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

The Pleasure of Fishing: In fishing, size really does matter

... Oh, really? Don't bet the farm on it!

By Bill Walsh

Thursday, July 13, 2006 (Naples Daily News)

Can't tell you how many times I get a call from a potential customer and among the first volley of inquiry is "How big are the fish?"

There is an absolute fixation by people coming to fish the ocean that it is a repository for assembled Loch Ness Monsters.

It isn't. And, in addition, it seems the degree of certainty as to the resolve in that response becomes more absolute each year. You can ask just about anyone to compare the "big ones" available in the Southwest Florida fishery today versus five or 10 years ago and the answer will be a grimace and a "not as good."

Now mind you, we still have super-size fish around and about. The timeworn species of permit, cobia, kingfish, etc. are still around, just in diminished numbers. Also, those species with big shoulders may be different — sharks one day, grouper another; goliath grouper today, amberjack yesterday.

We still have a plethora of great sport fish here both in the backwaters and offshore that are of medium to small size. Getting folks to appreciate the tenacity and struggle to land these sea creatures on light tackle is really a chore. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don't. And sometimes they have to experience it to understand.

The Guiseppe Family is from Pittsburgh: Steelers fans with season tickets. They last visited Marco in the late¤'90s, and I had the privilege of fishing with them. There's Joe and Chico and their three teenage youngsters, two boys and a girl.

After we exchanged greetings last week and lied about how we all look the same, we got underway for their¤'06 fishing adventure. When asked about their hiatus from vacations in SW Florida, they were quick to respond that they try different places almost every year.

Chico went on excitedly to tell me that last year in Hawaii, they took a charter out of Kona and her oldest son, Joe Jr., landed a 380-pound blue marlin. Joe Jr. sort of blushed and then went into a blow by blow of how great it was to land this super-sized fish.

"Well, Joe, we won't see anything that size today, for sure," I replied. "But you will be challenged by some great fish. Let's see how you do."

The reaction to the challenge was rather blaze — after all, when you're a big game fisherman everything else is a piece of cake. Right?

It was a nice clear morning with a moderate incoming tide. The skies in the east were full of infant storm clouds building strength that were clear signals of the impending afternoon deluge. But all of that would form too late to get in our way. This was a morning charter.

We anchored up on a well-defined artificial reef just a mile off the beach to get things started. Mom and Dad would fish in the front of the boat and the three kids would be in the cockpit — Mia listening to her ipod and the two boys fishing.

We had been getting nice-size triggerfish and snapper off the bottom on this spot all week, but the highlight of the trips had been the tackle-busting Spanish mackerel that had attacked every charter with a vengeance.

We put all the chum in place, but it still started slowly. A small grunt, a miniscule lane snapper and a few small triggerfish were the early take.

But Joe really hadn't caught a fish and we were over an hour into the trip. He was missing strike after strike; either pulling too quickly or slacking the line with a fish on. His frustration grew and the mackerel hadn't shown up yet.

First came the bluerunners and the jacks attracted by the chum. They were sort of the color guard for the main attraction. And then "they" arrived: the Spanish mackerel. You could tell it was them when everyone retrieved a severed line courtesy of these toothy critters.

There soon were shouts and yells as we began to outwit the fanatical fish — everyone except Joe. He was still having a problem setting the hook on the macks and keeping them on the line.

We went over the rudiments again: Cast the jig and keep it moving; when you feel a strike come up hard, hold the rod steady; give the fish no slack. Joe, embarrassed by the others' success, was now listening intently.

Minutes later, Joe was on the board with a nice mackerel that took him around the boat a couple of times. He was impressed; or at least he looked that way.

Joe finally got it and was doing quite well contributing to a well-filled fish box. It was exciting with the mackerel taking line and — crossing lines and generally playing havoc with everyone.

All good things come to an end. As we rolled in our lines and put things away for the trip home, I could see Joe was exhausted both from the mackerel event and the mounting late-morning heat. He sat across from me scoffing down a bottle of water and we headed home.

He spoke first.

"Captain, that was the best two hours of fishing that I've ever experienced. The marlin was a great experience, but there I was fishing with a broomstick that had line tout enough to tow a battleship and three guys running around making sure I didn't lose the fish. Today, I was on my own with a little rod and reel and light line and those mackerel were really a fight. I see the light."

"I'm glad you enjoyed the day, Joe, and had the experience," I replied. "This is really sport fishing, where the fish has a chance equal to yours."

And with that I knew we had a new disciple to the world of real sport fishing.

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