One of the hardest things I had to give up when we moved to
in 1978 was our fishing boat. I knew it would be a very long time, maybe
forever, before we had another. It’s not that I love fishing so much, but that
I love the water, salt water, in it, on it, even under it. Florida
So not very long after we got to
I began to look around for charter fishing trips. The closest I found was one
out of Florida on a boat named The Apollo. Who
could not feel safe and love that? I later found out the owners, the Standard
family, boasted generations of fishermen. I don’t remember our pilot’s first
name, but he did look seasoned by the wind and salt and sun. Crystal River
The boat pulled out of the dock at seven sharp so we had to leave
very early. Unlike many people I always enjoyed getting up in the dark
preparing for an adventure. It’s almost like writing a story. You’re not
exactly sure what’s coming but you have an outline, and you know it’s going to
be exciting. Gainesville
It was dark at 5 o’clock in the spring of the year when we got on I-75 south and exited on 121. We wanted plenty of time and would use any extra for a stop to enjoy a second small breakfast. With our car windows down, the air smelled clean and felt cool, and the farther we went, the brighter the stars got in the dark sky above.
It was only a little after six when we turned onto 19 South with just a few more miles to our destination. With our anticipation rising, we opted not to stop anywhere, continuing on to the dock site while sipping our Thermos of coffee.
When we found our turn-off, we wound around and between several canals to finally sight the crowd of happy fisherman waiting in front of the big white boat. Guess they were eager, too. We unloaded what we had been told to bring and joined them.
The boat was a real fishing boat, closed bow, pilot’s cabin (with a tiny little head just big enough to do your business and get out) and an open stern area with a few attached wooden seats, a bench for fish-cleaning, and a well for our catch. And underneath the deck, we could hear and smell the idling diesel engine. Mix that with the salty brine hanging in the crisp morning air, the brilliant sun just peeking above the trees in the distance, and you have a picture of true beauty to a fisherman. A chest-high railing ran the length of the port and starboard sides, meeting at the point of the bow for lots of fishing room.
When we were allowed to board, I perched on my favorite spot, the raised part of the closed bow. Here I could feel the bump-bump as we crossed the waves and my face would be powdered with salt spray carried by the wind. And I could see everything.
As I remember, it was around ten o’clock before we dropped anchor. Our boat was a slow one, and we were told we would be going over thirty miles out to find the fishing grounds (radar was involved). Soon, a couple of deck hands passed out fishing gear and squid for bait. I found a spot, baited up, cast over, and prepared to wait. The cool breeze and warm sun made me sleepy. No one got many bites so after a short time, our captain decided to move on. I took off my squid and returned him to the sea a little worse for wear. With my rod propped against the railing, I returned to my favorite spot. We moved slowly so some people trolled. I knew this would result in tangled lines when we stopped. It did, so I had plenty of time to re-bait and cast over when we were at a full stop.
I got a bite right away, a very strong one, and most everyone’s attention was riveted on my line. After some maneuvering and help from one of the deck hands, I landed a huge grouper, black grouper I think the captain said. This must be the spot. Most everyone had their hooks in the water, got bites, and landed something; happiness all around.
We moved a few more times as the bites slacked off, and by 2 o’clock the captain said it was time to head back in to the dock. Just at that moment I hooked onto something that would not let go. The captain came over and helped me wind it in. As it appeared on top of the water, he said, “That’s fire coral. Don’t touch it.” He sounded excited. I thought to myself, Don’t worry.
He reeled it in and gingerly got it off my hook with heavy gloves and a tool. When he said he’d like it for his aquarium and had been trying to catch one, I said, absolutely. Although it looks just like coral, later I learned it's not really a coral but related to the jelly fish. So glad I gave it away to someone who wanted it.
The one I caught looked like this.
On the ride back in, the deck hands weighed and cleaned our fish. My grouper came in at second biggest catch of the day, which provided us and Jim’s brother a few excellent fishy meals. And, of course, the ride home was much less exciting than the ride to The Apollo.