them smiling. It was a family of three: mom, dad and a son around eight years old. He told me his biggest fish was a monster bass, around seven pounds or so and dad agreed. I told him that today we are going to try and change your life. He smiled again and he wanted to know how big of fish we were going to catch and what kind. I chuckled. Normally this question comes from the old timers who are still thinking about the days when you could go three miles, catch sixty pound grouper and get back to the dock by noon. But I had to be fair and tell him, “we are going to try and catch the most and biggest fish that will bite. We know where they live and we know what they will eat, but the rest is up to Him (pointing to the sky), and them,” pointing to the water.
Again, he and his dad smiled and I knew then that we had a great day ahead of us. After that, I looked over and Robert was letting out the first of the trollers, as I got back up to the wheelhouse to tend to my duties when I heard,”fish on!” Wow, I said to myself, sweet. I pulled back the throttles and the child ran over to Robert, took the rod from him, and began reeling as fast as he could. This was the moment I was waiting for. This kid’s life was in the middle of a change as I watched. The fish was not a giant by any standard, except of course his. It was finally landed and when it hit the deck, the look on his face was priceless. It was a King Mackerel. It was about eighteen to twenty inches long and around ten or twelve pounds. At this moment, a young boy who just saw his grandparents being laid to rest began to see a dream unfold anew. For me, it was not the fish that was important, it was the feeling I saw inside that young boy. He could not believe how big this fish was, and most of all, I could tell, he was contemplating who caught it. He did. He did something he had never done before. He was on top of the world. This was our plan until they quit biting and after four or five Kings, they quit. Their biggest was around eighteen pounds, a respectable fish no doubt.
We eventually rolled up the trollers and turned our attention to seeing what was on the bottom. As Robert switched gears to bottom gear and I put the throttles full ahead to a spot I thought might hold some fish, the mood changed a little. The customers disappeared into the cabin and I was alone in my world. Watching the GPS, counting the minutes to the waypoint, I was thanking God for the day. So far, so good. As they say though, “a bad day fishing is better than a good day working.” As a captain I can tell you, this is true. This was a good day already.
As we rounded up on the first site, I could see on my bottom machine that there was something there. I got the winds and current at my bow and gave the signal to drop in. The wind was not as easy to work with that day and was constantly blowing me off the site, making it very difficult to stay on top of the fish. As it turned out, they weren’t biting there anyway. A few small fish that weren’t edible was the only thing that bit for them. We pulled up and tried several different sites with no real results and then I found another site I had not tried before. Another captain shared this with me as one of his “runovers” he had marked once. He didn’t know know what was there, but he gave it to me to try. It was going to be our last stop and I thought, I hope this was the spot for this young lad.
We got to the spot, I rounded up and everything changed again. The wind slowed, the current was a little more forgiving and the bottom seemed to jump up with fish exploding everywhere on my machine. I gave the signal and within 30 minutes the box was littered with Scamp, White Snapper, Red Snapper, a Grouper, Vermillion Snapper and a few other fish that made a mixed bag they could be proud of. This was the reason I chose to become a charter boat captain. I have a passion for the outdoors and I want to share it with anyone who will have an interest. As we headed back to the dock, I looked back and saw them all looking into the water thinking, watching and I wondered what they were thinking about. It wasn’t hard to guess. Their primary reason for being there was for their parents. You see, their father had passed seventeen years ago. They had kept him, protected, in an urn. He was waiting for his lifelong love to join him one day. After her life was at its end, they kept their promise and both of them were put out to sea, as requested, ending a journey on this earth. This was also a new beginning for another journey. Their young grandson was in the beginning of his long journey wherever life was going to lead him. I believe this fishing trip was going to be something he was not going to forget any time soon. The smile he had, perpetual it seemed, when he disembarked, was like you might see in a cartoon. He did not know what to say or think. It was an affirmation for me. This was why I was here.
As I watched them walk away, I felt pride in knowing I had helped make this fitting end, and a new beginning. This is dedicated to the Percivals. May they rest in peace.