“Imagine THAT“, sports fans! Yes, it is a tale of woe, despair, and grief… yet it is a tale of triumph, joy, camaraderie, and determination… Hooked yet? “FISH ON!”
I have never made the drive to visit my best friend Jen in Tampa when she lived in Florida. I was always scared of making the drive by myself. I was most afraid of the menacing Skyway Bridge. I have this fear of bridges that I don’t like to tell anyone about, and the steeper the bridge, the more afraid I am. Panic sets in, I start to sweat, my heart feels like it will pop out of my chest, and I can barely suck in a breath. It’s irrational, I know, but most fears are if you think about it.
“Like a Bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.”
I was fueled by a pumpkin spice latte, a turkey/ham and cheese sandwich, and a banana from 7-11 (bananas are ok on planes, methinks, by the way). I had XM-Sirius’ Alt Nation, The Pulse, and Lithium keeping me company as I tooled down I-75 at 430a. My thoughts were fishing. They sucked me to Biloxi, like a magnet to a Frigidaire. I was “underway and off to see the world.”
I was on my way to Biloxi for the SKA Nationals, all expenses paid, where Team Bandit had already secured the Angler of the Year title. It was in the bag for them. I was going take pictures and write a little something-something glowing about it and what it takes to be a winner of such an event… the blood, the sweat, the tears, the triumphs, the defeats, the determination and will to survive… the whole nine. It was going to be one of those pieces of sh!t articles that we read that inspires us to, like Nike, “Just Do it” because with a little elbow grease, we too can be winners. Yeah, you’ve read those cliché articles before. This is not one of them.
I was initially invited to pre-fish with the team, only to have the invite revoked. I was also invited to fish for tuna and wahoo only to find out that they went the previous day. They ran out of gas 7 miles offshore. While under tow by the Coast Guard, they hit an unmarked pipe, doing damage to the boat. I thought “Serves them right! You don’t UNINVITE a fisherman from fishing. Especially if that fishing is TUNA fishing, which happens to be my favorite fish in the entire world!” That’s just dirty pool, if you ask me, which you didn’t, but deal with it, it‘s my story, after all. They were pissed at the Coast Guard, of course, and wanted them to pay for the damages. My opinion of this is not favorable, so I will simply keep it to myself.
I wanted ever so desperately to find the losing team and fish with them. It became my sacred mission. If I couldn’t fish with the winners, I would fish from the depths and rock with the underdog. They were fishing because they wanted to be there, not because they had to be there to collect a shiny trophy and have their saccharine pictures taken for the magazines with their best mirror-practiced smiles . It takes balls to get out there and fish from the pits. It takes true love and passion of the sport.
I saw our airplane had just pulled up to the window. I had successfully smuggled a lighter in my carry on luggage with a trick taught to me by my airport x-ray tech cousin. He travels all over the world, servicing x-ray machines at the airports, and in vehicles that patrol the boarders. Yes, there are vehicles that x-ray you as you drive around cluelessly unawares. They are looking for money, drugs, but most importantly… people. My lighter is hardly a threat. I simply want to smoke a cigarette when I get off the plane. Is that such a crime? Lock me up.
Beyond the mountains are things you can’t see. They could be very good or they could be very, very bad, but you will never know until you climb it. I crossed the bridge.
On my flight to Atlanta, I sat next to a hulluva nice guy named John. He sells materials to Home Depot and the like. He is in charge of the sales reps from what I gathered. We talked about the fishing tournament and what one packs for such an event. I told him the fishing bag was easy (bibs, jeans, socks, boots, parka) and my carry on is just camera equipment and a laptop. “It doesn’t really matter if my regular clothes are lost. My fishing bag traveled ahead of me with Team Bandit,” I explained.
I told him all about how to smuggle a lighter in your carry on like a drug-lord. He listened to me over-attentively until I was finished and informed me that you have been able to carry one on your person for about a year now. He called me 006 and got quite a chuckle over the whole thing. Eh. First to go, and the last to know.
At the airport, there was a news story on the mounted sets about a girl and there were people going crazy… Shania and death of a child. Lafayette? Shania Davis. The father had lost his mind in rage and tears. I surely couldn’t bear to watch this. Shame, sadness, rage, and disbelief seemed to beckon protest. Why people go after children or the weak, I will never understand.
I used the toilet to take one of those epic Austin Powers pisses and the toilet kept flushing before I was done. It kept scaring the sh!t out of me (figuratively speaking, here folks). When I was done, the damned thing wouldn’t flush… eh. Too much information, I am quite sure.
There was a smoking lounge there AND a Wendy’s. I had had two cigarettes and a grilled chicken sandwich. It was ok, nothing bad, but nothing great. In the smoking lounge slumped a bunch of Army folk. The Sergeant was the product of a lot of work and very well built. Broad shoulders, muscular, a bit on the biggish, but not over the top…. just nice well rounded muscles. It struck me as odd that he would be a smoker. There were a lot of Army soldiers there for some reason that I don’t know about to this day. It’s probably very obvious, but I surely don’t know the answer. The man in the Navy sweatshirt looked a little uncomfortable surrounded by all of the Army peeps. Outnumbered and outgunned, for sure.
After a phone call, I found one of the mates on Team Bandit was having difficulty finding a team for me to fish with. “Maybe it’s time I took matters into my own hands,” I mustered.
There was already trouble brewing at home with angry phone calls about who gets my children on what days. This was all sorted out before I left and it had turned into an ex-husband / grandparent ego-fest. I had to make several phone calls that ended in yelling, which is a bad sign. I am typically very patient and it takes a long time to push me that far.
Team Bandit was out fishing. I made it to the hotel room by myself and had already unpacked. I was frustrated beyond belief and could only hope to find myself on a boat in the midst of all of this nonsense.
The Palace Casino Resort
I had dinner with the Captain and a mate of Team Bandit. It was ok. I tried some oysters on the half shell and they weren’t too bad. It was explained that I couldn’t pre-fish with the team since the Captain’s wife would be jealous. I understood and graciously accepted the apology. I approached some fisherly looking folks and asked about how to find out who the losing team was. I was told to talk to Jack who runs the SKA.
We later went to the casino where we had a few drinks. “Gator Fan” Dave was talking to a youngish looking salty-dog named Billy Poertner and I meandered into the conversation. I had already asked Dave if I could fish with him; he said no, quite politely, but would keep an eye out for the underdogs per my request. I started to express this to Billy, who said that I had just met the underdog. I perked up and asked if I could fish with them so I could write a feature about them. He said it was a small boat, but I was welcome to fish with them. I got the details. 7am. Boat slip C17. He made sure I understood it was a small boat. I made sure he knew this wouldn’t be a problem for me. He also said he curses a lot… and I said “it didn’t f#cking bother me a bit.”
I met his first mate accidentally at the craps table. We got to talking about fishing (always seems to happen) and he said “Hey, you’re fishing with US!!!” He left the table early and I played craps with some gangstas straight out of the movie “Colors” who were actually very polite, albeit intimidating at first. I rolled the dice, won them money, and I was their little white good luck charm. I befriended the man who ran the craps table and we talked fishing and he taught me the game of craps.
Isle of Capri - Boat Slip C17
I arrived early so I wouldn’t miss the boys who were probably convinced I was drunk and full of sh!t the night before when I begged to fish along with them. Billy was busy rigging and making last minute preparations. He flashed a quick boyish smile when he saw me which made me feel like I was truly welcomed on his boat, rather than a d!ck on a birthday cake tagging along. One of the mates from Team Bandit told Billy he would have fun fishing with me and built up my press by telling him about the 350# shark I parked for an hour so the rest of the guys could pick off the cobia two weeks prior. Realistically, I the shark was more 250ish, and it wasn’t a Bull as he had stated, but a Dusky. I’ve found captains have a way of exaggerating things. He had talked me up, which was a good amount of pressure considering I don’t know my ass from my elbow or sh!t from shinola. I can do my own rigging, I can tug away at a fish and have never given up on ANY fish, but my form sucks. I am slow as proverbial molasses, and not what you would consider a body builder by any means. They are expecting “Lil’ Mizz Fishkilla,” which is a fine nom de plume, but far from the actual truth fishing-wise.
Chris approached the dock and offered a “Good morning, Liz.” I returned the good morning nicety and he puzzled over me for a second before he asked if I had more clothes to wear since it would be really cold. Billy had offered to throw some foul weather gear on me, but the previous evening I told him I had my own which I had stuffed in a backpack with my camera, a zoom lens, cigs, extra clothes, clippers, pliers, and about fifty lighters. “Did you win any money at the craps table?”
“No, I didn’t play, but I rolled the dice for someone else and won them some money.”
I asked Billy if he needed any help rigging and he politely said “No thank you, we’ve got it.” Billy’s dad approached the boat and I said good morning to him. He asked “So, you’re fishing with us?” and I responded “Yes, I think so!” I extended my hand and introduced myself and he introduced himself as Bill. I asked if Billy was a Jr. and he responded “Almost, but he has a different middle name.”
Billy introduced his father and I, but Bill said we had it covered stating, “Are you kidding? A pretty girl on a dock? Of course we met.” Pretty. No. Secure in my fishsculinity? Yes.
“Wait until mom hears about this,” Billy joked. I stood there looking like an idiot, really not knowing what to say. Socially awkward? Yes, sure am. Guilty as charged.
I pleaded again if there was anything I could do, but I was told they were fine and just to relax. I sat on the curb and munched on a croissant for a while feeling restless and useless as t!ts on a bull. I wanted to be useful to them. I can tie a spider hitch, a uni, a surgeon’s knot, a triple surgeon’s, a loop knot, an Albright, a modified Albright… there had to be something I could rig for them or help with, right? They had to use at least one of these knots, I reasoned. I felt useless. I slipped into my slicks and walked back to C17.
Captain Billy told me I could get myself settled in. I looked at the gap between the dock and the 23’ Pathfinder Offshore in panic. There was around 5 feet between me and the boat and there was no “stepping gently” for me. I am 5 foot nothing and have the Guinness Book World records for being the least graceful human on the face of the planet and quite possibly the worst singer. This was a leap of faith onto a gunwale that was maybe 12 inches wide at very best. I pictured myself mistepping, flying backward like Wily Coyote on a banana peel, clunking my head on the cement wall while the roadrunner “meep meep“ed at me, hysterial at my hijinx, leaving me in a cloud of purple-grey dust. If you ask anyone who has fished with me, I have a general refusal to ask for help and a complete lack of coordination. However, looking down, plotting, trying to sort out a way to will the boat closer to me via telekinesis… I finally decided I should suck it up and ask if they could get the boat a little closer. Yes, I raised my chick flag for the first time on the trip. Chris pulled the boat slightly closer and I was good to go with a little hop-step-lickety-split.
Billy showed me where the cooler and dry storage were and told me that they had extra Old Harbor Outfitters foul weather pullovers that I was welcome to if I needed. I said I thought I would be ok. I mean, I’ve been cod fishing in the banks in January with Jen. I figure I can handle anything Mississippi can throw my way. In fact, I was feeling like a cold-weather-badass at that point, prepared to make fun of the Floridian boys for being all coldish and shivering. I KNOW cold. Yeah right. Remember these words. This, my friends, is what you call “foreshadowing.”
Billy pulled out one of the E-Searider bean bag chairs he had told me about previous night. It was extremely comfortable and absorbed all of the shock from the many bumps in the road. I felt bad that it meant someone else couldn’t use one, but they insisted. I believe I dozed off. I have no idea how far out we went, but the trip was possibly three hours or three minutes before we got to our first oil rig. I have no clue, I was completely comatose in this cuddly hug of bean bag heaven.
The boys tied on sabikis and started fishing for bait. I kept asking if I could help with anything. I saw an outfit with a buck tail and asked if I should try jigging. A dazzling show of bait displayed all over the fish finder in vibrant colors. Bill started with a slow steady jig on the starboard side and Chris did the same on the port. Other boats joined us and started pulling blue runners with more aggressive and fast jigs. Bill increased his attack and started catching blue runners left and right. Chris stuck with his slow and steady pace which reminded me of a pompano jig. I wanted to show him my secret “creep, creep, creep” method, but I didn’t want to be the bitch on the boat that came on and started telling people what to do. I hung back and watched, happy with my role as strictly a “field reporter.”
“I try my best to match the hatch, or fish baits that are prominent in that area, large baits are better. The other main strategy we like to use is trying to keep baits in the water as much as possible,” Billy offered.
Billy and I chatted it up and I tried asking reporter type questions, rather unsuccessfully. He had warned me that he curses a lot on the boat, and I teased him that I hadn’t yet heard any cursing and was slightly disappointed with his lack of salty sailor-speak.
Billy later said of their strategy “We try to pre-fish as much as possible and try to learn as much of the water as possible. Definitely a learning curve with long runs offshore to get to the fish. We definitely didn’t realize that we would be running 60 miles off to just get bait.” When I asked him the importance he places on pre-fishing, Billy responded “Very important, fishing waters you have never fished before, trying to learn them in a week is a huge disadvantage.”
Chris hooked bottom and was having difficulty freeing himself. Billy told him to put the rod up and down and pull hard. Chris tried doing this and Billy calmly said “F@ck, you’re going to break the rod.” I wanted to help, because I knew how to do this since I am the master of rock fishing; I have been through this exercise a number of times. Sometimes I can unhook myself, other times, someone has to bail me out. Again, I didn’t want to overstep my boundaries so I hung back feeling very useless (notice the uselessness theme so far?). Billy walked over, put the tip down straight at the water, and gave a good tug. Chris was free. Chris said “Well, you should have told me to put the tip down, rod up, and tug!”
“Well, yeah, I guess you’re right. See what I have to put up with, Liz?” Billy remarked with a sh!t eating grin.
I quickly found out the roles of everyone on the boat. Billy is the calm and controlled Captain from Sebastian, FL. Much like Henry the V, “Once more into the breach dear friends,” he is a leader and a crew member. He asks for the crew’s input and respects what they say. He is not afraid to climb in the trenches. He is a former Marine and currently enlisted in the USCG Reserve. I told him jokingly that he needed to kick their asses a little more, but he said “They would like that too much.” I observed him for a while as he spoke about his family, about fishing, about journalism, and “straight jobs.” We meandered around and talked about other fishing he does, “Sail fishing, dolphin, pretty much any kind of fishing but I truly love offshore fishing. Inshore is fun also, but nothing beats setting up the kites and watching kingfish rocket on your baits or watching sailfish ball up on a bait. Once you see it, you will be hooked.”
His father had a slight misstep backward and Billy, very nonchalantly, almost without looking, extended a hand and put it at the small of his father’s back to steady him as he continued talking… if you weren’t completely studying everyone’s movements, you would have missed this little gesture. It spoke volumes about the character of the man I was fishing with. Billy is the type of guy you wish all men were like. This moment struck me, and I will forever remember it.
Bill is the quintessential fisherman. He is a man you would imagine to never have missed a day on the water. He knows how to fish, and when he speaks, Captain Billy listens. He is a man who says little, but when he does, you know you should shut up and take notes. He works as a foreman for Steel Fabricators and is a Vietnam Veteran for the US Army.
Chris, from North Port, I learned, was the boat bitch, the boat weirdo, and like Billy, also in the USCG Reserve. He was fairly new to king fishing, but being an original New Yawka, had fished for plenty of bluefish. He was charismatic and quietly funny. I tried joking with him and his personality slowly came out. I related to him, since I am always the boat bitch and the freak. Chris is a Firefighter / EMT. He was a hell of a mate and the kind of guy you could stay up all night with drinking beers and talking shop… or shooting craps.
Bill was catching blue runners like there was a Blue Light “two-for-one” special on them while Chris hadn’t hooked into anything. Bill had a string of three runners. One of them popped off onto the deck of the boat. I remembered a warning… “DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!”
Most folks I fish with are aware of the fact that I will pretty much scoop up any fish bare-handily-no-rag-no-fear, without knowing how to handle it. “Christ, you have no idea about gill plates, do you?!?” I’ve heard when I grabbed a snook off my line by squeezing it’s gills shut. “You have no respect for gill plates,” was explained on another occasion. I was staring at the blue runner on the deck just sitting there and heard a voice in my head “Don’t EVER touch their bait.” Billy was occupied, taking the other blue runners off the sabiki. I grabbed a wet rag, picked the runner up by the gill plates, and tossed it in the box feeling like I had done ok and maybe I was “Flash Gordon” fast so nobody saw it.
“Hey Chris, Liz has put more bait in the box than you have! You’re fired as first mate!” Billy joked. BUSTED! He showed me his little dehooker and explained how it was the best two dollar invention ever created.
Our conversation meandered and I could feel that they were finally starting to relax a little around me. For all intents and purposes, they think I am a reporter coming on board to write about tackle and tactics for Kings. I explained to Billy that my writing is more about the love of fishing and the experience of it. He asked why I wanted to write a story about the underdogs.
“Well, I was supposed to fish with the champs, but I was uninvited, really. It was going to be an easy piece. But the underdog story is REALLY more up my alley. You are here because you TRULY love to fish. I want you guys to slam dunk and win this thing more than anything. It‘s too easy for them to fish this thing. They‘ve already won Angler of the Year.”
Billy’s face lit up and he smiled. I can read his mind - “She understands.”
Chris was busy bleeding out his finger for a few minutes. “Are you really hurt?” I asked with genuine motherly concern.
“Nah,” Chris stated, still squeezing his finger.
“I’m a medic,” Billy commented. “He’s fine.”
“Oh, so you’re just being a p@ssy then?” I sassed.
“Ha, I’m bleeding it out,” he said, smiling ear to ear, invoked by my usage of the “P” bomb.
“Dad! Did you hear that?!?” Billy relayed the p@ssy remark. Everyone laughed, the ice was officially broken and I was no longer the stuffy reporter chick. I had been promoted to “chum” status.
We tried a few more oil rigs and, between runs, I was always given the bean bag while either Chris or Bill were bounced around the slamming boat. I kept offering it up to the other guys, since I had been monopolizing it, dozing off… Each time we would get to a new oil rig, I would struggle to unwedge it from between the helm and the gunwale. Each time, one of the boys would come over and help me. Each time, I felt my chick flag was raised just a wee bit higher.
“Don’t let it kick your ass, kid!” Chris joked as he helped me unwedge it. “Ha! Kid? I’m older than you, son!” Chris had started to fool back, and life was good. I was falling in love with the boat and the crew and thought briefly about the Bandit and how they certainly weren’t having as good of a time as we were. I learned later that this was completely accurate. They are militaristic, all business, and there was no fun to be had on the boat. In fact… [edited to protect the identities of those who shall not be named.]
We all had a beer. Billy explained that he normally doesn’t drink on the boat because he has an obligation to his sponsors, and he also represented the Coast Guard and the Fire Department. Each time he cursed, he would say “oh, sorry,” or “excuse me.” I said “are you still worried about that sh!t? Please, don’t be.” I guess they had the impression I was some sort of REAL reporter.
Each time we stopped, I would take off my parka, and each time we started up again, Billy would attempt to help me put it back on gentleman style. I thanked him and told him he didn’t have to help, but each time, he would see me searching for the other side of my parka like a one armed paperhanger and pull it over my shoulder for me. We joked that we were wimpish, being from Florida, all cold and layered so thickly we resembled swollen ticks, hardly able to move. I told him about cod fishing with Jen in January up north. I don’t think I was able to relay how cold it was up there. I also told him how all of the guys will look at us like “What the f#ck?” whenever we get on a boat. Like I have stated previously, I am socially awkward, going on and on, like “There was this one time, in band camp…” Yeah, you know the reference.
Chris asked why I wasn’t fishing with the Bandit crew and I explained that there was an issue with a possible jealous wife. “Ah, that’s the problem with insecure women. What a pain in the ass.” I didn’t buy the whole excuse of said wife. I met the alleged “wife,” later on. She was quite cool and had assumed I DID fish with them.
Billy asked how I knew the team and I told him how one of the crew had attempted to teach me to gaff grapefruits, but I sucked at it. So, off I went to buy a stout gaff and bags and bags of grapefruits. I told him I can gaff the hell out of a grapefruit now. “So, if there are any floating fruits that pass by, we’re all set.”
“Hell yeah, I got it,” I joked.
I asked if his girlfriend fished and he said she gets horribly seasick.
“That really sucks,” I said.
“Yeah, it does.”
Billy asked Chris to make him a sandwich. I watched as Chris carefully wiped the blade of a new knife, sliced a chunk of bread, and carefully slid the knife into the ice in the cooler. He squeezed out some mustard and pulled the knife back out to spread the mustard. The knife went back into the ice. Chris carefully layered cold cuts onto the sandwich. He carefully put everything away. After he had handed it to Billy, he pulled the knife out, wiped it off, and sheathed it again. I remarked about how meticulous he is. Bill came over, ripped off a hunk of bread, put some cold cuts on it, and was very matter of fact about it. I ate a left-over Dagwood from the night before that I couldn’t finish.
The boys began to troll some of their baits. They used Cannon downriggers, Shimano TLD 25’s on Chaos rods, VMC hooks and AFW wire. It wasn’t long before they hooked up. Bill said “here, do you want to reel it in?”
I thought “F!ck yeah, I want to reel it in!!! Give me the mother f@cker!” but I quickly threw off my parka and asked “Don’t you guys want to pull it in?”
Bill handed me the rod and asked if I wanted a fight belt. I said I would be fine. He walked around the boat with me. I had trouble level winding and the reel would occasionally stick. Bill would pull in the line and I would try to reel down, but it wasn’t working well, and I had some very-bad-no-no-slack in the line. We were out of synch and I wasn’t used to being helped.
“Ha, the reporter’s pulling in a fish! How do you use your camera?”
“Just use the dial at the top to turn it on.”
Up came my very first Amberjack. I posed with it for a few pictures. I didn’t really know how to hold it, so I treated it like a striper and went under the gills slightly. After I had my picture taken, I threw it back.
“Did you revive it?”
“Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…. Was I supposed to?”
My fish was floating around pathetically on it’s side. Billy pulled around to it, Bill revived it by plunging it forcefully face first into the water, but the fish popped up again. They said the fish would be fine. I hope it was. It’s bladder needed to deflate and within a few minutes, it would be ok, I was told.
We moved to another oil rig. They were hooked up within minutes. Again, they handed me the rod, but it was something lunky and not very big. It was a foul hooked black tip shark. Maybe 3 feet.
The boys trolled around some more without any bites. It was time to head back in.
“The only thing I would suggest is that you don’t allow any slack in your line. I loaded it with top shot, which I am going to fix.”
I felt my heart sink. I know about slack. I know it’s a bad thing. I know how to level wind, but for some reason created that stupid f$cking cone on the side. I couldn’t get really pumped up over my first AJ since my performance was so suck ass.
“You handled that well, Liz.” Billy offered. “I don’t understand why Bandit didn’t want you to fish with them with you as a Lady Angler. If you are ever interested in fishing with us, please let me know.”
“Hell yeah! I’d love to!” I was figuring if they were impressed by my piss poor performance, they might be impressed when I have my game face on. I still felt really bad about my slack line and I felt really bad for my floating AJ. I felt like I had no business fishing ever again, really.
We headed back in and again, I offered the bean bag to the other boys. Billy stepped on the bag and immediately wiped it off for me. I said, “Man, do you think I worry about getting dirty?” He responded with a smirk, “From the looks of it, you’ve never washed your slicks.” Heads were tossed back and laughter spewed out like music.
I snapped a couple of pictures of the pelicans on an oil rig and Billy relayed a story about how his sister would lovingly name all of the pelicans at his dock. Billy would spray the pelicans with a hose to get his sister’s blood boiling. He told me how the boat got it’s name.
“’Imagine That,’ started out while we were working on the boat and my sister was pretty much busting our chops, saying things like, having trouble with the transducer, imagine that, and such. Then she kept mocking us and when we entered our first tournament on this boat, we did well and she again said, ‘wow we beat some of the bigger boats, imagine that’ and it just pretty much stuck.”
I loved to hear him speak about his family with so much love in his eyes.
“Fishing with dad is hard to explain, when I was a kid and we butted heads from time to time we could always head offshore and spend time on the water fishing. To still be fishing 20 years later with my dad is awesome, its really nice to still be sharing time with him on the water. This year we have an incredible year and fishing with my dad makes it that much better. We fished the West Palm Beach 440 and received 10th overall, 3rd place small boat, top senior, and 3rd place bottom fish, but the day was so much more then that. We caught so much fish that day it was crazy, it was just me and my dad, it was rough, but the fishing was on fire, it’s days like that one that is a memory that we will have forever.” There was a long silence. “I wanted to add something to the question about fishing with my dad. Fishing for us is a family tradition, My grandfather and my dad passed on their love for the ocean and fishing. For that I am forever grateful. We have always fished tournaments in South Florida and its always been a family thing, including my dad, my sister, and myself. I think that’s what makes it so special to me. I know I sound cheesy but for as long as I can remember, there are always memories of fishing with my family.”
We headed back in and as usual, I dozed off in that valium of a bean bag aided by the hum of the Yamaha 300 HPDI. I swear, it had magical powers that lulled me to sleep, as Morpheus danced in my mind, drool dripping from my mouth complete with the boat-bounce-head-bobble.
I felt a hand on my knee. Billy was looking down at me. He gave me a thumbs up with a head cock as if to ask “is everything ok?” I gave a thumbs up, a head nod, and slipped back off… I never sleep well at home, but put me on a boat, and I make up for lost time!
I was suddenly awakened by my body shaking. It had gotten quite cold and the weather was completely sh!tactically grey and cold. The closer we got to the dock, the colder it got. I have felt this on several occasions and wondered why this happens. My teeth were chattering and my bones were shaking so hard they started to hurt. My feet and hands were completely numb.
Something happened with the motor, but it was fixed in no time and we were once again headed back.
We got back to the dock and the team offered me a ride back to the hotel in the warmth of their truck. I was very appreciative. We all hugged at as I exited the elevator. Billy said that if I ever wanted to fish with him again, I was more than welcome. I re-stated that I would fish with him any time. “Thanks again for everything, I am going to take you up on that, I have a few tournaments that I could use a female angler I will send you the dates when I get them,” Billy ended as I sauntered onto my floor.
The boys fished the first day, and I waited in the press area for a few of the teams I had befriended on the trip. I snapped their pictures, but I was really waiting to see how “Imagine That” had fared. I decided I would make the dangerous trek across the zig-zaggy seawall where I had maybe 2 inches of clearance to get around the outward swinging gate which closed it off from the public. This doesn’t sound bad, but it was idiotically dangerous. If the gate (completely unsecured) swung open, I could be knocked into the water with no way to climb out. I wanted to see them coming in and be the first one to snap a picture of my new friends. The Harbormaster told me to be careful and asked if I needed help. I said I could do it myself. Anything for a good photo opportunity, eh?
It seemed like it was taking them forever so I went back to the press area. I saw an old building right behind the press area with some rickety old stairs I had no business climbing (oh, yes I did - maybe I was on a suicide mission here, again, for a shot). I went up to watch for them. I took pictures of them when they finally came in and followed Chris to the scales. They weighed a 27.05# king. A record had been caught that day, unfortunately, for the other teams. 74.10#. I desperately wanted my underdogs to steal this gig, but it was not in the stars.
They did not fish the next day due to weather concerns. It was nasty and even the larger boats had no earthly business going out.
I asked Billy his impression of the Biloxi Nationals. He went on to say:
“Biloxi was a great time, and we had a blast fishing, but with our vessel, we are really limited to how far we can go to get the fish. The fishing is great but when it gets rough it gets rough and fishing a class of 23 boat you have to change your plan by the sea state secondary to the long runs offshore. Early in the week the ocean was gorgeous and allowed us to fish several spots offshore. When the wind came up and the ocean grew to 3-5 it really limited where we could go fish and reduced our range quite a bit also. We had three areas we wanted to fish, but like I said, the one spot we really wanted to go to when it got rough was too far offshore, that’s fishing. Seas 3-5, temps I was not sure of but being from Florida it was cold! There were some small kings at City Rigs, then a few cuda and your nice Amberjack. We lost a nice fish on Friday and landed a 27lb king. I know it wasn’t a huge fish but after taking us 4 hours to get out to where we fished on Friday, to only fish for around 1.5 hours and weigh a fish was nice.
Also, I would say the talking with several well respected members of the SKA and learning from those outstanding fisherman like the Crew of Caliente and Gatorfan was much appreciated.
We had engine problems around 50 miles offshore on Thursday, our middle fuel filter was clogged and we did not get to the Yamaha mechanics trailer until 1600. At that point we did not even know if we would be fishing on Friday. But let me tell you, the Yamaha guys that were there, I can not explain how awesome they were, they were on the boat troubleshooting it with in minutes, and then when I sea trailed it, the mechanic stayed right there until I called and told him we were good to go.
We talked about fishing the second day, but with the weather forecast we didn’t think we could get out to the fish and we also would have had to have a 60lb king or better to get in the money so we decided to pack up head home and save the money that we would have burned in fuel. The storms that were heading our way were reported to be really bad and cold and wet is not a great day.
Would I have done anything differently? Overall, I would say no, we fished hard for our first year fishing there, we were limited slightly due to sea conditions and our vessel but overall we had a great trip, more time fishing with dad, and in our first year as SKA members we finished second in our division and made the finals. Not a bad year at all. I would of liked to have done better but other then that, no regrets. We fished hard, did what we could and look forward to next year.”
Next year. See where I am going with this, folks?
So, why do I write about this nearly a year later? Well, the truth is, I’ve been drinking some Malbec and decided it was simply time to tell Captain Billy Poertner’s story. He was a kind and gentle soul who saved the Biloxi trip from being a complete disaster. He didn’t know me or have to take me. He went out on a limb, which he didn’t have to do. I do not forget kindness. He has a passion for fishing that is unmatched, and he recognized that I simply wanted to fish... he saw the urgency in which I wanted to go.
The REAL story begins now.
Billy’s love for the ocean began at a very young age delivering boats with his grandfather and competing in fishing tournaments with his father. Captain Billy’s passion for fishing was evident when after a long day of fishing he could often be found on the local pier trying to catch yet another fish. Billy is a third generation Captain and has salt through his veins. Obsessed? Yes.
Captain Billy is proud of his four years of service in the United States Marine Corps and presently serves in the United States Coast Guard Reserve in the capacity of Boatswain Mate. As a Boatswain Mate, Billy’s responsibilities include instructing and mentoring junior members of his unit on proper seamanship, charting, navigation and tactical operations.
“I have several deployments while in the USMC I served in Somalia ‘92-93, Bosnia ‘95, and Haiti spring of ‘94. As a part of the USCG I served in 2004 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, then the summer of ‘05 we were deployed to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort in New Orleans, then in 2008 I was sent to GITMO in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.”
Throughout his Coast Guard career, Captain Billy has served in support of our nation. Recently, he supported the Earthquake relief in Haiti. More on this in a bit. Captain Billy is also a Firefighter/Paramedic. Yup. This kid is for real.
I asked him about his charity “Veterans for Veterans.”
“I am in the planning stages on this but I am donating the Wounded Warriors Foundation several free fishing trips to those who have been wounded serving our country. I would like to enter one of the Wounded Warriors into several tournaments where 50 percent of the proceeds would be donated back to Wounded Warriors Association.”
Billy has also enjoyed a very successful tournament career with Top 5 finishes in 2009 to his credit aboard the boat “Imagine That.” Routinely found at the scales, Captain Billy and his dedicated crew captured 2nd Place in SKA Division 8 Class of 23, and 5th Place in Division 10 Class of 23, qualifying them for the 2009 Southern Kingfish Association National Championships held in Biloxi, Mississippi. “This was our first year in the SKA, and for rookies placing top 5 in two different divisions was a great accomplishment,” Captain Billy explained. Yes, you already know they were in Biloxi, but it bears repeating. “It is not easy to get there,” another captain once boasted.
Imagine That is also a proud member of the 2009 Southern Kingfish Association “50 Pound Club.” An honored accomplishment for any SKA tournament angler, to be entered into this small angling fraternity you must weigh one fish over 50#. Why be humble here? It was a 52# king caught at the Frances Langford Memorial tournament (their first SKA tournament, by the way) where they took 4th place overall and first place in the 23 Class. Not too shabby, if you ask me. Billy has numerous Top Lady Angler and Top Junior Angler awards to his credit, as well. The plot now thickens to the consistency of jelly brains mixed with warm caramel…
I have the honor and pleasure of fishing with his team “Imagine That” this year for divisions 8 & 10 in the SKA. We are fishing his stomping grounds where he earned his stripes to get him to the nationals. We are fishing next week, and my blood is racing through my body. We missed Key West, as he was deployed to Haiti for the Earthquake relief effort. He was named “Guardian of the Week” by the Coast Guard‘s “Compass.” (
http://coastguard.dodlive.mil/index.php ... -poertner/
) for those interested in the full read and for those of you who might think I am full of complete horsesh!t.
This is my first tournament season in the SKA, and we are jumping into the game late. I might not be rolling with the winners of last season, but I am certainly sure I am rocking with the best.
“Now years gone by we find man that rules the sea. He sets out on a dark May morning.
To bring his catch back to this small community. He doesn't see the danger dawning.
Four hours up, oh the ocean swelled and swelled, The fog rolled in it started raining…”