It’s the start of a new season. The air is still cool, the wind is calm the and water is slick. I have a family looking to have a good day. For all I know, they are on the first fishing trip of their lives. It is quite possible they have saved for years to take this fishing trip and I haven’t been on a charter trip for over three months.
With the seasons for many fish still closed and knowing that most of the fish we can catch are too far out for my boat to get to in time, I can feel the heat. The pressure to get these folks into a bite is weighing heavily on my choices. I have several spots in mind, but mostly spots that hold fish we cannot keep, or may not be there at this time of year.
There’s a mom, dad and two young children between six and eight years old; girl and boy, respectively. They are excited and I can see the innocent anticipation in their eyes. They hop around, looking into the water with visions I can only imagine. I do, however, remember the feeling of euphoria my first fish provoked. I was with my grandmother on a small pond in mid-state N.Y. We were in a small jon-boat with my little sister. It was much like what I see on board at this very moment. I can feel the emotions being stirred in the souls of young minds. This is why I do what I do. More than forty years ago, I can still feel what it’s like. This young boy is me. I am him.
We have six hours to get it done. Trolling would most likely suck the life out of them. I need to find something to catch. My first spot was around five miles out of the pass and I ended last year’s season on this very reef. It was a really good catch and that trip was one of the most memorable trips a boat captain could ever ask for. The Percivals, may their folks rest in peace. As I approached, I gave my mate the five minute signal and as I glance back, he started putting the bait out on the rails for them. The young ones followed him like he had a bag full of Halloween candy. Smiling, tense and ready to stop the boat. You couldn’t break their concentration with a bomb.
As I pulled back the throttles, I heard them sound out the giddy scream I remember so well. It made me smile. All the while I was saying my prayers that we could at least get into some sort of bite. I searched the bottom for a short while and there it was. I saw the little hump that I recognized from before, and after getting oriented with the wind and current gave the signal to drop in. Now by this time Robert, my partner on the boat, had them ready to go. Hooks baited, poles over the rail, tutorial fresh in their minds. As I give the go-ahead, I focus on my duties and concentrate on the wind and current to stay on-site. Not too hard to do today. Less than a minute later I hear Robert yell out “fish on!” How sweet that sound is, I thought. Then a double.
Then before I knew it, all of them were hooked up. I felt a slight relief, but I also know that anything could happen. They quickly brought up two fish in the first drop, not too bad. Those who have never fished like we do can really have a difficult time getting the hang of it, especially when the gear is not sized for such small hands. But they had the gear we could outfit them best with. And wouldn’t you know it, the first two that hit the deck were from the kids.
We fished that spot for about thirty minutes and it seemed they were hitting pretty good. Most drops were successful other than some spit the hook, as usual. Everyone was having a great time. Most of the pressure had gone and I was glad to see them doing what they came to do. I was prepared to sit here for as long as it took for them to get tired or the fish to stop biting. Bait after bait was going down and getting hit. It was exactly what makes a trip worth taking. The fish were not giants, but there were a lot of them. These folks were busy, very busy.
And just when you least expect it, they quit.
Someone flipped the switch. For several minutes, nothing was happening. Bait still on the hooks when they brought them up, no bites. They looked very perplexed and a thought came to me. And no sooner than I could say it, there they were. Porpoise. One, then two, then three, rolling on top of the water to get a good look at us. I know they were wondering when we would hook them up with a fresh fish. They are masters of stripping the hook off our fish without touching anything but the fish. We tried to drop a few more times and after the kids got their fill of the thieves, I started looking at my book for another spot. I checked the numbers and found another one about four miles away. We got the message from Flipper and pulled up and hit the next stop. We spent the next two hours on three more spots with not a single bite. Things were turning bad, fast.
Time waits for no man and we had one more stop before we had to call it a day. This last spot is called the “Liberty Ship”. It’s a public reef that has been there for many years and I wondered if it was going to be very productive, if at all. We got there, I got rounded up on it, gave the signal and for the next 45 minutes, they wore themselves out. Every time they dropped, they were not only catching a single fish, but bringing up four at a time. We had four hook rigs to increase their chances and it could not have been planned any better. As much as I hated to do it to them, I had to. I finally blew the signal and we had to pull up for the last time.
I gave Robert a few minutes to get everything stowed for the ride back to the hill, hit the head and opened the fish box just to take a peek and shake some hands. I chatted a short while and they looked like they had been through a hurricane. For a family of four that had never been out like that, it was a very good trip. I was very proud to have helped them with such an adventure. We hit the dock right on time and there was a small crowd there, milling around. Robert had counted the fish on the way in the pass and after getting them on the dock he gave the number. Exactly two hundred and fifty fish. Two hundred and fifty! They waited very patiently while I helped Robert clean them and bag them up. These kids and their parents had the time of their lives. What’s more, they did it on a day when I thought it was more probable that they wouldn’t. It keeps me in perspective with the wild outdoors. You really can’t tell how things will turn out. So when you get a little discouraged, keep the faith. You never know.