My new friend and neighbor in Florida has been threatening to take me out for a ride on his boat for about three years. Last month we finally headed out twelve miles into the Gulf of Mexico for a day of fishing. The cloudless sky was as blue as the nearly flat water on an ideal February day. As we ventured further into open water we eventually lost sight of land, but it didn’t make me nervous. I was in clearly capable hands.
But I was mistaken. I was informed that we weren’t going fishing. We were going catching. I was about to learn the difference, and I swear that this story is true.
Now, I’ve never caught anything bigger than a Bluegill or Sunfish in a local retention pond. Even on fishing charters, I stand with my empty pole, examining the horizon and enduring some kind of sea-curse while others gleefully pull a variety of fish into the boat.
“You’ll be frustrated with me,” I said, “when you find out how bad at this I am.”
My captain tweaked the settings on his astoundingly sophisticated navigational Garmin and just smiled as he throttled up and headed to a favorite spot, pinpointed on a digital chart full of other such locations.
If any idiot can catch a fish, I was the perfect candidate to test the theory.
A clear plastic baggy full of shrimp emerged from a cooler. I pulled the head and tail off of one slimy, gray creature, it’s cold body chilling my fingers as I embedded a hook from one end of the body to the other.
I was taught to hang my pole over the side of the boat and let the line play out until I felt it stop, at a depth of about 50 feet.
“Jig it up a little,” I was instructed. On the Garmin, a colorful sonar profile of the rocky bottom showed peaks and valleys – perfect for fish. I guess I was moving the bait in order to simulate live food.
I prepared for a long wait, settling back in my chair and trying to just enjoy the sound of the water gently lapping at the hull of our boat, rocking gently with a hypnotic rhythm that….BAM!
My line pulled tight, the slender fiberglass rod bending nearly in half from the weight and struggle of a snagged fish. I reeled like crazy, winding fifty feet of line back onto the pole and lifting skyward until a large red snapper broke the water’s surface.
The entire sequence of events had taken only a couple of minutes. We unhooked the fish, tossed it into a live well and repeated the process. And repeated, and repeated. Every time I put a line in the water, another snapper struck. We were both catching, often two at the same time, off of both sides of the boat, in a seemingly choreographed sportsman’s fishing highlights video.
As I lifted a particularly large specimen out of the water, my phone rang. Yes, twelve miles out in the Gulf, I had a signal, and I had to answer. I was on a more difficult fishing expedition back in Chicago. And catching back home was of paramount importance. On land, the bait was a house, and the call was to tell me we had caught a buyer. We had sold!
“This is the best day EVER!” I yelled, as I continued hauling in my fish. And indeed, we continued to load the live well until we’d reached the limit for the day.
So it turns out that there are those who fish, and those who catch. I have joined the ranks of the catching. And I keep in mind the need to be truthful about the adventure I’ve related, because in the words of Mark Twain, "Do not tell fish stories where the people know you. Particularly, don't tell them where they know the fish." And my captain surely knows his fish!