Age Before Beauty
“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish that they are after.”
-Henry David Thoreau
The generally accepted interpretation of that quote is that you should do things for the experience itself, not for the end result. That’s not just a great fishing philosophy but a life lesson as well and I’m sure Mr. Thoreau really meant it in that much broader life sense. Fortunately, when you’re a charter fishing captain, every now and then you get a trip (or in this case, three) that reminds you of what’s really important in life’s pursuits; the real reason we should be doing what we do; the privilege that it is to do it; and why it’s often hard to call this occupation “work.”
One of the recurring themes in my articles involves the ample daily slices of the vast range of humanity that we get to see and experience on and around our boat. Consecutive trips we had on March 27, 28 and 29 of this year provided perhaps the most simple yet concrete example of that I can imagine. Sort of “omega” and “alpha” trips that I’ll refer to as “age before beauty.”
On March 27 and 28, we had the pleasure of entertaining the oldest and one of the nicest customers we have ever had - 88 year old (yes, I said 88, as in born in 1925!) Nelson Heyer. The mere fact that he is still capable of enjoying a fishing charter at that advanced age made it an honor and privilege by itself to have him on board. The fact that he is also a retired Rear Admiral from the U.S. Naval Reserve made it even more so.
In regard to his military career, Nelson tried to join the army during the early years of World War II, when he was underage. He later joined the Navy near the end of the war, serving on troop transports and as a cryptoligist. He met his wife, who was one of the early Navy WAVES, while he was training to be a cryptologist. Now that’s a slice of real history.
After his stint in the regular Navy, Nelson stayed in the Naval Reserve, attaining the high rank mentioned above, while pursuing a career in human resources with IBM.
Nelson, his son Tom, and other family members had fished with us before and had a particularly memorable day last year on March 22 as evidenced by the attached photo. Nelson (second from the left), his son Tom (far left) and their crew had a field day with the mahi and wahoos. I knew then that he was obviously an older man, but didn’t know how old. Just wasn’t something I ever asked or they ever mentioned before. All I knew was that the man could sure fish. It wasn’t until that second trip this year on March 28 that the subject of Nelson’s exact age arose when Tom brought it up in response to a question I asked him about Nelson’s background. To say I was floored by the information would be a massive understatement. I suddenly realized that I had just spent two days watching the oldest person who has ever been on my boat catch fish with more ease than many hardy-looking forty year olds I regularly see. The thought of it still sort of amazes me.
At 64, this old captain just hopes he has half the spark and mental facility that Nelson does if I ever get the chance to live that long.
Unfortunately, this year the offshore bite was off, and the guys wanted to be sure to have dinner, so we spent most of our time those two days trolling on the reef. We did very well on the yellowtails, with a nice mutton snapper thrown in as well. The first day we trolled the area around Eastern Dry Rocks and Rock Key in about 20 to 30 feet of water outside the sanctuaries there and then did the same in the area around what is known as the 9 Foot Stake at about the same depths the second day. Both days yielded plenty of food for the guys. The second day was especially successful as we found a school of big yellowtail around a coral head on the southwest side of 9 foot that made for “easy pickins.”
As good as the reef fishing was those days, it was probably more gratifying just to watch how the guys gave Nelson his regular turn. Because he doesn’t move around as sprightly as he used to, he sat in one of the comfortable portable folding fighting chairs we have for just such an occasion and, when his turn came and a fish hit, one of the other guys would grab the rod and pass it to Nelson. Then, we’d all watch amazed at how he effortlessly brought in one after the other.
I was always real close with my dad before he passed away over 20 years ago at the age of 74, and it always brings back warm memories when I see a father and son interact the way Tom and Nelson did on those trips. Sure made for two very pleasant days and great memories.
By the way, Tom and I have another special connection. He’s also an ex-lawyer from the D.C area who did litigation and we’re both very happy with our subsequent career choices in that regard. His current job is managing multiple yachts for a very well-to-do customer.
After that great experience, the very next day I had the privilege of having on board one of the youngest (and maybe the cutest) anglers ever to catch a fish on the “Hooker” - 5 year old Sofie Pedersen from the area around Copenhagen, Denmark. She brought along her dad, Caspar, who works in the private equity biz in Denmark; his pretty wife Julie, who , coincidentally, is an active corporate lawyer there; and Sofie’s equally cute younger sister, Laura. Not only were the ladies beauties., the whole family was just as nice as could be. The daughters didn’t speak English but they had those kind of smiles that just brightened the whole boat and made you want to try like heck to do whatever it took to keep the smiles coming. Fortunately, with Sofie, that became easy, as the fish cooperated and every fish she reeled in just made her smile (and mine) even brighter. As cool as it was watching “Ancient Mariner” Nelson amazingly do his thing, it was probably even more gratifying to watch little Sofie. When a fish hit, my mate Cullen or her dad would hand her the rod and then help her hold it as she turned the handle of the reel ever so slowly but steadily until the fish was ours. I had the opportunity to watch that miracle multiple times and I can’t fully express the “Kodak Moment” feeling I got every time. Maybe the photo attached to this article will give you some idea of the experience beyond any words I could try to use to describe it.
Mom and little sister Laura just watched proudly, but I’m sure they could not have enjoyed little Sofie’s act any more than I did. Made me smile almost the whole trip. Maybe the best part was that on the ride home the family sat in the fly bridge with me and little Sophie kept glancing at me with twinkling, big, beautiful eyes and an ever bigger smile. Even though we couldn’t communicate verbally, I sensed that she knew that we both just had a very special day - one that I enjoyed at least as much as she did.
Hopefully, that trip lit a spark in Sofie so that she will continue to look forward to fishing with her dad. From talking to him, I know he loves fishing, and it’s kind of cool to hope that maybe someday Sofie’s dad will live to be Nelson’s age and that maybe Sofie will still enjoy their trips together as much as Nelson and Tom do. After all, isn’t that really why we go fishing - to relax and have a memorable experience on the water, whether you’re alone or with family or friends? All too often, we as charter captains measure ourselves by what or how much we’ve caught rather than by whom or how many we’ve captivated. I know that I find myself falling into that trap all too often, until a trip with a Nelson Heyer or a Sofie Pedersen reminds me what this is really all about. Sure, we “only caught a bunch of snappers” and nothing glamorous, but I wouldn’t trade the experiences I had on the trips with Nelson and Sofie for the best sailfish catching day we’ve ever had.
Maybe, just maybe, I now more fully realize “that it is not fish they are after” when men, or even cute little ladies, go fishing.
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