Every now and then, you have one of those days in this biz that reminds you how lucky we are to being doing what we do. December 12th, 2016, was one of those days, and made this past Christmas season something extra special.
December is always a memorable month for us on this boat, not just because of the holidays, but also because it was on December 16th, 2010, that we first took possession of the “Hooker”--then named “Wing ‘N It”--in Jupiter, FL. We spent the night aboard there, then drove it down the next day, stopping in Islamorada for the night before continuing on to Key West. We then took her to a boatyard on Stock Island to spruce her up, renamed her, and put her to work. As they say, the rest is history. In retrospect, one of the best things I’ve ever done!
But, back to the present! Our trip on December 12th was with repeat customers from Connecticut--Terry and Emily Jensen, as well as Emily’s mom Liz Tamiso. Great people, avid fishers, big FishMonster fans, and a lot of fun. We had taken them out previously, in March of 2016, and caught 5 blackfin tunas, 2 mahis, and Emily also boated a big wahoo. So, we had a tough act to follow. This time, we again amazingly caught them 5 blackfin tunas, 2 mahis and one other big fish as well--but that other fish was something special that made the trip unforgettable, and made our whole year.
On this particular trip, we had a full day scheduled. As the catch had been very good for tunas and wahoos in 100 to 300 feet, we decided to start there and proceed as far east in those depths as we could, before we had to turn around to come home. Three hours in, however, we had only a couple bonitas and a barracuda, so we decided to take a shot and head south to deeper water. The N.O.A.A. report said the Gulf Stream was only about 7 miles outside the reef in Key West--about 12 miles offshore--so we wanted to see if it was still there and, if so, what that would bring us. As we went past the 600’ depth mark, I noticed a subtle change in the texture and color of the water--a sign that could indicate we were at the edge of the Stream. The current inshore had been westbound while the Stream flows east off the Keys. Sure enough, as I turned to the west at that point, our boat speed dropped, indicating eastbound current--another sign that we might have found the Stream. After proceeding west for about 10 minutes, our mate, Jerry, yelled that we had a “hit” by, what he thought was, a billfish. It came up on one bait and, shortly thereafter, another, before diving down and disappearing from sight. I decided to turn to port to bring the boat back around over the same area and, shortly after we began heading east, Jerry yelled that the fish was back in our bait spread. I decided to come to port again - which would make the port baits dip and the starboard ones accelerate - and that did the trick. The fish came up behind our starboard long rigger line--a bare ballyhoo, on 100-pound leader, at the end of 30-pound tackle. Jerry fed the bait back, the fish inhaled it, and the fight was on.
The first jump confirmed our hopes – it was a blue marlin in the 200 pound range! It was Emily’s turn in the chair. Jerry passed her the rod and, over the next 30 minutes or so, she did a masterful job of getting the fish to the boat – repeatedly raising the rod tip slowly, without cranking, then lowering it quickly, while reeling in the slightly slackened line that maneuver creates. It was a pleasure to watch her do it – though, I must admit, that I kept waiting for her to tire. No way!! Urged on by shouts of encouragement from Jerry, Terry and Liz, she powered through. After we cleared all the other lines and the fish had made a run, we began to back down steadily toward our prey. As we did, Emily followed Jerry’s instructions perfectly, cranking the line in steadily and smoothly, level-winding as she did so, until – after a couple more runs and some great aerobatics - we finally got the leader. A legal catch! And the crowd – all six of us – went wild!
Just before Jerry grabbed that leader, something else amazing happened. Another blue marlin, who must have been traveling with our hooked fish, swam right by the port side of our boat. Believing in the old axiom, I told Jerry to just concentrate on our “bird in the hand,” but it was neat to see it pass by.
After the catch was official, Emily got out of the chair to let her husband feel the joy of fighting a marlin as we tried to get it close enough to safely remove the hook. Then, just as Terry got the beast to the port side of the boat, the fish did the job for us, and spit the hook on its own--swimming away, apparently unfazed, to fight another day.
The look of sheer joy on Emily’s face as she turned the chair over to Terry was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. (The smile on our mate, Jerry’s, face was pretty damn cool to see, too!) It was one of those “where else would I rather be?” moments for the entire crew. I don't think Emily stopped grinning from ear to ear for the rest of the trip--and the fact that we caught those 2 mahis and 5 tunas on the way in, didn’t hurt that smile either.
The smile and the celebration continued into the next day as well. Emily was a special guest video interviewee on the FishMonster Magazine Facebook page – sitting in the fighting chair in the cockpit of our boat - and her smile, again, lit up the area. It don’t get no better!!
Actually, it does! I didn’t realize it at the time, but that trip was even more special for a couple of other reasons as well. A few days later, I was filling out some USCG “Sea Service” forms. They are used when you apply for an original Captain’s License, or a renewal/upgrade of the same, to track the number of days you spend “at sea” on any particular vessel – a requisite for any such application. As I was doing Jerry’s, I noticed that 12/12/16 was his 400th day at sea on the “Hooker.” That’s a huge landmark and catching that marlin was sure a great way to celebrate it! I can’t tell you how much of a pleasure it has been working with Jerry all this time and I truly mean it when I say that I have to be the luckiest captain in Key West--if not, the entire world. Working with someone you consider a true friend and someone you can trust to always do the right thing and treat people well, just makes the job a whole lot more fun.
The other thing that made the day special was that our guests were kind enough to invite Jerry’s wife, Susanna, to ride along with us. She’s an avid fisherwoman herself who loves to help out on the boat, and she got to enjoy experiencing that great day, including that landmark catch, with her husband and Emily’s family. Thank you Terry, Emily and Liz for your thoughtfulness!
There is no “perfect” fishing trip, but days like this sure as hell come as close as you get. In all honesty, both Jerry and I probably needed it and enjoyed it more than our customers did, if that is possible. We had just come off missing almost all of October and November dealing with engine room glitches/parts fabrication issues, and we both needed something to remind us that what we do is worth all the behind the scenes grunge work we have to put into it. This sure as heck provided that!!!
I guess the bottom line of all of this is, that good things do happen to good people, and Terry, Emily, Liz, Jerry and Susanna all qualify for that description. Here’s hoping that you, too, can someday have the same kind of “Blue” Christmas season we had. You won’t forget it!
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