The older I get and the longer I run charters, the more I realize that everything in life – good and bad - results from chance. Where you were born, to whom, and whether you were born healthy are obvious examples, but countless everyday events prove the point. Simple example? The biggest reason our boat sits in this great slip is that it just happened to be available when I was looking. What it if I’d been looking a year earlier/later? Who knows where I’d be?
Fishing may be the best example of random chance happenings. Sure, knowledge, experience and skill all play large roles in successful trips, but so does sheer chance. Every individual fish is caught at a finite point in time at a finite point on the water, but how you got to that specific place/time is a combination of random events. When did you start? Stop for fuel? How fast did you run? Where did you begin fishing? At what speed did you troll? How many fish did you spend time catching earlier? All those factors, and countless more, determined why you were at that spot to catch that fish! Change any one and you likely would not have crossed paths with that fish. Pretty amazing when you think about it! I’m sure many of you have trolled through a certain area in vain only to have another boat cover the same spot minutes later and hook up on ”the BIG one!” A very frustrating example of my point! Sometimes you have to wonder if there isn’t some “other force” out there causing you to be a hero or goat. Maybe God just has a weird sense of humor and likes to get a laugh or two at our expense every now and then.
Why on earth, you ask, am I turning what should be the typical “Fishmonster” angling article into some deep, philosophical analysis? Well, as usual, you can blame good ol’ Capt. Gene’s convoluted Polish brain. You can also blame a guy nicknamed “Capt. Fran!”
Fran was one of those true American heroes about whom you never hear. Lying about his age, he joined the Army at 16, became a sergeant and led combat troops in Korea, where he was wounded. After an honorable discharge, he rose in the ranks of the trucking industry, becoming a VP at a large carrier. At 55, he started his own trucking concern. Not only did he succeed, he made it a point to instill the same work ethic in his kids, all 10 of them, teaching them to be good human beings along the way! ‘Nuff said!
Two of his sons are among my most loyal, long-time customers and true friends. Rob and John Piper, have fished with us each of the 11 years we’ve been here. Rob runs PWD Transportation Inc., a trucking/freight biz, and PLG Logistic Services in Indianapolis and Tampa. Three other brothers run related businesses. John owns/manages Angel Animal Hospital with his veterinarian wife Anna in Greenwood, IN. Very successful businessmen! However, as with my brother and me, you sometimes wonder if they really came from the same gene pool – polar opposites in some ways – but great guys in their own right and both love to fish! That’s another common trait they inherited from their late dad, whom they affectionately refer to as “Capt. Fran” in deference to his love of boats/fishing.
Cant. Fran also obviously had a lot of love for his kids. We had the sad privilege of scattering Fran’s ashes offshore a few years ago at Rob and John’s request, and they now make it a point every trip to swing by that area to honor him. As a guy whose own deceased dad, a WWII vet “blue collar guy”, is still his biggest hero, that chokes me up every time!
Most trips, we stop on the way out, so we can go wherever we want on the full-day trips they book without worrying about being near a certain area later on. However, on March 4, I decided to start in another direction, to be able to adjust as the day went on for prevailing winds/seas, one of those random decisions mentioned above. In addition to Rob and John, we had Rob’s son Steven and their friend Scott Bowers, so we had 4 guys for whom to find good fish!
That time of year is normally great inshore for blackfin tunas, wahoos and sailfish, but such wasn’t the case this year. Inshore fishing had been SLOW! So, we headed offshore, looking for weed lines, current rips, debris and/or birds to lead us to fish – hopefully mahis, wahoos and/or that ever-so-rare marlin.
John, the more “selective” brother fishing-wise, said he wanted a wahoo if we could find one, but that a marlin would be fine, too! What a great guy to be so flexible! (By the way, John’s wife Anna got a white marlin with us on a trip last year with the same free-lance mate we were using that day – Paul Diggs – and I guess John felt Paul “owed him one!”)
We spent some time looking around about 10+ miles out in an area called the “ups and downs” and made it past “Wood’s Wall” – a deep drop-off about 18 miles out. Unfortunately, we had no luck in that deeper water but for a couple of “gaffer schoolie” dolphin in about 750’, where Scott and Steven did a great job getting them to the boat
After a few hours, we trolled back inside and to the east to try for wahoos, tunas and sails, keeping in mind that our final stop before running home was Capt. Fran. On the way in, Paul saw a frigate bird, a potential fish-finder, down low to the water to the west, going away from our Capt. Fran destination to the east. We chased it west unsuccessfully for a while before letting it go its merry way and resuming our pilgrimage. By this point, we were already going to have to go into “overtime” to visit the old “cap’n,” but I felt that his sons and he were worth the extra time/fuel on the house! I wasn’t really expecting anything other than to pay our respects and head home. However, Capt. Fran had other plans for us!
As we got less than a-mile from our goal, the downrigger suddenly popped. Line played out rapidly. John got in the chair quickly and Paul handed him the rod. Fifteen minutes or so and one hard fight later, there it was! A 20+ pound hunk of, in my humble opinion, the best eating fish we catch – WAHOO!! Just what John had requested and, from what I heard on the radio, it was probably as good an offshore fish as any Key West charter boat had that day! We now had two mahis and a wahoo to feed our crew. Our day was made! We paid our respects to Capt. Fran and headed home.
That’s when I began to think! “What if we had opted to visit Capt. Fran on the way out rather than in; if we hadn’t gone as far south before turning around; if we hadn’t fought some fish; and/or if we hadn’t chased that frigate. We probably wouldn’t have been where we were when that wahoo - just what Capt. Fran’s son John wanted - was there and hungry. Call it luck. Call it fate. I’m gonna call it Capt. Fran! I’d like to think that, on that day, he wanted to reward his boys for their devotion to him and for taking time out of every fishing trip they run here to stop and say “we miss you.” He made sure that fish was there just when it needed to be! I like to think my own deceased dad and mom have done that for me a time or two, to help make me as happy as I am today, Yeah, it’s not a very rational belief, but who the hell cares! It works for me, and it looks like it worked for Rob and John, too. Capt. Gene, the romantic! Who’da thunk it?
(By the way, thank you Capt. Fran not only for that wahoo but also for raising two sons to be really good people and great friends. Yeah, Rob, I guess I feel that way about John, too, after all!)
One final note. I mentioned Fran’s Korean War experience, but he was one of the lucky ones. He got to come home from war. Many didn’t! Honor those dead by remembering their living brothers-in-combat. Buy a vet a beer and say “thanks” on Memorial Day, Monday, May 30. It’s the least you should do!
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