Using Our Heads

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I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference. -Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken

If you’ve read my previous articles, you know that one of the continuing themes I’ve used is that - in fishing and in life – doing things “outside the box” sometimes pays off big time. As I’ve noted, some of my past relationship and career decisions were not the ones most people would have made under similar circumstances – e.g., not getting married, not having kids, quitting  good jobs and a good career – but, in retrospect, they were the right decisions for ME at the right time. If I had decided differently, I wouldn’t be exactly where I am today; I wouldn’t be as happy as I am; and I wouldn’t be ME. Fortunately for my fishing mate Jerry Pope and me, the Drambuie Key West Marlin Tournament in July gave a perfect example of that same recurring theme.

We’ve been in that tournament for many years now, the last several as a charter for the main sponsors – Drambuie/Bacardi. That’s a good thing, because it sounds good on the website, they pay us well, tip Jerry excellently, are nice people, and it’s a fun tournament. However, there are some downsides to it. As sponsors, our customers can’t win the prize money themselves. If we place, 50% of the money goes to charity and 50% gets split between the captain and mate. 1st place is 25K, 2nd is 10K, and  3rd is 5K. That’s nice money, but it’s not the big bucks we could potentially earn if we had high roller private clients who had the resources and incentive to enter all the Calcutta pools that result in the big money payouts. (We did get two inquiries from private charters this year, one of whom I referred to another boat in our marina, who got the booking.) While I and/or my mate could enter those pools on our own, that requires a significant investment when the odds are not in our favor, especially because our anglers are usually different people each day, not one cohesive team, and some of them are even novice fishermen. That makes things tough for us because, in this tournament, the individual anglers themselves – not the mate - have to be the first and only ones to touch the rod from the time the fish is first engaged until the leader is within reach and a “catch” is made. A lot of people who have fished before would have difficulty doing that, let alone novices. So, the “smart money” would never be wagered on us.

A few weeks before the tournament, Jerry mentioned that he had a friend he’s known for years - Bobby Adisano – who wanted to help us as an extra mate in the tournament. Bobby, who now works regularly as a captain/mate for Conch Charters at Garrison Bight in Key West, actually taught Jerry a lot about local fishing when Jerry first moved here from Stuart years back. As soon as Jerry made the suggestion, I thought “great idea!” The first 2 days of the tournament usually require more than 10 hours on the water in the hot, humid, breezeless weather July normally brings. Having someone along to relieve/assist either Jerry or me when we needed a break/help would keep both of us fresh. The downside was that it would mean Jerry would make a lot less money because he’d have to split earnings and tips with Bobby. By voluntarily agreeing to make less, Jerry was taking “the road less traveled,” but he just thought it would give us a better shot (and he’d be working with a great friend), so he was willing to do it. I told him at the time that I’d try to help financially by agreeing to split any winnings equally between the three of us and, later, also decided to pay a little higher daily rate to ease that financial hit he was taking.

The fishing was SLOW the entire tournament – only one marlin caught, total, in the first two days and not a lot of other species either. Worse yet, the fishing was extremely difficult due to a huge amount of scattered weed patches that were everywhere as far out as you went and that were constantly covering up the lures/baits. That meant having to pull in lines constantly to clear them, so having the extra set of hands that Bobby provided was a life-saver for Jerry and our chances.

We only had 2 small mahis and 2 barracudas in those first 2 days. Despite that, all we had to do the last day was catch one marlin before two other boats did in order to probably wind up “in the money.” Then, in the middle of the morning, another boat caught a white marlin. That meant we had to get one before anyone else to have a real shot at third place. We trolled around for another hour or so and then, a little after noon and unbeknownst to me, Jerry went to the head. Bobby was sitting upstairs with me watching the lines while I had to constantly look ahead to try to maneuver around the weeds. Suddenly Bobby yelled to Jed Tenney, the angler whose turn it was, that he saw a billfiish in the spread. He then yelled to Jed to grab the line the fish was behind, “free-spool” it to feed it back to the fish, and then to “lock it up” when the fish ate. BINGO!!!  Billfish on!!!  As soon as it jumped the first time, Bobby excitedly yelled that it looked like a white marlin – and it was! He then enlisted the others on board to help clear lines as Jerry returned from the head to help as well. Jed, who owns the great local restaurant “Louie’s Backyard,” had done a great job following Bobby’s instructions to hook the fish and then also did exactly what Jerry and Bobby had instructed the anglers to do every morning by getting the rod to the fighting chair and getting himself harnessed in. Then, he also fought the fish perfectly. As a result, twenty minutes or so later, we had the leader on the third – and last – marlin caught in the tournament.

A little over 2 hours after that, we were on the way home with Jerry, Bobby and me also on the way to sharing $2,500 in prize money. That’s not a lot of money in the tournament world but it was a great little bonus for us that made the use of a second mate seem like a stroke of genius. Who knows what would have happened if Bobby wasn’t on board while Jerry was in the head with something in his hand other than a fishing rod. I probably would not have been looking back at the baits because of my preoccupation with the weeds, and it’s not likely that relatively inexperienced  billfishermen would have been keen enough to discern the fish in the spread and react properly without guidance. Because Jerry used his head before the tournament, his use of our head during it didn’t cost us. The funny thing is that, a couple of days before the tournament, I had told my best drinking buddy in town, Mark Kern, that Jerry’s idea of a second mate was a great one and actually gave Mark a similar scenario as to how it could pay dividends.

Most charter boats I know don’t use extra mates in tournaments for economic reasons. This is our living, we have to make money, and every additional expense decreases our profit. You can’t count on winning because it’s not a level playing field. We’re competing against faster boats with bigger fuel and equipment budgets and with a cohesive team of experienced anglers who have probably fished multiple tournaments together before. So, what Jerry and I did was probably “outside the box” thinking for charter guys, but it sure paid off nicely, Because of that, I think I’ll take that “road less traveled” the next time I get the chance to do it in a tournament again. It’s a much nicer trip!




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