Note: I posted a "challenge" in a thread on
the saltwater board for folks to give me a subject
to write about. I printed out the suggestions, put
them in an old, stinky fishin' hat and drew two out.
One is to be fictional, and one to be factual.
Harold Hattaway, a well known member of FAOL, asked
for a story about my wife Linda, and "the fish that
didn't get away."
Linda had never been in a boat, let alone, an
18 foot Hewes Redfisher, one of the finest flats
skiffs made, in my opinion. Let's back up a tad.
Linda was my best friend three and a half years
prior to my "poppin' the question" in the summer
of 1995. She graciously accepted my offer, knowing
full-well I was seriously involved with a mistress;
that mistress was saltwater.
We had set a date to "just show up" at the restaurant
on the Rod and Reel Pier in Anna Maria, Florida the
first week of September in '96, approach the owners,
Mel and Rema, and since Mel was a licensed captain,
have him perform the ceremony. Those in attendance
would be all of the unsuspecting "Pier Rats" I had
known for many years. We figured it would be highly
memorable, since I had introduced her to all of my
fishin' buddies and Rema and Mel, and they, as well
as I, thought the world of Linda.
In February of '96, Linda called me from work at
lunch on a Friday, and asked if I could take her
fishing. I tried to explain I was boat-less at
the time. She just wanted to go and sit on the
bank of Lake Monroe in Sanford with a cane pole.
It wasn't my idea of a fun afternoon in February,
but, what the hell; at least she wanted to go fishin'
and was willing to take an afternoon off to do so.
We sat on the seawall and flipped minnows into
the tannic waters, catching a few speckled perch
(crappies), and a mud fish. She spent most of
the time poking at the fluorescent, cork bobber
with the end of the pole. Pretty boring stuff.
I growled a few times, as though she was kid
and I the parent...mistake. I hurt her feelings
and she let me know immediately it was the
experience that mattered, not the fishing. I
didn't listen. I was a captain that ran big
boats, and surely she should understand the
fish, itself, was the purpose for being on the
water...mistake number two.
On the way back home, she asked me what a "flat
boat" was. I explained it wasn't a "flat" boat,
but a "flats" boat. I pulled into a marina to
show her a shallow-draft skiff with a poling
platform and attempted to explain what the
function for each element of the skiff was
used for. I also let it be known, if I bought
another boat, it would be a Hewes, not the
wanna-be skiff we were looking at. She wasn't
impressed. I was too technical, and got a wrinkled
up nose from her as we retuned to the truck...
mistake number three. I finally lightened up
and stopped making repeated mistakes. I dropped
Being that I worked late at night, I always
slept a little late, but I was always up by
nine the next morning. That Saturday wasn't
any different until I walked into the family
room, and there sat my future bride, coffee
in hand, watching Flip Pallot sight-fishing
red fish around Pine Island from a Hewes
Redfisher. Flip's show, "The Walker's Cay
Chronicles," takes him all over the world,
and the Pine Island show just happened to be
on that morning.
Linda was completely involved watching Flip,
and hadn't noticed me standing behind her,
and wouldn't have noticed then if it hadn't
been for Max, our dog, wagging his tail and
looking in my direction. Linda looked up and
said, "Now I can do that!" An idea popped
into my head.
Monday morning I went to work as usual, with
an idea in mind that would change our lives.
I called Scott Deal, the owner of Hewes
Manufacturing, down in Fort Pierce, Florida.
I had known Scott for several years, as we
both had volunteered with Florida Conservation
Association (FCA) for quite some time (FCA is
now known as the Coastal Conservation Association
I explained to Scott I needed a Hewes, but not
just any Hewes. I went on to describe colors,
on-board equipment, engine requirements and
so on. I was ordering an expensive, custom
skiff without consulting my future wife...
was I nuts? Scott went on to tell me he would
have one of our local dealers call me, since
he couldn't sell me the boat from the factory
(some kind of legal contract stuff). A few
minutes later, Mark Myers, the owner of Central
Florida Marine, called me. Another FCA buddy.
Seems as though Mark and Scott had put that
particular skiff together to take to the local
boat show; I went down to take a look at her...
I bought the boat. I didn't tell Linda, but
that's a whole 'nother story.
That Thursday, Linda called me again and said
she was coming home at lunch and was bringing
two wedding rings home, for me to get ready,
we were going to the courthouse and get married,
it was leap year, Yep, February 29th and I had
a brand new wife, she knew nothing of the skiff,
and I was probably in more hot water than I
could bail myself out of. We picked up the
boat the following Tuesday, and she was more
excited about it than I was...whew!
It was March 15th when I first launched the
skiff in saltwater, after what seemed like an
eternity waiting on warmer weather to teach Linda
how to sight-fish for reds. Not only had she never
been in a boat, she had never used light tackle.
We had picked her out a couple of outfits, rigged
them with eight-pound class line, and in that
first few minutes of being in one of my favorite
spots, I gave her a bit of instruction and turned
The first day was iffy, and she practiced
casting to any movement on the water. I was
hit a few times from the tower, as the
half-ounce Johnson spoon flew over her
shoulder in more than one errant cast. By
the end of the day, she could hit a six-foot
circle, sixty or seventy feet out. Not bad
for a novice. I caught three reds that day;
she caught a small jack. But her enthusiasm
didn't wane, and her question of, "Can we come
back tomorrow?" let me know we were on the
right track. The next day, she spotted a red
tailing, cast to it and she and the fish were
hooked; she, more than the ten-pound red.
Over the next several years, Linda caught many
reds, big trout, learned to drive the boat on
and off the trailer at crowded ramps, and in
bad cross winds. She learned to pole the skiff,
picked up the lingo of the water, and one morning,
re-taught her old captain a lesson in patience
he will soon not forget.
I had fished my entire life; fresh, salt, deep
and shallow. I've fished cane poles, spinning,
bait-casting, offshore, unlimited tackle, light
tackle and fly-rods, but I've never been witness
to anyone who picked up our sport as quickly as
Linda has over a short time span. I tried to teach
her without directing her, and a lot of things she
learned on her own; poling the skiff, being one.
She has caught red fish over fifty-three pounds
on eight-pound tackle, many numerous large "'gator"
trout, and tells her own fishin' stories at the
tackle shop. But there's one trout that wrote
the story, and I helplessly watched from a distance
as the two came together one morning on the Indian
It was ten in the morning, or so, when I staked
the Hewes on a point that normally held red fish.
It was mid-May, a time when trout fishing is at
its best. Linda hates fly-fishing; she doesn't
like the "clicking" of the spool as line is
stripped from it. But, she loves the sound of a
screaming drag, as line is peeled from the
tip-guide of a medium-light rod.
The Hewes was staked on a northern point of land
where we have caught many reds and large spotted
sea trout. I had left her on the boat so I could
fly-fish a flat to the north of the boat. It was
just too shallow to pole.
I was five hundred feet to the north, when I
heard that shrill whistle she does so well (those
Kentucky gals learn that at an early age). I knew
a few reds had moved out of the area where I
"staked out," but we had cast to them a few
times, but they seemed uninterested in our
offerings. As I looked in the direction of
the whistle, Linda was standing on the casting
deck of the skiff and had hooked up on a
seemingly good fish. I figured it was one
of the reds we had "spooked" from the point.
I was stuck in ankle-deep mud and was in no
position to get back to the boat quickly. I
yelled, asking her what it was, and her reply
was, "I don't know, but it's big!" The water
was inches deep where I had secured the boat
by trimming the foot of the engine down into
the soft, sandy bottom. The push pole still
hung in its holder from the platform, dangerously
dangling out from the aft twenty feet, and I knew
if the fish was as big as she said it was, it
would surely find the prop or the pole and
break her off, but I wasn't even in good
yellin' distance. I kept thinking, "Get out
of the boat...get out of the boat." I had
taught Linda a lot, including going overboard
in the flats to fight a larger fish. Now was
the time to do so, but I could only stand there
and hoped she remembered. I had also instructed
her, never to wade barefoot in that area where
many stingrays live. She was barefoot when
I left the boat.
I slowly began heading back toward the boat,
but knew I had ventured too far and wouldn't
reach her to assist. Suddenly, she went
overboard in the knee-deep water, rod tip
up, all the while fighting the large fish.
I was still two-hundred feet from the boat
as she lifted the fish from the water. "It's
a huge trout!" she yelled. She had caught
trout six to eight pounds on numerous
occasions before, why was she so excited
about this one? Linda has little respect
for a saltwater trout, and seldom releases
one. The little trout tick her off, and she
likes eating the big ones; they seldom get
a free pass overboard if they are legal.
As I pulled each foot from the quagmire, I
watched her lift the fish to examine it. It
didn't look all that big, and she had
certainly caught much larger trout than
that one. "What should I do with him?"
"It's your fish, keep it or release it,
it's up to you!"
"He won't fit in the cooler!" (The cooler
is a forty-eight quart).
As I finally got to the boat, she was sitting
on the gunwale, out of breath and a little
shaky. "Where's your fish?"
"In the cooler."
"I didn't think he would fit."
"Look in the cooler."
Linda had pulled the cooler to the side of
the center console, and I couldn't see it
from the port side. I walked to the other
side of the skiff and peered in. There was
more than a half-a-foot of trout sticking
out from underneath the lid. We measured the
fish and it was just shy of thirty inches.
The fish weighed in at nearly ten and a
I stood there listening to her "fish story,"
as she went through each and every detail.
She remembered not wading barefoot and had
put her wading shoes on, all the while
fighting the big trout. She left out no
detail, and I thought of the many fish
tales I had told, but none as grand as
this one. Linda had taken all that was
taught to her, and those things she had
learned from experience; put them all together;
did battle and won. I was very impressed, and
she was quite proud; rightfully so.
So, I raise my glass of coconut rum..."Here's
to the two that didn't get away."
See y'all next week. ~ Capt. Gary
Gary grew up in central Florida and spent much
of his youth fishing the lakes that dot the area.
After moving a little closer to the coast, his
interests changed from fresh to salt. Gary still
visits his "roots" in the "lake behind the house."
He obtained his captain's license in the early '90's
and fished the blue waters of the Atlantic for a little
over twelve years. His interests in the beautiful shallow
water flats in and around the famous Mosquito Lagoon came
around twenty-five years ago. Even though Captain Gary
doesn't professionally guide anymore, his respect of the
waters will ever be present.
Gary began fly fishing and tying mostly saltwater
patterns in the early '90's and has participated as
a demo fly tier for the Federation of Fly Fishers
on numerous occasions. He is a private fly casting
and tying instructor and stained glass artist,
creating mostly saltwater game fish in glass.