A story written by my father, 4 months after I was born. I wish I could ask if it were from a real adventure or an adventure he dreamt of as he sat there awake in the middle of the night due to my crying self as a baby. haha.
Fishing – The Party Boat
Waking to the sound of someone moving about in another part of the house, I lay with my eyes open, slowly adjusting to the 3:30 a.m. darkness. As my host came in to wake me, the sill morning air carried the sound of a dog barking somewhere off in the distance.
Though only about five hours before we had returned from a dinner of Chateaubriand followed by the great Florida Key-lime pie, we were both up and ready to go in short order. My eyes still felt as though someone had gone over them with 2/0 steel wool, when the suddenly the darkness outside was interrupted by car headlights. The third party of our group arriving.
We were scheduled for a days’ fishing on The Bullet, a party boat leaving from Fort Meyers Beach. A trip I was look forward to with varied emotions. The previous week was spent on an intense photographic assignment in Miami and I had come to Fort Meyers to relax for a few days with my nephew and his family. Thought I love fishing second only to a couple of other things, the days’ end seemed like a thousand years away.
First stop. Breakfast at an all night restaurant. The quantity and quality of those who room in the late night and early morning is to be marveled at. Until this time, it was my mistaken impression that taps on ones shoes went out with Presley and the “Grease era.
There is also to be seen, those both male and female, in various stages of drunkenness, many who will not remember this coffee stop tomorrow and some who will wake up wondering where the person lying next to them came from. There was also no doubt that some, like ourselves, were up early to begin some sort of promising adventure.
Though the boat was not scheduled for departure until 5:a00 a.m., we had been instructed to be on board by 4:30. The 65 foot bullet sits on the dock, wet with the early morning mist. Her white fiberglass hull and deckhouse glistened under the high intensity lights of the dock. Like an oasis in the darkness, the boat is the center of the hustle and preparations.
Fishing rigs are readied and poles places in the rod holders lining the rail like a spiked fence warding off intruders.
At last all is ready, the lines are thrown and the engines, with a deep grumble, slowly increase in RPMs. As the boat slowly glides out of the harbor, each house along the shore shimmers with dim lights. Obviously nightlights as no sane person would be at this time in the morning. As the boats’ engines build speed to cruising level, those aboard settle down for the four hour trip to the fishing grounds. If you are fortunate, you found yourself a place to lie down, or maybe even half a place. Right now, a wall to lean on could do.
Unlike some party boats I’ve been on which carried passengers consisting of a rather crude group of mostly med, today’s group varied from young children to two sisters who, although in their 60’s and 70’s had been up since 3:00 a.m., cooked breakfast for themselves and who would prove to have as much, if not more stamina than most on board. There was also a cute little bikini clad blonde, and a very attractive lady in short shorts and a t-shirt who ran the snack bar and helped to tag fish. A well rounded group indeed.
Not until about 30 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico did the sky begin to change from black to purple to pink and blue and then finally the intense yellow sun, as it slowly pushed it’s way up. Shining directly into the rear doors of the deckhouse perfectly silhouetting those ion the rear deck against the warm morning sky.
I learned from one of the mates that we were bound for an area about 80 miles out, where a shipwreck on the bottom. This wreck would provide food and shelter for fish and other marine creatures. We would probably be catching amberjack, grouper, cobia and red snappers. It is not uncommon for fish of 200-300 pounds to be taken. This accounts for the block and tackle pole I had noticed on the rear deck.
At last the engines began to slow and the Captain instructed the mates to throw out markers which indicated the location of the wreck. It was evident from the number of antenna that adorned the pilot house this boat was well equipped with all kinds of radar, sonar, and loran instruments, obviously locating the wreck was not a hit or miss proposition.
You could feel the energy building with excitement as the anchor was dropped and boat readied. No sooner had the boat settled and we were told we could start fishing, when a call for the gaff was heard.
The action became intense as people on all sides of the boat were calling for gaffs. Moans, grunts, and swears could be heard by those with good size amberjacks on the end of their lines 100 feet below, in the darkness and depths of the ocean, the battles were being fought.
I never caught amberjack before, but found them to equal the blue fish found in the waters of the northeast. A 20 lb amberjack feels not unlike having a nuclear submarine playing tog of war with you.
You drop your bate, in this case live pin fish, down to the bottom and slowly raise two to or three feet at a time when suddenly your rod makes a violent attempt to jump out of your hands. All at once all of your muscles train while you brace yourself, with your rod butt at your waistline, in this moment you suddenly realize why some people had strapped on fighting belts, trying to keep the tip of the rod up while the butt feels as though it’s driving through your mid section in an attempt to tickle your spine.
You crank the reel then suddenly the fish is gaining line again, and all you can do is hold on and wait. Slowly the battle turns in your favor and suddenly there he is, a silver flash darts across the water below.
With all the energy you can muster, in a barely audible voice, you call for the gaff. All at once, there he is on the deck. Green back and silver sides flapping wildly as you attempt to remove the hook from your well respected adversary .
That is what it’s like at 200 lbs plus, which I am. I imagine how the sweet little 100 lb lady in the bikini felt. Of course she had no trouble finding help, I could have screamed all day and doubt very mush if there would have been much response.
The two older ladies had good luck, between the two of them, catching about 20 15-20 pound fish. They had their own tackle and all of the crew knew them by name. I found out later that they went out on this charter often and were planning a two-day trip soon to the Dry Tortugas where they say the fishing is superb.
The tackle supplied was better than average for this type of boat. The action was furious for the first two hours, tapering as time went by. Everyone on board caught at least one fish. Including the younger children who were from about 10 years old and up. The ship’s mates were very helpful with bait, gaffing, and I even witnesses one of the mates take a gentlemen aside who had not yet caught a fish. Assisting him, baiting his hook and working hard to make sure the adventure was lived up to and a fish was caught. it was great to know that they were truly interested in seeing everyone have a good time.
After four hours of intense action all over the boat, the call was heard to haul in the lines. The engine started again, and the metal on metal sound of the anchor coming to rest on the bow rang out. We were homeword bound with the fish lockers full to the brim.
It’s quiet on board now, heading eastward, only the constant drum of the engines filled the air. Everyone again settles in for the long trop home, excited how the exciting anticipation is replaced by exhaustion and those who like little children on Christmas Eve were too hyper to sleep on the way out managed to find a place to stretch out and collapse.
Shortly before arriving back in Forth Meyers, the makes with he help of teenagers strain our “braggin” size catch about the boat. This was done for all to see as we entered the harbor. A good catch indeed. The largest fish being a 31 pound amberjack and a grouper of about the same size. Other boats arriving in port didn’t have nearly as good a catch, however, one boat had what appeared to be a hammerhead shark about 9 feet long its block and tackle.
Spectators and pelicans both gathers in great numbers to greet us dockside, where the fish were thrown ashore by number. After which the makes cleaned them if you wanted, for a price of course. This is the prime way the mates earn their money, but I suggest you settle on a price before having your fish cleaned as there may be a tendency to over estimate the weight of your finished fillets.
The car was a welcome sight now, as was dinner on the table when we got home. It’s a long day but a very exciting one, greatly enjoyed by children and adults, males and females, young and old. Pre-dawn to dusk, filled with new sights, sounds, and the warm feeling of special closeness with people who were strangers you boarded with just 12 hours earlier.
By: G. Allan Brown
Did you know that 1 in 5 people struggle with mental illness? July 2021, I am setting out on a bike ride across the country to raise awareness for mental health and The Great American Trail.