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Captain Bill Walsh
Dawn Patrol Charter Fishing
Marco Island, Florida
Phone: (239) 394-0608
In business since 1992 !!

On the Hook: With the right boss, wondrous things can happen
By Bill Walsh

Wednesday, February 14, 2007 (Marco News)

Some years back, one of the priests helping out at the parish during the “season”, found out that I was a charter captain.

Father JD, who was a “snow cleric” from a parish in the Northeast was down here, to care for the faithful, stay warm and go boating ….in that order of priority, or so I thought. He even owned a boat and had schmoozed his way into having one of his northern parishioners tow it down here for him.

He, by his own admission, considered himself nautically challenged. When told I’d be glad to give him a hand learning the ropes down here, you’d think I just matched the second collection. He was ecstatic!

As time passed that first season, I would try to be there when he took guests out for one of his infamous cruises. Hours were spent showing him the difference between navigational channels and sand bars.

It was not that he was a show off and taking chances. Lord forbid! It’s just that he got distracted, quite easily, from his helmsman’s job. Typically he would be chatting graciously with a passenger as we’d roar into a sandbar and have everyone pirouette forward.

But then one day we moved a step forward.

It was the day when the fishing addiction started. “Father, you’re on the water so much, why don’t you try some fishing”. Without hesitation, he jumped at the chance to learn how to fish.

If we had charters with an open seat or we were going out on a personal trip with friends, we’d always call Father and ask if he’d like to join us. Most always, he’d find a way to make the trip.

That first year, every trip with Father JD was the same. He’d socialize with everyone and although he’d have a line in the water he would seldom do any more than lose bait. He’d compliment all the others that caught fish, quite vocally……softening them up for the end of the trip when he would wait for them to donate their fish to this man of the cloth.

And they did it most every time. A true Academy Award performance. But for a great cause. For Father JD personally distributed the fresh filets to the soup kitchens throughout the county.

In the years that followed, distinct changes were in evidence. Father JD left his boat back home and substituted these, now more frequent, pure fishing trips as his therapy. And in addition to that, his home parish was to be designated the beneficiary of all this fishing tom-foolery down here.

He’d arrive on his invited trips with a huge empty cooler and an endless supply of small plastic bags. The drill was always the same.

We’d catch fish; sometimes more and sometimes less. He’d sweet-talk his way into all or most of the seafood booty and have the filets inserted into the plastic bags with but four servings per bag.

After adding some lemon and water to these piscatorial treats, he would carefully freeze and later transport them back to his home parish in Whiteout, NY. A treat for his fellow priests in the parish.

Imagine now, a typical dinner in the rectory, as the late winter snow pelts down and Father JD relating, to the enthralled clerics, his personal heroics in landing these wonderful fish that graced their meal.

That happened innumerable times which leads to the centerpiece event for this article.

It’s a early spring day and Father has arrived, cooler and all, to fish with a few of us. Anxious to get started, he let loose of one of the boats mooring lines too early and it wraps around the prop grinding us to a dead halt.

And after getting all that straightened out we head for the nearshore reefs already late on our timing. It’s been quiet out there the last few days but, maybe today it would be better.

We fish two or three spots into the shank of the afternoon and we have no action. Zero! Null!

And then, most uncharacteristically, Father said “Let’s move in a little closer to shore - over there” — the other two guys in the boat look at one another and at me and with a shrug say “why not” — and off we go.

We anchored up and deployed the baits. Within minutes, we had two or three small grunts not big enough to fill your hand but notorious grouper bait.

Again, why not? We pull out the big rod; tie on one of the flapping grunts and send it to the bottom.

I didn’t even get the rod in the rod holder and it lurched and bent in half. We gave the rod to the good Father and watched him bring a beautiful big gag grouper to boatside and into the net. A nice 28-inch keeper grouper!!

Everyone was excited as we slid the big fish into the cooler but there was a sense of “what’s going on,” as Father suggested we do that again.

We hooked up a second little grunt and sent it plummeting to the bottom.

Do I need to tell you the rest?

As we headed home with two big grouper in the box. Not a word was spoken but there we were, not another hit all day, catching two huge grouper where we never caught them before— in the company of this man of the cloth, who couldn’t catch a fish unless it jumped in the boat, smiling like a cherub and thinking about all the plastic bags his two big, improbable, fish would fill.

I think we all make a mental note about getting back to church just as soon as possible and hoping that the skies wouldn’t part on our way home.


Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to

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