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EDITORIAL: A first time fishing this writer will never forget

June 24, 2022
By Sheila Evans

The intrepid staff of the Boca Beacon took off last Sunday afternoon for a few hours of team-building and camaraderie. We were not informed which boat would be taking us out, so we were highly impressed when it turned out to be the mighty Thunder fishing yacht, captained by Mark Liberman, with Tim Spain as his first mate.

“This is the Mack-daddy of the local fishing boats,” Marcy, the most experienced tarpon fisher of us all, announced to her associates as she made her way onto the boat. The Thunder is a 46-foot, custom-built, George Luzier Sport Fisherman Cruiser, and part of the fleet of Capt. Action Charters.

We knew immediately that this would be a day to remember. 

We were already pretty gobsmacked by the full galley – which all of us knew not to call a kitchen – the shiny wood floors, the air conditioning, and comfy seating inside the cabin. We luxuriated there as the captain started the two 800 horsepower engines. 

First Mate Tim filled us in on our captain: Mark grew up fishing and boating the Southwest Florida waters. He is a Coast Guard- licensed captain and has been a full-time professional guide since 1978. Others in the group knew that he shares his passion and expertise with clients from around the world, and is involved in local tournaments and causes, and that he is well known and respected by his peers. He and Tim both love helping people learn about fishing and assisting them to enjoy a truly great sport-fishing experience.

Tim also gave us some training in the cabin as we were setting off for the fertile waters of the Boca Grande Pass. He made sure we knew to do whatever he told us. He and the captain knew best, and we would have a great time if we simply listened to them and did as we were told. I saw no reason to argue the point. Tim regaled us with colorful and fascinating stories and made us laugh and trust him fully. 

The sound of the engines and the movement of the boat brought us all to our feet and out into the business end of the boat. Two fishing chairs were ready for action. 

Since two of us were tarpon “virgins,” we were designated to be the first to fish (I was one and Matt was the other). Since Matt is a photographer, he opted to wait and get some pictures before he sat in the big chair – a decision he later regretted. I was reluctant, but persuaded by the peer pressure. Lynn took the chair Matt had given up. Caroline and Marcy, being more seasoned anglers, were content to wait their turn.

Now that I was in the chair, Tim looked me in the eyes and told me what to expect and how to react. He assured me he would be right there when the fish took my bait – charming little crabs he netted as we moved to our first fishing spot. Lynn’s bait was a four- or five-inch fish … I believe it was a pinfish.

As the captain moved through the Gulf waters, we were all on the lookout for tarpon. Tim, with signals from the captain, had us let out line and adjust our posture and grip on the poles, to be ready when the monsters struck. 

“Yellow on the reel,” he’d instruct, and I’d try to manage the line with my thumb until the little piece of yellow line would appear at the top of the reel. “Wind it twice,” and I would maneuver the unwieldy pole so I could hold tight to it while turning the handle two full revolutions back.

Just figuring which way let the line out and which brought it back was a challenge for me, but Tim was there to assure me I was doing it right, even when it was actually he who was making sure that’s the way things went. I was also highly aware of the value of the rod and reel, and I was petrified of losing my grip and watching the whole thing fly overboard.  

 Then, bam! Lynn felt something hit her line. Tim instantly got my rod secured and me out of the way, and then put all his attention on Lynn. She had a tarpon on the line. “You got this,” he assured her. “Reel it in.” “Bow to the king,” “Just hold on, don’t do anything.” The orders were calm, but authoritative. Captain Mark was advising Tim from his higher vantage point and moving the boat as conditions warranted.

The waves were three- to five-feet high some of the time, and there were other anglers searching for tarpon in close proximity to us, so there was a lot to keep on top of. The rest of us were pretty much oblivious to any of that as we cheered Lynn on. 

Matt was taking pictures but was also focused on encouraging Lynn. Caroline, who had a good bit of fishing experience, including with tarpon, had moved close to Lynn to give moral support and techniques that might help ease the pain she knew Lynn was experiencing. 

We watched the line move up and down the reel, noting especially the red and yellow line markers for 40 feet of line and 60 feet of line, as the tug-of-war between Lynn and the fish continued. We also saw the rod double over, looking like it was in pain, as well. 

Then a flash of silver broke the water. We all yelled and whistled and clapped, wanting Lynn to see her trophy. 

“I can’t see it, I’m just trying to get him to the boat,” she snapped back at us. 

Tim instructed her to reel it up, but Lynn’s arms were giving out. She had battled this fish for at least 15 minutes, but it felt like an hour. 

She finally reached the point where she could not reel the line in any longer. She called for someone to take over. Lynn’s arms were like rubber bands, she said. She had caught tarpon before but had never had such a fight. 

Caroline jumped in. The battle continued. At one point we could all see the sinker moving toward the reel, but then it was back in the water. The fish was digging deeper. Caroline fought the good fight for another 10 minutes or more. “I know that thing is 300 pounds,” Lynn asserted, “but you can do it, Caroline, keep him coming!” 

Someone suggested the fish was pulling us around, like the Old Man and the Sea. Captain Mark and Mate Tim did not dispute that until we were on our way home, when they reminded us that even if the fish were 160 pounds – which was the least we felt it was -– it could not outmaneuver a boat with two 800-horsepower engines. 

Finally, Caroline could not get her arms to move the reel at all. She was spent, as well. Then she got a new burst of strenth and pulled up on the rod – and the fish was gone. Eaten by something in the water? We will never know exactly how it got off. The line was not broken, but the fish was gone. “That was one great fish,” Marcy said with admiration. “You guys were magnificent,” she told her teammates.

Without much hesitation, Matt and Marcy took their places in the chairs. Captain Mark took us to a new area to find more monster fish. It did not take too long for Marcy to get a hit, but it was gone before the fight was on (actually it was because she hit bottom and came up with a rock). Matt thought he might have one, too, but Captain Mark said it was bait fish teasing him or the bottom pulling on the hook. After a while, Marcy insisted I get back in the chair. I took my place, but the fish had had there way with us already, and I was going home less innocent, but still a tarpon virgin.   

Our three-hour tour had taken us all over the Pass and had given us the thrills we had hoped to experience. We headed home talking nonstop about the great fight Lynn and Caroline had fought and reliving the excitement. 

In fact, we are still talking about it, and wondering when the next fishing expedition will be.