In my past articles, I’ve often written about the amazing people that we meet in this lifestyle we call a job. You have complete strangers book trips and only find out their lives and their stories when you have time to chat during the charter. Then, you’re often amazed to find out who or what they are. That list has included people who are professional athletes, an NFL C.O.O., entertainers, a former foreign head of state, and countless owners of large businesses. The nice thing is that they usually don’t go out of their way to let you know who they are or what they do until you ask and tend as a group to be some of the nicest people we meet. As I’ve said before, it’s hard to put on airs when you’re covered with blood and smell like a fish and we try to see that both of those events occur.
Fortunately, we’ve been pretty successful at it.
We had that opportunity again on December 26, 2014. Donald Vogt, a large man who appeared to be in his 50’s, and his petite wife, Andie, came by the boat three days before and inquired about booking a full-day charter for the two of them on the 24th . I told them that we were open (and they didn’t blink at the $1,200 price) but that the forecast was for high south winds, rough seas and rain. As they were in town for a few days, they had time to be flexible, so we put the trip off until Friday, the 26th. I told Don that his wife would probably enjoy the trip better on a nicer day, but he insisted that she was the “fishing nut” in the family and wouldn’t care what the weather was like as long as she caught some decent fish. He also mentioned that they had owned boats for several years and were seasoned boaters with a lot of fishing experience.
As it turned out, we made a good call not going on Wednesday, Christmas Eve. A heavy early afternoon thunderstorm would have put a real damper on the day if we were offshore, but the local bars stayed dry and cozy the entire time. Friday turned out to be much nicer as predicted, with a light cloud cover to keep the temperatures cool and everyone very comfortable. We left at 8 AM and, as we headed out to the reef, we heard reports from the boats that were already out that indicated that the inshore bite that morning had been limited to that point to bonitos and mackerels. Also on the way out, I had time to talk with Don on the flybridge while Andie stayed in the cockpit with our mate Jerry. (She told me that she never leaves the fishing area on such trips and, from what I could hear of her conversation with Jerry, she appeared to be every bit the “fishing nut” Don declared her to be.) During my chat with Don, I learned that his father had started a company in the Cedar Rapids, IA, area more than 40 years ago, salvaging such things as grain spills at train yards. When Don got out of high school, he got his own pickup truck and began doing salvage work for the family company. From that first pickup truck, Don grew the company, now known as West Side Transport, to expand its business to general local and long distance hauling and to its current incredible level – over 500 trucks and 2000 trailers. A great American success story! Because of that success, he had owned multiple large boats over the years, including boats in the 50’ and 80’ range, and had the privilege to meet and fish multiple times with the world famous marine-life painter, Guy Harvey, in some exotic locations.
Our conversation led me to several conclusions. First, it seemed obvious that Don and Andie would be able to handle any kind of seas we could expect to see that day – forecasted to be 3’ to 5’; that catching bonitos and mackerel were probably not going to cut it for them, especially Andie; and that they knew that offshore fishing was never a guarantee. So, on a day when everyone else was hanging inshore – the blackfin tuna bite had been good there for a few days – I decided to throw caution to the winds, head south for deep water and hope to get lucky. Although the wind was predicted to be northeast, I detected a little south in the breeze and thought that might increase our chances out deep. The boats that had gone south the day before on a northeast wind hadn’t really done much, but I still felt it was worth the gamble with just two people on a relatively calm day. I half-jokingly told my mate Jerry that all we needed to find was one frigate bird or one good large piece of debris with a couple of good fish under it and our day would be made.
Because we had all day and didn’t want to needlessly drive by a decent fish lurking inshore, we put the lines in at about 150’ and caught 2 bonitos almost immediately. We then continued south and never saw another sign of life for 15 miles and over 2 hours. But, out of respect for our customers’ business, we “kept on truckin’” south. All the while, Andie remained in the cockpit helping Jerry watch for signs of life. Suddenly, about 22 miles offshore, at the “10 number” latitude-wise, Andie told Jerry that she saw what she thought was a frigate bird – our favorite “fish-finding” bird down here – off way in the distance to our starboard side. Jerry then noticed a couple of smaller birds working the same area, so we quickly tuned right and went off in pursuit. While we were approaching, it seemed obvious that the frigate was hanging around one area for a reason – and it was. Passing under him, multiple lines went off and we had three fish on at the same time. Andie excitedly grabbed the first line and got in the fighting chair; Don grabbed a second rod and bolstered his knees against the gunnel to fight it standing up; while the third rod waited in the rod holder for whichever angler landed their fish first. That was Andie, and within a matter of about 10 minutes, we had a smaller but very edible wahoo and two nice “schoolie” dolphin in our fish box. Andie immediately popped open a beer and began spraying it around the cockpit locker-room celebration style, and it was cool to see a woman enjoy the experience as much as she obviously did. On seeing the wahoo in the catch, Jerry opined that there might have been a submerged piece of debris in the area, holding both the bird and the fishes’ attention and we noticed that the bird was still lurking in the same general area. Once we got back to him, sure enough, there it was - a nice, big pallet that had obviously been in the water for some time. As we passed it, another line went down and Jerry quickly threw the brightly colored, retrievable marker buoy we have for such times to help us relocate the pallet if a fish pulled us far off it, as I marked the spot on my GPS for the same reason. With the pallet well-marked, we were able to return time and again and kept getting 1 or 2 bites on every pass for almost an hour. About 8 nice schoolies and 3 wahoos later (we also lost 2 wahoos right at the back of the boat) we were headed home with a great catch. Two more schoolies on the way in just added to our satisfaction.
Don let Andie fight most of the fish and it was really neat to see not only what a great job she did with the rod and the reel, but also to see the sheer enjoyment she got out of fighting every fish. Witnessing people having that kind of fun is another one of the great benefits of this “job.”
One of the nicer parts about the catch was that Don and Andie, who have a second home in Fort Myers, FL, had a “bowl watching” party planned soon and the fish were going to solve the menu problem. They were very appreciative of our efforts; very generous with tips; and swore they’d be back. Andie even told Jerry that it was a great charter experience and, coming from someone who has fished with the likes of Guy Harvey, we’ll take that as a high compliment. All in all, a great day, thanks in large part to Andie’s devotion to fishing and her keen eyesight which found us that frigate and led us to that pallet.
Before I end this piece, just a couple of tips that come to mind from this trip. First, go for the “home run” sometimes instead of playing safe or doing what everybody else is doing that day. The rewards can be awesome. Second, floating debris can be a goldmine for fish. Don’t pass up any substantial debris offshore. However, you might want to approach cautiously on the first pass, just in case there are ropes or submerged offshoots around the debris that could foul your props. Most importantly, mark it on you GPS every time you pass – wind and current will move it and fish may take you far off it as you fight them – and repeated marks will give you a ”trail” to follow back to it. Also, have some easy-to-see-and-retrieve buoy you can use to visually mark the debris to help you more easily locate it for return passes. If it looks good, don’t give up if you don’t get hit on the first pass. Try multiple passes at different speeds or even stop and throw chunks of bait to see if anything responds. Then, catch as many as you can!
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