New Year, Old Friends
As I get older – as in “ancient” - I probably should get less excited about one year ending and a new one beginning. After all, it really means I’m getting ever closer to that ultimate permanent vacation. However, as those same years pass, I find myself almost looking more forward to that transition than ever because it means that I’m also getting closer to again seeing the friends who now comprise our ever-growing “Hooker” fishing family. As I’ve repeated many times, by far the best part about this charter gig is the people we meet and the friendships we form. We’re at the point now with a large number of our clients where we know each year when they’ll be down and when we will be sharing great fishing days and fun “Happy Hour” afternoons with them just “catching up.” It’s like having one long, continuously evolving family reunion. When some family members leave, others arrive to take their place. It’s hard not to get excited about that and this year started out as a classic example.
Dr. Victor O. Lucia, Jr., a dentist from Union City, NJ, and his three grown sons – Victor, Kevin and Kyle – are a favorite branch of that “Hooker” family. They have made the “reunion” at around the same time – New Year’s – for the last few years. As with most families, the Lucia branch of our “clan” is a diverse group with interests so varied that you wonder how they developed so differently, having grown up in the same incubating environment. Son Victor, a lacrosse player and current private school athletic coach, is the avid fisherman in the group. He loves learning whatever he can about how and why we do things, and also loves getting himself dirty helping the mate get the lines out and the fish hooked. Kevin, a student who plans to follow his dad’s lead and become a dentist, seems to love ours trips too, but with slightly less enthusiasm than fanatic brother Vic. On the other hand, Kyle, a professional dancer currently working in Europe – most lately in a French production of Romeo and Juliet - is the most blasé about our trips. He’ll help out, but seems just as happy simply hanging out with his dad and brothers, caring less if he catches a fish or not. Dad usually just relaxes and watches the boys catch the fish, while gladly paying the bill at the end with a big smile on his face. (Speaking of smiles, not surprisingly for the sons of a dentist, the boys all have great ones.)
As has been their usual routine, the Lucias booked three full-day trips with a day off in between each one. The first was just before the new year and last two the week after. You’ll know that they are serious about their fishing when I tell you that they booked their second trip for 6:45 AM on New Year’s Day! They said that they were here to fish, not party, but we still had party-type fun all three days. We caught a 33.5 pound wahoo, a kingfish, and some tunas on the first day. The next trip was a little slow, but we did get a couple of decent-sized dolphin. On the last day, we caught more dolphin and, then, our best fish just before “lines in,” a wahoo in that 15-20 pound range.
Young Vic also had a long-handled, waterproof GoPro camera and took some great underwater shots. Being able to eat their fish the same night it was caught – sashimi at The Boathouse one night, dinner at home the others - was just an added bonus and the icing on the cake for them.
Coinciding with the Lucias’ visit, Paul and Alison Brown, long-time friends from the Baltimore area, were also in town. Paul is the co-owner of Auto Solutions, a company that distributes automobile care products. Several years ago, we caught him his first blue marlin on the last line in the water on their first trip with us and we’ve been great friends ever since. I even wrote a story about that trip later for the old on-line version of FishMonster. Years later, he and Alison were nice enough to invite me to be one of just a handful of guests at their wedding down here. They now own a second home in Key West as well as a rental condo called “Papa’s Catch” and come down multiple times each year. Most recently, they opened a new, very unique art gallery on Duval last year – Adam Scott Rote Gallery.
Paul has fished a couple of dolphin tournaments with us the last two years and we were scheduled to take him, Alison, her mom and her stepdad out during their January visit. Unfortunately, weather forced a cancellation. Still, it was great to see their faces again and learn that they were well. It was also a treat to have a few cold ones with them on several occasions at their favorite Happy Hour spot, the Conch Republic Seafood Company, especially as Paul is almost always insistent on picking up my tab.
Just about the time the Browns were getting ready to leave, another branch of the family – the Talbert brothers – rolled into town. Doug is in his 70’s and has been married to his wife Donna, who comes to town with him, for 50 years now. They live in South Carolina and he is the owner of Creative Edge Lowcountry, a company that brokers flavors and fillings to the baking industry. Craig is in his 60’s (though I constantly tease him that he looks like the older one) and a widower. He is a resident of Minnesota and president of Advantage Marketing, which sells industrial products. Neither really look their age and they certainly don’t act it, especially when there is a beer or a happy hour involved. They usually come down a couple of times a year and have fished with us multiple times over the last 9 years. A few cold ones are always a necessary requisite for them during those trips. As a matter of fact, while they never get too crazy, their propensity to throw back a few while they’re fishing led one of my old mates to give them a very special nickname by which he always identified them. I won’t specify it here, lest it be misconstrued to make it seem that they imbibe more than do. Let’s just say that we have a great alternate “inside joke” way of referring to them that gives us all a lot of laughs.
Craig was only in for a week, while Doug and Donna had set aside three. We got Doug and Craig out once with a good local friend of mine, Mark Kern, and caught them four decent-sized dolphin on an otherwise slow half-day. Those fish were caught under, of all things, a floating dead pelican in about 300’ of water just outside the Vandenburg wreck area. Yes, that’s right, a bloated dead bird carcass got us our catch! (You just never know what kind of floating object might hide mahis or wahoos. We once even caught some under a floating airline-type pillow!) The guys got dinner out of that; they had the mandatory beers; we all had a lot of laughs; and Doug and Craig became good friends with Mark by the end of the trip. Factoring in that my mate and I made a little money, that was one hell of a great fishing day. Multiple good times at several happy hours with them were just an added bonus!
Interspersed with these reunions were many trips with new customers, too. They included an old college classmate, Bill Sanvidge - a former Marine/FedEx pilot - and his son; six young military “jet jocks;” some Brits who own the Billingsgate Fish Market in London; and another Brit who owns recreational stocked fishing ponds with his wife there. Hopefully, they will all become permanent members of our extended family. We were also fortunate in January to have an extremely voracious wahoo bite about 12 miles to the west in an area known locally as the “west end of the sandbar” That bite took place from about 120’ of water on the outside edge of the bar out to the area of an old submarine wreck in about 240’. Six hour and longer trips allowed us to get there and usually resulted in multiple wahoo hookups which continuously reminded us why they are the most aptly named fish I know – “wahoo” in this part of the world and “ono” (pronounced “oh no”) in the Pacific islands. To understand why those names are so appropriate, you have to realize that a wahoo can run at about 60 m.p.h. when it grabs a bait, leading to cries of joy (“wahoo!!!”) while line buzzes off the reel at a high speed. However, about 50% or more of them manage to pull the hook before you can boat them, leading to equally loud cries of exasperation (“oh no!”) Couldn’t have named the fish better if you tried! We heard a heck of a lot of those “wahoos” on our January trips. While we also heard more than our share of “oh nos,” the action was hot enough that almost every such trip was a total blast!
So, in looking back at the month I’ve got to say – yeah, I’m a bit older. But if next January can be half as much fun as this one was, passage of time be damned, I can’t wait!
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