Man plans and God laughs – a Fishing Story

Decades ago, when I left on a contract to fly airplanes in the Middle East my “plan” was to be gone a maximum of 5 years, then return to West Palm Beach, Florida. (Remember the old saying about plans? “Man plans and God laughs.”)

On my return, and with my earnings in the bank, I would get a job as a Mate on a charter fishing boat for a year or so. I’d learn the business, then buy my own debt-free, fishing boat and enjoy a career as Captain Pat. To clarify the dream, I had never even been offshore fishing, but it certainly looked like a wonderful way to make a living.

Forty years later I did return to Florida; not West Palm Beach, but to Amelia Island. My interest in fishing had waned as a result of a busy life in the desert, flying private jets, serving as an aviation advisor to a Sheikh in the Royal Family, and managing two super yachts in the Mediterranean. I hadn’t had the time for offshore fishing, but it still held an intrigue. I did achieve the highly respected title of Captain. However, it was in airplanes and yachts; not charter fishing boats.

Months after settling on Amelia Island a friend invited me on a half-day fishing trip with Captain Allen. He has two “Wahoo”- named fishing boats in the downtown, Fernandina Beach, FL. harbor. His company motto is very appropriate. “Quit wishin’, let’s go fishin’.” Forty years of wishin’ was enough for me. It was time to call Captain Allen and go fishin’.

A cold front had recently passed through, the sky was severe clear, and the wind had died down to nothing. As a result, the sea was calm as we motored off on a heading of 090. About an hour out Captain Allen stopped the boat. We dropped the anchor and our lines hoping for a grouper or two. In no time my fishing pole bent like a pretzel and I was hanging on for dear life.

Captain Allen motivated me sufficiently by saying that if the rod and reel went over the side, I would have to buy him another one.

I would love to wax on like Hemingway and say that I fought that fish for a day and a half, but that would be a slight exaggeration. After about 15 minutes I brought the fish in over the side.

“Good grief Captain Allen, that’s the biggest damned goldfish I’ve ever seen”, I said.

Allen did a double take, looked at me in what I, at first thought, was admiration of my battle and said: “Ahh, Pat, that’s not a goldfish, that’s a Red Snapper. We can’t keep it because it’s out of season. We only have time for a quick picture, and we put it back in the water.”

Allen probably still thinks I was serious, but I swear I was joking. I knew it wasn’t a goldfish. They don’t come that big. Maybe a koi?

“Returning Big Red to the sea was all right with me. I’d probably never find a goldfish bowl big enough for it anyway.”

I watched Captain Allen remove the hook and we got the big guy over the side in plenty of time for him to look back at me before he swam away. I think I saw Big Red give me the fin just before he dived.

I spent the remainder of the morning baiting my own hook, dropping it and then raising it on command as we moved from one secret fishing spot to another. My companions, three college aged young men, were busy pulling in more Red Snappers which were quickly released.

Toward the end of the morning Captain Allen hooked me up with a reasonably sized Sea Bass as bait. “When something hits this thing, it’s going to be big, so hold on”, he said.

Sooner than I expected, it seemed like a submarine out of Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, not far away, came along and nearly tore the fishing gear out of my aged and arthritic hands. A couple of minutes into the fight, I decided that whatever the thing was, it was too damned big for me to handle, and I passed the excitement along to one of the young college men; Nick. He fought the beast until he was tired and then passed it on to Matt. He fought the fish until he was tired and then handed the project over to Josh. That catch, which Captain Allen had determined was a 7 foot long Dusky Shark that probably weighted about 250 pounds, went the rounds with all of those young men, three different times.

Finally, Captain Allen said, “We have to get that thing close enough to cut it loose. We’ll never get it in the boat. All I could think of was that famous line from the movie, Jaws. “We gotta get a bigger boat!”

The shark had tried to go under the boat, so Captain Allen had cut the engine and brought up the anchor. By now the GPS had determined that “Dusky” had towed us backward for nearly a quarter of a mile.

Allen took over the battle and got the shark in close enough so that we could cut the fishing line between the hook and the lead weight. He had explained that we could not let the shark go with the weight still attached. It would be too much of a hindrance to the shark until the line and/or the hook deteriorated and dropped off.

Captain Allen was a bit late for his afternoon charter, but we regaled his next customers with our fish stories to the point where they didn’t mind a delay.

I’m still adapting to life back in the United States and probably will be for quite some time. Even though it’s not the same country I left decades ago, Florida is still a wonderful State and I’m delighted we settled on Amelia Island. As long as we have people like Captain Allen around, who can fill a niche for those of us who are just curious about fishing and the sea, life remains extremely interesting.

Split 4-ways an offshore fishing trip is not as expensive as one might think. Especially when you realize that the price includes everything; all of the gear, the bait, the boat, your fishing license and the expertise.

My curiosity with fishing continues. I read an article about fly fishing, so I bought a starter, fly fishing rig from Amazon for about a hundred bucks. Found a web site that teaches one how to tie the basic necessary knots to attach the flies to the end of the line and I’m off on another adventure. But that’s another story.