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Anyone who fishes knows that fishing with kids is a totally different game. I love having my kids along, but when the boys were 6 and 9, their tangled lines, broken lures and snags on land-growing trees usually took so much of my time that I didn’t get to fish. So for Mother’s Day one year, my husband treated me to a 4-hour fishing guide in the Florida flats!
I began my search for a fishing charter captain at my favorite tackle shop, closest to our house (in Florida at the time). The shop-owner was on the phone when I arrived, so I busied myself looking at the shirts and hats bearing the store’s name. That’s when I heard him on the phone saying (ironically!), “NO!!! Don’t make me take that charter! I hate fishing with girls! That’s torture!”
I quietly left the store, never booking the trip, unbeknownst to the man who missed the sale. (and missed the sail – if I wanted a pun. 🙂 ) He doesn’t know what he missed!
Another marina I really liked, Jensens on Captiva, was a bit of a drive (or boat) away. On hot boating days, our family would often stop there for ice cream or a soda. There was a sign in the parking lot that said, “Reserved for Bob.” I didn’t know who “Bob” was, or if it was a joke, but he seemed pretty important to have his own professionally-made sign.
The man at the counter was excited to help me when I told him I was looking for a fishing guide. I asked if I could take my 6 and 9-year-old boys, and he said that some captains prefer no kids, but he thought “Bob” would be fine with it.
“Bob”? THE Bob? I booked, “Bob,” for the following Thursday at 7am.
The day arrived, and Casey, Nate and I loaded up the car, while Chris stayed home with the still-sleeping toddlers. We arrived dockside by 6:50am, so we wouldn’t miss any minutes of our fishing day! The boys and I loved to look at the live bait in the outside wells there. Fishing captains came in fancy sea-going boats with outriggers galore and stocked their live-wells with the baitfish, while their clients loaded. Groups of men and even a few couples came, found their assigned captains and loaded their chartered boats for their day at sea.
I built the boys’ dream, “Imagine what we could catch today! Do you think that one will catch a big one?” I asked, pointing to the largest of the pin fish in the bait well. That’s when I noticed things were getting quiet at Jensen’s Marina. It seemed like all of the fishing boats had come and gone.
Finally, at 7:30, thirty minutes past our meeting time, and eons since the last captain had left, I decided to ask if we were in the right place. The man behind the desk said, “Oh… Bob. You have Bob? Yeah… he’ll be here.”
I took this to mean that Bob was “usually” late.
Doubting began. I didn’t doubt that Bob would be there; I doubted that he was a good captain for our boat. “Usually” late? Wait – is that why he needed his parking spot reserved? Ugh.
Maybe he is the last on the list to take people out – and that’s why he got “stuck” with the “girl” and kids. Reality came to mind that this could possibly be a total scam. They just got some homeless guy and said I’d give him money if he pretended to fish for the day.
We waited… impatiently.
7:37. An unfitting boat pulled up to the dock near where we stood. The boat looked older than I. Ten years of grime had changed its color, making the original undistinguishable. The morning’s dew combined with the previous day’s slime to make a nasty swirl and stench. A dead crab and another unidentifiable animal lay in the corner where they had slid when the boat moved. The driver was probably fifty, but difficult to guess because of his sun-beaten skin. No hat. I wondered what this man was doing at a place like Jensens. Gas, I assumed. Yep, he filled up while the boys and I watched and tried not to stare, looking into the horizon for our chartered captain’s arrival.
Not really Bob’s boat, but…
He finished his gas duty, then turned to me and said, “You all can load up.”
Wait. What? Get on THAT thing?! This is “THE Bob”? No way. Can’t do it. Dis-gus-ting!
“Great!” both boys shouted and ran to his umm… boat. I must admit, I was so turned off, but noticing how my boys were not made me try to adjust my attitude so I didn’t ruin theirs.
“Bob,” he said, offering a hand as we climbed aboard.
“Casey,” the 9-yr-old said, taking his hand and giving it an enthusiastic shake.
“Ronaldo,” Nate said, since that’s what he wanted to be called those days. (See the story in my previous letter.)
“Terri,” I said, not offering to remove my shoes like normal boat protocol. I didn’t have to ask how he knew that we were his clients. We were the only “mom and two kids,” on the dock. Well actually, we were the only ones on the dock.
We set out into the water, when I realized that we didn’t get bait. Maybe he caught his own? I had a glimmer of hope that he knew what he was doing.
“Did you want to get live bait?” I asked, gesturing toward the dock we were leaving.
“No,” he said simply, not giving me the satisfaction of an explanation. Just, “no.”
He drove and the devil and angel on my shoulders conversed across my brain, attempting to win the battle for my attitude and belief that this day would be worth the money.
I couldn’t believe it when we stopped the boat still in sight of Jensens. I had been there a million times. We were not trolling like all of the fishing boats I had seen leaving the dock earlier.
He took out the “bait.” It was not alive. It looked like a hook from Walmart on which he had painted a head with red nail polish and an eye of black marker. $0.57 for a pack of ten, I cynically did math in my head. He put NO bait on this homemade “masterpiece,” just threw it over the side of the boat. I was getting mad at his lack of aptitude as a “professional”.
“I got something!” Casey said before the second line could go into the water. He reeled in a ladyfish. I chuckled at the luck of it… first cast!
I enjoyed his excitement while “Ronaldo” dropped his unbaited hook over the edge.
“Got one!” he yelled, while Bob worked at returning Casey’s fish to the water.
Do fish like red nail polish? Or Walmart hooks? Who knew?!
I dropped my line in to the same success. “Fish on!”
“We’ve never had a day of catching like this with YOU, Mom!”
Ouch. That hurt.
Other boats were making a beeline for our area. Big fancy ones. Trollers with high bridges. Boats full of men out for the day headed toward our little spot in view of the marina.
They caught nothing! All their live bait, all their fancy apparati, and they caught nothing. (Why did I sinfully enjoy that?!)
“Let’s feed the dolphins,” Bob said.
I thought to myself, You gotta be kidding. You have baitfish somewhere on here, but you are giving it to the dolphins instead of using it to fish?!
That’s when Bob took Casey’s latest ladyfish off of his line, walked four steps to the other
side of the boat, and held it over the side. A dolphin magically appeared and jumped out of the water for the fish.
We caught fish on the left and held them as snacks for the dolphins on the right for what seemed like hours. I felt like I was in some “Snow White does SeaWorld” dream.
Bob is a fish-whisperer!
However, ladyfish are easy and common. They don’t fight much. (I always thought “ladyfish” was a misnomer for that reason.) They are perfect for kid fun, but not good eating for anyone but dolphins.
“You like snapper?” Bob looked directly at me.
“I like fish… any kind!” I said, beginning to crack a smile.
He moved the boat over what felt like ten yards (or was it a circle? I don’t know: it all looked the same, still in sight of the Marina), and tossed in the same nail-polished bait, waited a minute and fish-on!
The tug was different, definitely not a “lady.” Sure enough, the red color could be seen through the water. Snapper for dinner! We caught those till we had enough when Captain Bob said, “Let’s see what the mackerels are up to today.”
“Casey and Ronaldo, the way we catch a mackerel is different than the others,” he explained in a full-out knowledgeable tone. Maybe he wasn’t a random homeless guy! “We can’t just drop the hook off the side of the boat. We’re going to cast it as far as we can, then jerk it up and down with the biggest arm motion we can make.”
“Ronaldo” went first. Bob did the casting to get it a good distance from the boat, but my son did the yanking – up and down and up and down. It looked like some kind of weird African dance that would certainly be too jerky for a fish. Then…
“ZZZZZIIIINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNG!” something hit and RAN! (or “swam?!”)
“Mackerel.” Captain Bob said, not showing much emotion, not even adding the “holy” in front of it.
Nate reeled and reeled, but the zing of the line indicated that the fish was still swimming away and not getting any closer to the boat.
“Come on, Nate! You can do it!” I cheered from the boat. This fish had to be a giant, the way it was fighting!
“I thought his name was Ronaldo?” Captain Bob gave me a strange look.
“Nickname,” I said, baffling Bob, I am sure.
Nate reeled and reeled and eventually, the fish succumbed to his beckon. A mackerel, just as Captain Bob predicted before the cast.
ZIIINNNNGGGG! Over and over.
The four-hour-trip felt like thirty minutes. We headed back to the marina, which I could still see!
The dolphins followed us a bit before heading off to the ocean. As we approached the
dock, pelicans came and landed right on our boat! (I couldn’t help but notice they were not on anyone else’s boat!) Captain Bob pulled up to the fish-cleaning table and the pelicans practically got in line behind him. (I couldn’t help but notice nobody else had fish to clean.) Bob threw the scraps the pelicans were expecting.
Without looking up from his cutting, Bob said nonchalantly, “They’re gonna lose their bait.”
I looked around wondering who he meant and whether I was supposed to do something. That’s when out of nowhere, an otter exited the water, climbed onto the dock, then onto someone’s empty boat, opened their cooler with his nose and began taking the bait out – one fish at a time!!! WHAT?! How did Captain Bob know? How did he see the otter coming? How did he know that boat had something in its cooler?
I asked if I should stop the otter from taking the fish, and he said something like, “If
they’re dumb enough to leave their cooler unlocked, then they deserve it.”
I blackened the mackerel on the grill for dinner. Yummm! Well worth its price!
The kids and I had the time of our lives! Bob is a genius! He deserves a parking place of his own!!
Besides the fun animal-sightings of the day (including a raccoon on our early morning drive), there were other takeaways for me:
- Don’t judge a book by its cover or a captain by his boat – or you might miss a really great story!
- Don’t ask someone to guide you, and then doubt their every move. Why bother having a guide if you know everything? Enjoy the ride, and judge the catch.
- When people start doubting my own guiding, I can give them some grace; afterall, I have had my doubts en route to my “Reserved for Bob” sign.
- Girls can fish too.
John 21: 3-7: 3“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. 6He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”