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Captain Bill Walsh
Dawn Patrol Charter Fishing
Marco Island, Florida
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The Pleasure of Fishing: The day catch and release went to a new level

A young fisher learns about nature's food chain from first-hand experience

By Bill Walsh

Thursday, August 17, 2006 (Naples Daily News)

The theory of fishing catch and release is as old as sportfishing itself.

Catching fish, any fish, is an exciting, heart-pounding adventure that thrills no matter how many times it is repeated. It puts smiles on old-timers faces and gasps of excitement on youngsters' lips.

It's but an added benefit to all those wondrous moments of catching the fish, to have them grace your dinner table as delicious evidence of your day of adventure.

But sometimes, even the most well-intentioned effort, on the fish's behalf, can go a little amuck. Last Wednesday that's what played out for me.

It was a hot, sultry afternoon with nary a whisper of a breeze. The usual tropical thunder-banger storms were beginning to form in the eastern sky but were at least some hours away. There was no relief for the crushing heat in sight but that was OK today, as we had booked an infrequent afternoon charter that had set sail at 1 p.m.

Aboard were the Jamisons, here on a late summer holiday from the cornfields of Illinois for a little "R and R" before school started. Julie had made the reservation for herself, her husband, Bruce, and their two youngsters, Holly and Travis.

We reached our first fishing venue after several detours to have the kids enjoy the antics of our resident dolphin. The little girl, Holly, was super excited about the cavorting dolphin and had to be restrained by her Dad from scrambling right in with the dolphin. Her brother, Travis, was much more nonchalant about the dolphin event, more engrossed in the tube of potato chips he was devouring.

Anyhow, our first fishing adventure was a drift over some small snapper holes an effort to basically get the kids familiar with the equipment and the technique to "bring one in." It didn't take long and Holly was screaming about a fish being on her line. Her Dad was her helper and as he brought the very small lane snapper aboard, Holly went hysterical.

"Oh, put it back. Please put it back. Oh, please hurry, it's dying" were her impassioned pleas to anyone that would listen. We got the little fish back in the water in good shape.

Her mom noted my quizzical amazement at the level of Holly's intensity and quickly explained, "She's a bit overdramatic, but really has a thing about preserving the life of anything living. At home, she makes us capture any insect unharmed and put them outside safely."

Oh, wow! This was going to be some afternoon, especially when Mom and Dad made it crystal clear to me that they expected to take some fish home. Could hardly wait to see what would happen when we landed our first keeper.

We didn't have to wait very long.

The outgoing tide finally started to move and so did we. We anchored up on the deep side of a drop-off in Capri Pass and set our sights on some nice keeper mangrove snapper. I teamed up with Holly and on the first cast we had a nice fish on her line.

She reeled it in energetically and it was a nice 12-inch mangrove snapper a keeper. And the moment of truth!

"Julie, this is a keeper. What do you want me to do?" I asked.

Holly went into her routine again asking us to put it back; hurry, it was dying; look it's panting for breath, etc.

Julie looked at me and said emphatically, "Put it in the cooler."

I did just that. But Holly went into overdrive. "Mom, the fish's name is 'Sally' and she's dying. Please help Sally."

Her mom and dad called a time-out and sat down with the kids. The parents again explained the catch-and-release program and that they wanted to take but a few fish for dinner all the rest would be returned safely to the water.

Holly wasn't buying the program, even a little bit. She would open the cooler lid every few minutes and announce that Sally was still breathing and there was still time to put her back.

But the expedition forged on and soon there were four or five nice snapper in there with Sally. But the effort to release continued unabated with Holly now joined by her brother. They were cheering for fish that got off their parents' lines and took over the job of measuring the fish to ensure keeper size the snapper had to be closer to 11 inches to make it to the fish box.

By 4 p.m. the afternoon storms had moved in and it was time to end the trip in the sake of safety. Thank goodness!

We made it back to the dock as the skies blackened and we hurried to clean the six snapper that had to now be the most contentious catch in history.

The pelicans, herons and egrets showed up as we started the filleting process to partake in the usual meal of the leftovers and Holly was totally fascinated. The birds were aggressively enjoying the feast and anything that slipped into the water was then engulfed by the ravenous jacks.

"Can I help feed them?" asked Holly, and I slipped her bits to toss to the assembled flock of birds.

You could just see her attitude changing. Here she was helping to feed more of God's creatures and beginning to understand the order of events in nature's food chain.

I told Holly, "We only take what we need. The rest we put back or share with other members of nature's family."

For the first time, I think Holly understood.

Let's see if she forgets about Sally the next time around.

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