If you fish often, you know there are those days that are so sweet that it feels as if all the planets are perfectly aligned and that all is right in the world. Sure, you have more than your share of “stinkers” but, when you have those really great days, they make you forget the bad ones instantly. You remember the “skunks” for a while, but the great days stay in your memory forever. Perhaps surprisingly, those great days don’t necessarily involve catching the largest or most fish!
In my book, the most important elements of a great fishing day are the people. That obviously includes the crew. A captain or mate with a lousy disposition can make even the best catch less enjoyable. But it definitely involves the customers as well. If they have the right attitude, the crew will work even harder to see that they are rewarded with a great day. Just as a bad attitude can ruin an otherwise good trip, the right one can make any trip fun and a great memory. That’s a lesson I learned very early in my career in Key West.
Jim Feldman and Pat Thorbin are a married coupled who share unique memorable coincidental dates. Before they met, they were both married previously on the exact same date and, later, got married three years to the date of their first meeting. They were among my very first customers on the old Fatal Attraction in 2005 and we caught them NO fish– as in NIL, ZERO, NADA, ZILCH– on a 6 hour charter. Not even one bite, despite the fact we gave them an extra hour to try to make a miracle happen. The dreaded “skunk.” They were friendly throughout; we had a lot of laughs; and they seemed pleasant enough at the end, even saying that they would come back again. But I’m thinking: “Yeah SURE! New captain, new customers (to me – they had fished the Fatal with the previous owner), 7 hours and no fish!! Oh, yeah! They’ll be back! Fat chance!”
Lo and behold, a few months later, I get a phone call. The woman identifies herself as Pat Thorbin and the imaginary aroma of “skunk” instantly fills my nostrils. She says: “You probably don’t remember me....” I immediately convince her otherwise by telling her in detail about her earlier rendezvous with Pepe Le Pew. Next thing I know, she says that she wants to take Jim out on our boat again for his sixtieth birthday. Shocked, I ask her why the heck she would want to do that to a nice guy like Jim. After all, we got SKUNKED the last time! Her simple response still reverberates with me today: “Because we had FUN!” What a great concept!
The best part of the story is that we subsequently took them out for Jim’s 60th and caught him a 35-40 pound mahi and several other smaller ones as well. Now that was FUN!! They’ve been loyal clients since and Jim never fails to correct me when I use that “C” word - “customer” - rather than the “F” word - “friend “ - in describing him and Pat. He’s right. They are true friends!
Jim and Pat hadn’t fished with us in quite a while, due largely to some medical issues with which Jim was dealing. This year, Pat called to advise that they wanted to go out again on Sunday, November 17, their twelfth wedding anniversary. We got together for drinks when they arrived on Friday and Jim casually said that he wanted to try to get a sailfish. The last time they fished with us, he had been in the head when a sail hit and Pat got the honor. He wanted his own shot this time, but said he would gladly take a wahoo or even nothing just to be out on the water having a good time with a friend.
We went out early – before 7 AM - on Sunday and Jim had his sailfish on before we even got all of our spread out, proving that nice things DO happen to nice people. He did a masterful job of getting it to the boat for the catch and a few pictures. Just minutes after that, we caught Pat a large blackfin tuna – which later became a great sashimi lunch at the Boat House bar. So, the trip was made in the first hour and I don’t think that any of us stopped smiling the rest of the morning as we continued to catch blackfin and skipjack tuna with regularity. Sure, that catch would have been a fantastic trip with just about any customer on any day, but the fact that it was with great people/friends on a special day made it one of those memories that I’ll think about – and smile about – forever!
Then, on Monday, Pat and Jim dropped by the boat just to visit. While they were there, Kelly and Stacy Jorgensen from the Seattle area came by and inquired about our charter trips. After hearing about our trip with Jim and Pat and seeing a photo of their sashimi lunch, Kelly booked a half day for Tuesday. He said Stacy wasn’t really into fishing and he wasn’t sure she could do more than four hours.
The next morning, they showed up about a half hour early for a 7 AM start. That endeared them to my mate Jerry Pope and me immediately. Speaking of Jerry, as we only had two customers, I told him that he could bring his girlfriend Susanna as a “ride along” to just observe and help where she could. As I’ll explain later, that worked out better than expected.
Kelly mentioned that he had never caught a sailfish and hoped we could get lucky and find one. Just as on Sunday, we got a bite – a nice blackfin – shortly after 7 AM, only a few minutes into our fishing. After that, however, things slowed and we didn’t get another bite for well over an hour. However, Kelly had Jerry to talk fishing and Stacy had Susanna to talk about other things. I could hear a lively banter going on between them down in the cockpit the whole time, with regular bouts of laughter, so I figured that everyone was enjoying themselves. As we neared the two hour mark of the trip with no other bites, I offered them the option of hitting the reef to try for snappers or groupers, but Kelly opted to stay in the blue water and try for that sail. They had already caught lunch – the tuna – and were having a good time, so he wanted to roll the dice. That endeared him to us even more, as that has always been our preferred modus operandi. Kelly’s gamble paid off big-time! About 15 minutes later we had a strike, then another, and then a third. When the first one broke the surface, we could see it was the sail Kelly wanted. The other two turned out to be sails as well, and Stacy had to be pressed into action, uttering the immortal line “strap it on” when Jerry’s girlfriend offered her a fishing belt. (Some lines just take on different contexts on a boat called the “High Class Hooker” and we all got a great laugh out of that afterward!) When the dust cleared, we had lost one fish but Kelly and Stacy each still had one left to fight. I can’t tell you how cool it was to watch this couple each fight their first sail simultaneously and see them both do it successfully. Kelly got his to the boat first and then Stacy got hers shortly thereafter, making for some great pics and some even better smiles. After that, things turned slow again – one small bonito – but the double sail duel made the day. And, just like Jim and Pat, Kelly and Stacy got to enjoy a great sashimi lunch with their blackfin at the Boat House to celebrate.
Afterward, I reflected back on the tremendous experience both those trips had been. Seeing old friends celebrate a big day in their lives with a great catch and a great lunch, and then seeing two new friends enjoy a tremendously rare “first in a lifetime” experience simultaneously are two memories that I know I’ll cherish for a long, long while - and I’m pretty sure they will too! Stacy’s “strap it on” line was just the icing on the cake! And you know what? Now I can’t seem to remember those bad fishing days that I know I must have had recently.
Yeah, we caught some great fish, but in all honesty it was the people for whom we did it that made the experience as memorable as it was. I only hope that we get to share some similar experiences with them in the not too distant future. Why don’t you pick a Key West charter captain and try to make some memories of your own.
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