Take a moment to forget about winter

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Look. Don’t get upset with me, OK? This an attempt, not to rub it in, but to offer you a winter diversion, a daydream to get your mind off the nasty winter that has had you in its clammy grip for weeks now.

So close your eyes. Let your mind wander. Try not to think about the icy driveway, or tomorrow’s forecast. Come fish with me on a delicious day in the Florida Keys.

Dawn is breaking and an orange glow dances across the light chop on the ocean-side of Key Largo. My fishing partner for the day, Capt. Dave Wilson, guns the throttle. The 200-horsepower Yamaha outboard bites into the saltwater leaving a creamy foam behind us. Our fishing platform for the day, a 24-foot mako, jumps up on a plane. We bounce our way seaward across the choppy water like two cowboys on a spirited untamed horse. Capt Dave, with one eye on his GPS, steers us on course 090 degrees toward his favorite fishing hole, a fan coral, or “muttonhead” laying beneath the sea about five miles out.

Skipper Dave yells above the wind and the purring Yamaha. “Got a feeling we’re gonna do better this time,” he said with a smile.” The tide is right, and this wind is definitely going to lay down right after lunch,” he said with confidence.

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I’m hoping he’s right —  in more ways than one. On a previous trip, Capt. Dave, Diane, and I, ventured forth when we should have stayed at home. It was really rough! The anchored Mako rolled, yawed and pitched like a ballistic space ship. We snagged a couple of short yellowtail snappers, but it was more work than fun. Yours truly got a tad green and a decision was made to bring me, a former navy man, back to level ground (Diane was fine).

Capt. Dave tried to comfort me. “It can happen to anyone, Paul. Remember, fishing on my boat, is like Las Vegas. What happens on this boat, stays on this boat.” Which means that I can’t share with you what Diane said about my weak stomach.

But it’s a reasonable day today, wind wise. It’s nothing I can’t handle and getting back up on the horse is good medicine. We find the fan coral head and drop anchor. Soon the chum is in the water and Capt. Dave and I bait up with frozen shrimp. Using spinning rods with a 15-pound test and a big sliding sinker, we cast astern into the “chum line.” It doesn’t take long. The fish begin to bite and the meat gathering begins. The action is delightful. We are hooking and landing so many different species of fish.

We are catching everything going: Grunts, yellowtail snapper, porgies, barracuda, grouper, and, what we were really after, the coveted table delight, hogfish snapper. In fact, the “Hawgs” are good-sized and more plentiful than usual. Capt. Dave is pleased.

With this kind of steady-action fishing, I realize that each fish has its own “fighting personality.” As a rod bender, hogfish snappers remind me somewhat of lake trout the way they alternately shake their heads and then sulk.

Soon, the fish locker is full of fresh fillets. We break for a beer and sandwich. We get better acquainted by talking about fishing, business and our shared passion, writing. Capt. Dave is a financial advisor and capable wordsmith, who is still trying to write the Great American Novel.

“Time to head for the barn. We have had a very productive day,” said Capt. Dave.

Back at the dock, a man from France, who speaks no English, wants to see the fish. We show him the day’s catch and I take a stab at his language. To Capt. Dave’s amusement, the Frenchman and I manage some rough communication. He not only is admiring our fish, he wants some! Capt. Dave, who is of a generous nature, proceeds to give away our hogfish. I give my fishing partner a look. A fast thinker, Capt. Dave remembers that we are carrying a dozen grunts (Keys version of our Maine white perch) in our live well. He gives our visitor a Ziploc bag full of still-kicking grunts.

The Frenchman is a picture of happiness. “Merci, merci,” says he. We all shake hands.

Capt. Dave is looking at me to see if I share his pleasure with sharing our fish with a stranger. I do, especially when it’s not the hogfish. As we walk away, the skipper speaks, “What’s that saying,” he says, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and his wife will rarely ever see him again.”

We both laugh. What another memorable winter day in the Florida Keys.

Tight lines, my Maine friends. See you, maybe, on the stream opening day.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal and has written his first book, A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com.

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