It was supposed to be a work trip. At the last second my boss, friend and the Editor-in-Chief of Anglers Journal, Bill Sisson arranged a charter trip so he could profile Capt. Bouncer Smith—a legendary skipper and angler with numerous world records to his name—for a story in the upcoming issue of the magazine. It was supposed to be a fairly formal affair: Bill would write the story, I would shoot photos, Digital Director John Turner would shoot video and Trade Only Publisher Emeritus Dean Waite was there to … well, okay, Dean was there to catch some fish.
Bill asked thoughtful questions and tried valiantly to take notes as Smith’s Dusky 33 center console pounded through the inlet and into 4-foot seas. It was all going according to plan until the pelican. Hungry and eyeing the baitfish we were jigging up, the bird of prey landed in the cockpit and fought for its breakfast. Curses, laughing, yells and one strangely specific, non-PETA-friendly threat filled the air. The mate had to wrestle the bird into submission before escorting it off the boat. Professionalism be damned, the ice was broken—shattered, really. From this point on, this became a fishing trip with friends.
We rocked and rolled for about an hour when the mate Abie calmly- handed John a rod and asked him to reel. He obliged, thinking he was simply clearing a line. Then the sailfish hit. An epic battle ensued with a few not-fit-for-print expletives from the Brooklyn native thrown in for good measure. We all yelled at him to reel faster and faster and laughed as we continued talking smack. When the fish was released there were high-fives all around.
The action stayed hot. Bill and Dean landed a few dolphin and I pulled in a kingfish. Interviews melted into conversation as we soaked up some sun and lazed the rest of the morning away. After returning to the dock I took a stab at filleting (read: butchering) some of the mahi. Miraculously, and with a fair bit of coaching, I managed to shave off enough meat for us to bring to Monty’s restaurant, where, after we signed a waiver (yes—that felt fishy), they would cook our catch for us on the spot.
The consensus was unanimous: It was the best seafood lunch we’ve ever had. The company wasn’t half bad either.
Recently, rewatching one of the videos shot on that trip brought a tear to my eye. Not 12 days after that favorable fishing trip I found myself, heart racing, walking the sterile halls of Yale New Haven Hospital. Bill had a health emergency hours earlier and was undergoing surgery. Sitting in the waiting room with his family as they went through hell was about as far as you can fall from a South Florida charter trip.
Bill is a tough, self-described “Swamp Yankee” with the support staff a commander-in-chief would envy. At press time, he is still being closely monitored, but he’s expected to make a full recovery and to be back on the water in time for the spring striper run.
Looking back on our fishing adventure, what really makes me shake my head is that it almost didn’t happen. The outing materialized at the last minute ahead of the Miami boat shows; the equivalent of Game 7 for a marine journalist. We had videos to shoot, meetings to schedule and a calendar of events to divide up. In the end, none of us wanted to regret missing a great Anglers Journal story. We went fishing.
Regret. It’s a powerful emotion that packs a punch. If I had missed that fishing trip and Bill had not gotten to a world-class hospital when he did-—I shudder to admit this—but I would have felt that emotion forever.
I believe in hard work. I believe a man is obligated to provide for his family, but I promised myself recently that I wouldn’t let life’s myriad distractions prevent me from making real memories—the kind that are made not from behind a computer or on a conference call, but instead leave you sunburnt with salt in your hair. The kind you can only make on the water. I hope you’ll hold me to that promise and I hope that you hold yourselves to the same.
That half-day trip with Bouncer, Bill, John and Dean taught me lessons I hope to never forget: Reel fast. Life is short. And watch out for the pelicans.
I’ll see you on the water.