I get a phone call from a guy that wants to take his son out shark fishing. He ask all the normal questions and he tells me he has been promising his son for awhile that they would do a shark fishing trip from Cocoa Beach. I explain that we most likely wont have any luck right now but in a month or so the shark fishing should get really good. He tells me that the trip needs to happen now and we schedule the trip for the next night.
We head out the next evening and of course the fishing is slow. We catch a few blue fish and croakers but nothing big. They had a good time and I could tell he was amazed by his son and enjoyed the time together. As we are heading back to the port his son was sitting on the front bench. The engine was humming at cruise speed and the father came up right next to me to talk and pay for the trip. At this time shark trips were $300 but the guy hands me $800 cash. He then tells me he just recently got diagnosed with cancer and was living on borrowed time. He wanted to pay for this trip and a future trip. He gave me a generous $100 tip for each. He said that his sister will call in a month or so to take his son to catch a shark because most likely he will gone by then.
This overwhelms me with emotion. It is everything I can do not to have tears pouring down my face but it also puts the pressure on me. How can I save this trip? Where can I catch a big fish within range of where I’m at? I know it is the wrong conditions for shark and all the fishing within 20 miles is poor right now. Its 10 p.m. and I need something big. As a captain the pressure to catch fish can overwhelm you on a daily basis. Some captains can’t handle it and don’t last long. Some captains don’t care and well… that’s why they suck! The really good captains find a way to make it work. Making it work doesn’t always mean being able to find the fish but sometimes it is to help make memories that will last a lifetime. I have never felt pressure like this!
They think the trip is over and all I can think is I have to find something big. I decide my best bet is a last ditch effort of throwing some big chunks of bait by the channel markers. This is almost never a good area for sharks but we do get some big bottom rays and the occasional big red drum. I tell them we are going to try one last thing and the son is super pumped and so is the dad but he tells me I don’t have to. I have my game face on and at this point they will have to tell me to go back before I give up on at least 1 big fish. 15 minutes into this last ditch effort the rod bends heavy and it is game on. This thing is pulling off a little drag on tightened down 100lb test. They are both hanging on to the rod, laughing and straining. I can tell it is a big sting ray but they are guessing everything from a great white to a marlin. After a few minutes we have the ray boat side. I grab it by its gill holes, show dad how to safely hold it and snap a few pictures before releasing it. The pressure is off thank goodness but I thrive on the pressure. It gives me an edge. The opportunity to make memories like that is why I have the greatest job in the world. We gave it 15 more minutes to see if we could get one more but never had another shot.
As we idled through the port they were talking about the epic fight. Replaying it through words and motions. All I could do is smile. My heart felt great!
About 3 months later the boy & his aunt came back out with me. The dad had passed away and I could see the sadness as the boy was still reflecting on the loss. I’m sure he was thinking of the fun he had with his dad on the last trip. Shark fishing was very good that night. We caught 6 or 7 sharks and the 2 of them had a blast. I am sure it was a relief to be able to just have fun. Fishing is amazing like that. You can loose yourself in it. Fishing helps take the worries away and it is a good way to start healing the sadness. I’m sure his dad was with us that night watching his boy catch those sharks. Maybe the son could feel it. I don’t know we didn’t talk about it. In fact we didn’t even talk about the previous trip. Maybe it was just to fresh and sad.
I also lost my dad a few years ago. I know I can feel him with me while out in the ocean. Especially when I am riding in the tower scanning the ocean for fish. It is soothing to me and I always think of him when I am up there by myself taking in the oceans beauty and wonder. The picture below is my dad and our fishing trips together are memories that will last me a lifetime.