Luck is a Lady
Guys and Dolls” is a multiple award winning Broadway musical which debuted in 1950, starring Robert Alda, who is probably better known for being the dad of TV’s “M.A.S.H” star Alan. It had a long, successful original run - 1,200 performances - and later became a very popular movie musical as well as starring, believe it or not, Marlon Brando. (Yep! The famed mumbler actually did a musical!) There have also been multiple successful revival productions since the original run. The music was written and scored by the famous lyricist Frank Loesser, and probably the most well-known song that came from the show was “Luck Be a Lady,” which later became a signature Frank Sinatra standard. Think about it! Marlon Brando sang and was identified with the song before “Ol’ Blue Eyes.” While Marlon did a yeoman-like job on the song in the movie (you can check it out on YouTube), if that isn ‘t going from the ridiculous to the sublime, I don’t know what is!
That’s all great trivia but what in the heck, you may ask, does it have to do with fishing? Well, a while back - June, 2012 - I wrote an article entitled “Mr. Lucky” about a customer, Mike Downs, who always seems to have the golden horseshoe with him when he fished with us. Since then, in the interest of fairness and sexual equality, I’ve been waiting for luck to be a lady and for “Mr. Lucky’s” distaff counterpart, “Lady Luck,” to make her appearance. After all, mythologically and metaphorically, luck is most often personified as a female. I’m pleased to say that, after over 8 years of trips, we’ve finally found our Fortuna (Roman), our Tyche (Greek) - our goddess of good fortune - and her name is Jennifer, the now official lucky fishing goddess of the “High Class Hooker.”
Jennifer Helling is a credit card charge processing specialist with Infintech here in Florida. She chartered us on August 7 for a 6 hour afternoon trip, as we already had a morning trip booked with another group. In keeping with the “Guys and Dolls” theme, she brought along her friend Wendy Bell, who does similar work for a bank - Vantive. They were the “Dolls,” and two 13 year old boys - Jen’s son Travis Helling and his friend Jared Brown - were the “Guys.”
Jen and Wendy had been out with us before on June 12. The “Guys” weren’t on that trip. Instead, Jen brought along her ten year old daughter, Hailey. As you can see from the photo accompanying this article, despite the fact that she plays in a full contact co-ed tackle football league and loves “tomboy” things such as fishing, Hailey is a true “living doll.” We had a great day, catching Jen a large sailfish, which she did a great job of getting to the boat, and we caught some mahi as well. Hailey not only caught mahi, she also helped our mate with the baits and the lines, and later helped me drive the boat. Definitely one of the coolest young girls I’ve ever met! And, it could have been an even better day. Jennifer also hooked a wahoo better than 20 pounds which we actually had on the gaff over the stern of the boat when it shrugged mightily, spitting the hook and freeing itself from the gaff in one motion, causing us to lose it. That cost us a “Key West Offshore Grand Slam.” In the small view, that was bad luck, but in the big picture we still had a great day with some great ladies and I sure felt lucky they had come out with us.
The really amazing thing was that, on her most recent previous charter trip in April in Miami, Jen had also landed a sailfish. She showed me a photo, and it was a big one! I’ve known some really serious male anglers who go years without catching one sailfish, and here’s Jen getting two on consecutive trips. Lots of luck involved in that, but definitely some skill, too.
Jen was supposed to fish with us again on July 24, but other commitments interfered. However, she said that she would come back again in August and she did, this time with the “Guys” mentioned above. We knew that we had a tough act to follow and that the fishing had been spotty - a lot of small “throwback” mahis with an occasional 20 pounder thrown in. As mentioned above, we had a 4 hour charter in the morning before Jen’s trip and all we caught were several barely “keeper” or less mahi, all in 200 to 400’ of water. We kept two of the legal ones for our customers’ dinner and threw the rest back.
That was what we were expecting in the afternoon as well, but we decided to try a little deeper just because we had 6 hours instead of 4. So, we ran out to 600’ of depth and put the lines in there. In about 680’, the downrigger tripped and line began spilling off straight back in a classic wahoo-type run. A lot of sweat and good rod-handling by Jared later, we had a nice 15 pound or so wahoo in the box. Not as big as the one we lost on the June trip, but the first one we’d seen in a while and, because of the one we’d lost, it just seemed more than appropriate that we got one this time. Jen and Wendy were really happy, since we had told them previously that we thought wahoo were the best eating fish we caught, and Jared knew he had caught a nice fish, so the pressure was off and everyone instantly relaxed even more.
After that, we made it out to about 800’ with no further strikes and were at the halfway point of the trip time-wise, so we decided to turn around and head back north toward home. Another half hour or so later, we passed back through the 600’ depth at which we had started with no further strikes and I was starting to believe that we had seen our one good fish for the day. Just then, in about 500’, the downrigger “popped” again and line spooled off at a very high and very audible speed. Suddenly, at a good distance behind the boat, a large fish broke the water, shook itself violently, then disappeared below the surface, only to repeat the scene again even further back. From the way it thrashed in the water, I was at first convinced that it was some type of billfish. However, as we gained line and could see “color,” it became apparent that we had hooked a large mahi in the 30 to 40 pound range. Travis was in the chair for the fight and giving it his all, but this was a fish that wasn’t going to come to the boat quietly. It made several runs then sounded deep. There were times when it seemed that Travis was ready to give up and pass the rod on to Jen or Wendy, but the girls would hear none of that. Instead, they became Travis’ own personal squad of bikini-clad cheerleaders, constantly shouting encouragement and urging him not to give up on a “once in a lifetime” fish for a boy his age. It worked and, with our mate’s help and guidance, Travis hung in there. After about a 20 minute fight, he had boated a beautiful 37 pound bull dolphin. The combined look of elation and exhaustion on his face was one of those moments you cherish - as a mom in Jen’s case or as a charter captain in mine - and I can’t tell you how gratifying the scene was to see and how happy everybody on board instantly became. It’s moments like that which make all the hard work of maintaining and running a charter fishing boat seem like nothing and make you wonder why anyone would want to do anything else.
The last part of the trip sealed Jen’s title as our reigning “fish goddess.” From our own experience and from what I was hearing over the radio from other boats, the bite had basically died by the late afternoon, so I offered to take Jen and her crew home an hour early if she wanted to save a few bucks. Her response was quick and precise: “Heck no! I want to fish!” How can you not love a lady like that.
Afterwards, it hit me that it had been several weeks - June 1 - since we had caught a comparable mahi (that one was 40.1 pounds) and that made me realize what a relatively incredible streak Jen was on. I began to think. This was “Mr. Lucky” all over again. No matter how slow the bite might be, all it takes is for a Mike Downs or a Jennifer Helling to show up and big fish just can’t wait to grab your baits. That sure makes the trip a lot more fun!
Jen promises that she’ll be back soon and often, and I sure hope that’s true. Her kids are a joy to have on board and I can’t wait to see what magical big fish she’ll make appear the next time. Until then, or until another fishing goddess shows up on the “Hooker,” I guess that every now and then I’ll just have to try to conjure up the mojo and the good memories of our trips with Jennifer by having “Ol’ Blue Eyes” repeat that old refrain on my playlist:
“Luck be a lady....”
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