A couple weeks ago, at a Navionics/Raymarine press event that brought 30 anglers from all over North America to Stuart, Fla., to undertake three days of fishing, I got to experience one of my favorite fishing joys: watching other people catch a species they’ve never caught before. Not grunts or triggerfish, either, but two of the most glamorous species that swim: sailfish and dolphin (aka mahi mahi). Most were experienced anglers who mainly fish for freshwater species, but I could tell it was a thrill for them. And it brought to mind some of my fondest boating memories.
Of course, I remember when I caught my first mahi and sailfish back in the 1980s in Vero Beach, Fla., not far from where we fished in this event, but those memories pale in comparison to the times I took family and friends offshore for the first time. My grandmother, Zada Belle Jones, loved to fish in her native Kentucky for species such as crappie, bluegill and catfish, but nothing prepared her for fishing in the Florida Keys when she was in her late 80s. She was a little freaked out by the prospect of going so far offshore and insisted on wearing her orange life jacket at all times. When she hooked her first barracuda, a large one that jumped six feet in the air and took off on a lightning-fast run, she tried to pass the rod to someone else. But I told her, “This is your fish, Granny,” so she hung on for dear life and reeled it in. The photo we took still makes me smile.
On another trip to Key Largo, I had my dad, my brother, my sisters and my excitable German brother-in-law on board. We were trolling ballyhoo when the first dolphin hit. While that got their attention, it was nothing compared to when I left it in the water, started throwing cut bait in the water and 50 more bright blue and green fish started swarming around the boat. I handed everyone a light spinning rod with a piece of cut bait, and four of them immediately hooked up. Bedlam ensued as everyone yelled and got their lines crossed. But we got the fish to the boat and managed to repeat that routine, two more times. By dinner that night, the adrenaline surge still hadn’t abated.
Watching other people catch fish for the first time is still a thrill. This month, boat owners have a chance to experience something similar. An event called Pass the Handle is taking place all across North America (see Watersports on page 16). Its organizers are encouraging everyone to take someone — or many someones — skiing, boarding and surfing for the first time. Trust me, it’s the same thrill.