Small Bodies, Big Hearts

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One of the great aspects of my job as a charter fishing captain is that I  am reminded constantly about life lessons that I learned at a younger age but sometimes forget in the daily job of living. I see people and things that jog my memory about those life lessons, which helps me keep my head screwed on straight and my priorities in order. One of those lessons is that some of the smallest bodies carry the biggest hearts. Neil and Kerri Abney hail from Ohio. They and their daughters – Katelyn (13) and Karaline (11) - are repeat customers who have stayed in touch with me via e-mails in between annual visits here. Karaline even sent me a hand-drawn card last year with picture of a fish. Because of those contacts, I knew a couple of things. First, both Neil and Kerri have great jobs with solid incomes and can afford to go on our relatively costly private charters even multiple times without sharing the trip with others. Second, they and the girls are some of the nicest people I know. wc-6-5-14-Mullen-4They had booked two full day trips this year, June 5 and 7. Just before those trips, on Tuesday, June 3, I was greeted by the sight of a smiling young man – Chase Mullen, age 13 - as I came back to the dock after a trip. He and I had talked last year about how much he liked my boat and fishing, and he was just there to say “Hi” and see how we did. As we talked, his mom, LuAnn, asked if we had any trips on which we could possibly take Chase and his dad, Wayne, along. Chase wanted to go badly, but they had never gone offshore fishing before and were reluctant to incur the full cost of a private charter until they knew whether or not they would enjoy it. I explained that we did private charters only, but that  I would keep my ears open if any one else approached with a similar request. Even though I am reluctant to mix people I don’t personally know – the wrong mix can ruin even the best trip – I selfishly hoped I could accommodate them, as we had an open date on Friday the 6th, the fishing was great, and, most basically, I could always use the money. I thought about calling the Abneys to see if they would mind adding Chase and Wayne to their Thursday trip, but selfishly wanted to wait to see if I could find somebody to share a Friday charter, so I could get the additional trip and the additional cash. But, when we came came back to the dock on Wednesday, June 4, there was Chase again, with his mom, waiting for us to see what we had. His eyes lit up when he saw our great catch of mahi but ,when I told him that I had yet to find a share for Friday, I could see his disappointment. That tugged at my heart, and I made a split-second decision to call the Abneys about getting Chase and Wayne out Thursday, even though I was reluctant to impose on their family outing by injecting strangers into it. I went inside to make the call and explained the situation to Neil. He said “Let me ask the girls,”  then came back almost immediately with “Sure, the girls all said that, if the little guy wants to go that much, why not!” As I came back outside, Chase and LuAnn were leaving and about 20 yards away. I called Chase back and told him the news. He immediately yelled excitedly and ran to get his mom to tell her. The look on his face was a great thing to see. wc-6-7-14-Abney-1The trip the next day went almost perfectly. Everybody caught multiple mahis early and often. Neil even got a 20+ pounder just a couple hours into it. Then, at about the 5 hour mark, it was Chase’s turn again. A big explosion engulfed one of the baits and a large mahi - 41.5 pounds - began thrashing about wildly with one of our hooks in his mouth. For the next hour and twenty minutes, 80 pound Chase gave that fish everything he had. He got it close several times, only to have the fish rally and make another run. Every time he thought about giving up, the Abney ladies shouted encouragement and cheered him on. It was really cool to see, especially from the daughters. No “that could have been our big fish” attitude, just genuine excitement for Chase and his “fish of a lifetime.” Small ladies, BIG hearts!! Finally, Chase  just got plain exhausted and had to give up the rod to his dad to finish the fight. Wayne still battled the fish another 15 minutes before we finally boated it. The grit that Chase showed during that fight was amazing. I’ve seen grown adults give up on smaller fish and turn a rod over a heck of a lot quicker than he did. Small man, BIG heart!! The best part was that the Abney family seemed genuinely thrilled for Chase and Wayne. Chase and Wayne had a memory for sure, but so did the Abneys and our crew. wc-6-7-14-Abney-2That story has a great post-script, too. Jerry had told the Abneys about the VFW Fishing Tournament set for Saturday, June 7, the date of their second scheduled trip. They decided to use some of the savings they earned by allowing Chase and Wayne on the Thursday trip to enter it.  Then, lo and behold, 11 year old Karaline catches a 25 pound mahi, despite having to battle it with a loose reel due to a reel seat that broke during the fight. That’s a BIG fish for anyone, let alone an 11 year old, and it turned out to be the biggest fish in both the Juvenile and the Female Divisions that day, earning her a $200 prize award. Again - little lady, BIG heart!! To top it off, mom Kerri also caught a 23 pounder, earning her honors as the top adult female angler and a new $200 custom-made Esky spinning rod with a Fin Noor reel. Talk about the perfect follow-up to the almost perfect day! (By the way, the Abney ladies were gracious enough to present me with the rod and reel as a little thank you. Again – BIG hearts!!!) Perfect ending! The Abneys got rewarded for  a very nice deed for a very nice young man and everyone involved got to benefit from it, my mate Jerry included. If you have any doubts about that, check out his smile in the attached photo of Chase and Wayne’s  catch. (He got tipped VERY well both days, too!) If that isn’t the way the world should work, I don’t know what is. Another lesson relearned: Nice things happen to nice people.

To Katelyn, Karaline, Kerri and Neil: Thank you for showing this old man how to be generous and gracious and for allowing me to have two of the best fishing experience I’ve ever had!!!




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