All Not Quiet on a Western Front
A Key West Dolphin Fishing Experience
"All Quiet on the Western Front” was a novel written by Erich Maria Remarque, a German army vet from WWI, about the horrors of war and, in particular, its effect on the young men forced to endure it. According to Wikipedia, it was first published in 1928 in a German magazine and then in book form in 1929. The German title was actually literally “Nothing New in the West,” and “All Quiet on the Western Front” was simply a later liberal American translation, but that latter name stuck. Then, in 1930, it became a film in this country which won the Oscar for Best Picture.
I was fortunate enough to be made to read the book in high school, probably because our English teacher thought that it’s starkly anti-war theme was extremely relevant in the “Cold War” era of the early 60’s and in light of our ever-increasing involvement in Southeast Asia at the time. Later, I also got to see the film on TV, and both made a profound impression, so the title and moral have stayed in my head permanently. If you have the chance, read it or see it.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, militarily, a front is the foremost line of an armed force or the furthest position it has reached and where the enemy is or may be engaged. Meteorologically, it is the forward edge of an advancing air mass. In war, being on the military front is not a good thing, whether or not you’re a combatant. In our business, being on the edge of a weather front is traditionally considered to be bad as well, at least for for the offshore bite, especially if the front is coming from the west. Now I’m not going to trivialize the real agony of warfare by trying to analogize it to fishing, but the title of Mr. Remarque’s work does bear some relationship to fishing here in general and to a trip we took on March 7th in particular.
I should preface this story by saying that, according to some, my not growing up here fishing my whole life – actually I never did grow up and I just moved to the Keys about ten years ago – puts me at a disadvantage from a local knowledge point of view. While that may be true in some cases, I have found that it can, at times, also be a big advantage. For instance, I wasn’t brainwashed at a young age by ideas that I’ve since heard here such as “don’t go south on a north wind” or “wind from the west – day of rest.” So, maybe I’m a little more likely do do something stupid like head deep to the South on days when other guys stay closer to the reef. Of course, having a big, stable offshore boat helps, too. However, every now and then when I do that we get lucky, find something, and it pays off big-time. That’s what happened on this full day trip.
Our customers that day were Joe Moody and his son Michael. They also brought friends from the Sandy/Salt Lake City, UT area - Mark Pyper, his sons Luke and Owen, and another young friend of the boys, Matthew West. Joe is the VP of Engineering and Product Development at Western Oilfield Supply and has a second home here. Mark is a Senior VP/Financial Advisor with Morgan Stanley in Salt Lake. The boys are all serious lacrosse players and were on their way to a tournament in Orlando, stopping here for some R&R and fishing first.
Joe is sort of an atypical customer for me. Usually, I take someone fishing, we become friends and then wind up doing happy hours together when they’re in town. With Joe, we met at numerous happy hours first, became friends, and then he became a customer, too. That may be backwards but, then again, so is Joe. (Just kidding!) We’ve always had a great time when he’s fished (or drank) with us in the past, but this trip was going to be sort of special because we were going to have the boys along. Joe said that they had been looking forward to it and to catching “something big” offshore for weeks. So, I was more than a little concerned when the forecast was for west to northwest winds of about 20 knots as a front pushed though from that direction. My fear was that not only would it be very “bouncy,” if not flat-out rough, but that the front would shut the bite down as well. Conventional wisdom would have been to stay on or near the reef, take what we could get, and not get beaten up by the waves. In talking with Joe, however, everybody wanted to take a chance, head deep, and hope for something special. I told him there was a good chance that we could get “skunked” and that they could get sick, but the boys wanted to “go for it” regardless. As that is what my mate and I always prefer, i.e. go for the “home run” and not the “bunt single,” I readily agreed. In retrospect, we were all glad we did.
I decided that the easiest course was with the wind, out to the southeast. With the wind behind us, the ride out would be relatively smooth and I hoped that would keep everybody from losing their breakfast overboard, at least for a while. The ride home would be another story, but we’d worry about that when the time came. True to predictions, the deeper we got, we began to see 5 foot seas with an occasional 8 footer. Worse, we didn’t get a bite for the first 3 hours or so. However, I also kept seeing isolated patches of loosely-formed Sargasso grass and tons of flying fish from 500 feet on out, giving me a continuing sense of optimism that the desired miracle could happen. Then, as we passed near a patch in about 800 feet, one line exploded and a large mahi began thrashing about wildly, followed shortly by a slightly smaller fish on a second line. Mark got in the chair to fight the first one and Luke strapped on a fighting belt to battle the second. Up to that point, the trip had been “all quiet” on this western front. That changed abruptly. Two fish were causing commotion in the water and the cockpit became a hive of frantic activity. Our mate Jerry enlisted the other guys to help clear free lines while he simultaneously coached the two anglers on how to properly control their fish, with everyone trying to keep their feet as I spun the boat time after time to “follow” our prey. Suddenly we weren’t just lazily trolling with the wind and, every time we had to turn sideways to the waves, the boat bobbed and weaved in its best Mike Tyson impersonation, rocking and rolling as we tried to avoid the punches from the waves or, at least, deflect them and not take one on the chin. If you’ve never fought a big fish in rough seas, where the fish controls the direction of your boat, it can be, at best, a great adrenaline rush or, at worst, a nightmare. I actually once had a Turkish woman scream like a banshee in fear every time the boat heaved and tottered while we were fighting a big sail in 5-7 foot seas. Her shrieks scared me and my mate more than the seas did!
Anyway, with smart direction by Jerry, great teamwork by the guys, and skillful angling by Luke, we were able to get the smaller fish (20+ pounds) to the boat in about 10 minutes. That allowed me to then back down on the larger one, which wasn’t budging. Again, backing down in rough seas when you can’t pick your course can be very “hairy” – and this was. We took several large swells over the stern, one of which gave Mark a saltwater bath he didn’t want. He hung in, though, and, after about a half hour fight, we had a large bull dolphin – 60 inches and 42 pounds on the dock scale later – in the box. To say that the boys were amped would be inadequate. And it didn’t matter that we didn’t get a bite the last half of the trip or that we got the crap beat out of us on the ride home. They had their memory and something to brag about to their friends at the lacrosse tournament where, I was told later, they became instant heroes because of the story and photos of our catch. To top it off, Mark had a trophy fish for his wall and we had some very grateful customers.
I guess the lesson here is that, sometimes, going against the grain of conventional wisdom works. To my knowledge, every other Key West charter boat that day stayed much closer to shore. Because it turned out to be not “all quiet on the western front,” that trip will certainly encourage me to throw common wisdom to the winds, risk PTSD and go for broke again when we get a customer that has a like mindset. It doesn’t work every time, but when it does, the rewards can be awesome!
Michael Moody continues to have an amazing year. 35 days after he and his father/friends caught the big fish mentioned in this article, he and his lacrosse team made number 1 on the Sportscenter 4/11 top ten plays of the day. You can view the play at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7RfJSH3MM4. Michael is the goalie who makes the save and flips the ball to a defenseman, who then throws in a length-of-the-field goal. What does Michael do now the rest of the year for excitement?
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