In case you’re wondering why there was a combined September/October issue of FishMonster Magazine, one reason is that those months are traditionally slow for businesses in the Keys. The weather up north is still nice, the kids there are back in school, and it’s prime “hurricane season”. (That term may, in reality, be a misnomer for the Keys; we almost always tend to avoid direct contact with those dreaded storms.) As a result, the tourists stay away so there aren’t as many opportunities for good subjects for articles. Many of our writing contributors take part or all of the month off to recharge their own batteries. This includes one of my unnamed A&B Marina cohorts, who is well known to all of you, and who left town for the month. This required me to take more photos of the Marina for a certain magazine’s Facebook page than normal.
Those months can be even slower for us on the “Hooker” than some other local charter boats as we don’t do “commission trips.” Those are trips referred by local hotel concierges and/or street-side booking booths that require payment of referral fees of up to 20 and even 30% of the trip fee. While they can be a nice source of business during slow times, unfavorable outcomes have made us choose to no longer offer them.
As a result, September and October tend to be months when our mate and I can take a few breathers; sleep in a lot more; and start drinking a beer or two a lot earlier and a lot more often than we can do in busier months. The plethora of local watering holes, including six within 50 yards of our slip, make the latter an easy alternative. As a matter of fact, this article was written on my computer while I was enjoying lunch and a few cold ones right next to my slip at a relatively empty Boat House bar in late September. (Gotta lubricate the creative thought process, you know!) This year, there was an additional reason for time off, a corroded raw water cooling pipe on our port engine began to leak. This required us to have a new one fabricated in Ft. Lauderdale and put us out of commission for over a week. That meant giving up a few trips we had already pre-booked to other boats during that time resulting in a couple more days of early beers.
The lack of income is obviously a negative. The silver lining is that we get to take time to realize why we love living in this paradise called Key West; why we love this “job” as charter fishermen so much. During this time of year some local businesses, particularly in the food service industry, shut down for extended periods. Many of those that stay open offer great local discounts such as “50% off.” If you have to watch pennies and kill time, the latter makes it manageable and fun. We also get to see a lot more of this paradise and more of our friends than we do when running trips at 5 AM or earlier every day.
Case in point: because of our relative proximity to Tampa Bay, over the years we’ve had several regular customers from that area who are now dear friends. As a result, I’ve become a Buccaneers fan, as have my two best Happy Hour buddies – Mark and Samantha Kern. That has resulted in a yearly trek to Tampa for a visit and a game in each of the last 3 years. We look forward eagerly to this yearly excursion, with stops on the way at some different places each time. This year, we picked opening day, September 13, againstthe Tennessee Titans. We stopped in Homestead for some authentic Mexican food at La Quebradita on the way up followed by a dynamite waterfront lunch at Snappers in Key Largo on the way back. In between, we also had a great time in Tampa, even though the game resulted in a mighty Bucs loss. Part of the reason it was still enjoyable was that we had a special guest along with us, Mark’s dad, Ed Kern, who turned 75 the day after the game. Ed hadn’t been to an NFL game for quite a while, and was really looking forward to it.
One of our great local Tampa Bay friends insisted that we bring Ed along to the family’s house for dinner the night before the game. They surprised Ed with the best “Happy Birthday” ice cream cake I’ve ever tasted. Then, for an encore, we were able to get “Happy 75th Birthday” posted for Ed on the game scoreboard. The smile on Ed’s face on each occasion made the whole trip worthwhile! However, to add some additional icing to that ice cream cake, we were also fortunate to be introduced to a contingent from the Bucs surprisingly large London Fan Club. Yup, that’s right, London – as in UK, England, Britain! They had come over for the opening game, and several were even staying for a few subsequent games as well. The Bucs have played a couple of games in London over the years – 2009 and 2011 – resulting in a good number of rabid overseas fans. We were introduced to them the night before the game, and they instantly took us into their circle, almost like family. They were the nicest folks you could want to meet and knew more about the NFL than the average American fan. We had so much fun with them over some beers that night, they invited us to join them for dinner after the game the next night at Lee Roy Selmon’s, a great sports bar right near the stadium. As you might expect with a bunch of fun-loving Brits from London where pubs reign supreme, one or two more beers helped cement our new friendships. Celebrating both nights, and Mark, Sam, Ed and I now have a great new set of friends and a possible great future road trip “across the pond.” I’ve met some of the greatest people in the world while running a Key West charter boat and. Any wonder why I feel lucky and think it’s the greatest job in the world?!!
The rest of the month was a combination of “staycation” – days of leisurely lunches and early happy hours - interspersed with maintenance chores, doing all the things you don’t have time to do during the busy season. As far as the former is concerned, I can’t think of any place better for a “staycation” than Key West. So much to do on the water, so many watering holes to visit and a car is not required to do any of it! As far as the maintenance was concerned, that included flushing the engine cooling systems; replacing a cracked engine cooling pipe; checking/replacing electrical/electronic connections; replacing a pump; rearranging boat and dock storage areas; and extra cleaning. We also ran several charters on which we caught some decent mahis. When boats from our marina actually had trips, they all seemed to do extremely well on the mahis almost every time they went out, which made us a little jealous, but also whetted our appetite for what the rest of the year might bring.
In summary, while a part of me wishes that I had a great fishing story or two with which to regale you this month, another part of me is very glad that I don’t. I am reminded that there is enjoyment here in easy reach and, more importantly, that great friends and family are really what makes life worth living no matter where you are located. If this article reminds you of that, too, then it’s the best Key West fishing article I’ve written this year! (Of course, some of my literary critic friends might think that isn’t saying much!)
By the way, on that friends/family thing, I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving, spending it with those dearest to you. If you can squeeze in some fishing or watersports as well, so much the better. Enjoy and remember, Veterans Day is November 11. As I’ve said in previous articles, I believe this holiday and Memorial Day are our most important holidays. Without the sacrifices made by our military members we wouldn’t have the freedom to have any holidays! So, if you know someone who is serving or has served our country, take the time to buy him/her a beer or two or just simply say “Thank you!” They’ve earned that respect and you’ll enjoy thanking them!
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