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Captain Bill Walsh
Dawn Patrol Charter Fishing
Marco Island, Florida
Phone: (239) 394-0608
Email: dawnpatrolmarco@cs.com
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The Pleasure of Fishing: When the fishing trip turns from quantity to quality

By Bill Walsh

Thursday, July 20, 2006 (Naples Daily News)

You can usually tell in the first five minutes what kind of a charter fishing trip lies ahead. That played out ever so true on a particular trip a week ago.

The trip was scheduled for 8 a.m. The fishers arrived at 7 a.m. There were three guys and a couple of teenage boys. They introduced themselves enthusiastically and asked if I could put their cooler aboard.

As they handed the rather large cooler down, I readied myself to handle the expected weight. To my surprise, it was light as a feather empty! Upon my startled inquiry they told me the cooler was for the filets they would be taking home. And one of them added he hoped it would be big enough.

See, it didn't even take the five minutes this particular morning to find out where this trip was going.

They milled about until the appointed hour and piled aboard full of excitement. They were three brothers with two of their sons who were here visiting their folks. They were told by Mom and Dad to bring home dinner. And that, by Jove, was their appointed mission.

Our plan for the day, before I saw the cooler, was to fish the passes and the backwaters for snapper and speckled trout and maybe a redfish or two. But now, I knew the keepers from such a half-day venture weren't going to fill the cooler and provide a meal for these eight hungry souls. So we had to change the game plan.

The wind had kicked up overnight, and it was a bit snotty nearshore, but that is where we would have to go for dinner. The ever-available mackerel Spanish mackerel would be our target. I explained the new plan to our crew. They nodded in agreement and off we went.

The water really wasn't rough in the traditional sense. The wave heights were no more than 2 to 3 inches, but the sea rhythm that morning was confused. The wind was offsetting a rather strong tide that made it feel worse than it really was.

We set up on the reef and began to deploy the odoriferous liquid chum to attract the lightning-quick mackerel. All five fishermen were equipped with either bottom rigs or tipped jigs and had begun their adventure. First fish aboard were small grunts and a bluerunner or two.

Maybe it was the turbulent boat motion or the pungent aroma of the liquid chum, but now three of the crew were beginning to look a little green around the gills and had stopped fishing. Mal de mer had overtaken them.

Disappointingly, we had no mackerel aboard but, nonetheless, we hoisted anchor and headed back to calmer water for placation of this suffering crew. As we headed back, their chatter told me that their goal of a cooler full was still intact.

Onward to Plan B and the snapper, trout et al. I sure hoped the fish knew how much we needed their cooperation this morning.

After two or three stops, the answer to that question became rather obvious. At all the spots we enjoyed almost nonstop action on nice mangrove snapper all an inch short of keeper size. Not one keeper as of mid-morning! Disappointment was etched on the faces of the crew as they contemplated an empty filet cooler.

Conversations among them, half jokingly I think, ranged from telling their folks it was too rough and they went to the movies, or stopping by the supermarket and buying some tilapia filets. They nixed the latter idea saying that the shrink wrap would give that one away.

We were now in the last half of the morning trip and it was time to go for the home run. The switch would be from trying for a mess of small snapper to, hopefully, one or two larger fish.

We hauled anchor, announced the new plan and headed farther north and inland to a notorious lair for large black drum. This spot had produced for me when the chips were down before, but today we'd give it the supreme test.

We anchored up with a favorable waning incoming tide and had at it.

Time crept by agonizingly slowly with minimal action. There were a few tiny snapper and a couple of small jacks to punctuate the boredom but the resurrected hope of a big catch was quickly slipping away.

They were down to talking about taking the tilapia out of the shrink wrap, when finally one of the rods hooked up and doubled. Once hooked, black drum have a way of coming to life and this one sure did. It was a struggle for the whole gang, but they finally landed a nice-size black drum that, at long last, would grace their cooler.

From then on, they doubled their intensity seeking companions for their singular catch. They managed to land one additional black drum of about the same size before we called it a day.

I'd say they were pacified, not satisfied with their outing. But they knew fishing and the golden rule that it's never a sure thing. They also knew that making the move for quality at the very end of the day had saved the trip.

As I cleaned their catch, they surmised that the four nice-size filets might be enough for the dinner if they added more hush puppies.

You do whatever it takes when you go fishin' and be thankful for what you get.

Fishing Marco Island, Everglades, Naples, the 10,000 Islands, Florida