Friday, October 22, 2010

Captain Catastrophe was an accident looking for a place to happen

I fished with a lot of guides over the years during my 35-year career as a professional outdoors writer. And I will tell you a vast majority know their business.

I've had a lot of great outings.

However, there a few that didn't go so well.

In March of 1999, I got a notice from a Chamber of Commerce in West Central Florida inviting me to spend a day and participate in a number of opportunities they were offering. Of course, the objective was to get journalists to return home and publicize good things about that county.

I threw the letter in the waste basket and had forgotten the whole thing when I received a phone call a week letter.

"We'd really love for you to come up and see just what we have to offer."

I am a sucker. I'll admit it. So, I reluctantly relented and agree.

Choices included saltwater fishing, hiking, kayaking, canoeing and freshwater fishing.

I opted for freshwater fishing.

They told me who the guide would be and gave me his phone number. I called him the afternoon before I was to drive up and discussed logistics.

"Do I need to bring anything?" I asked.

"Nah, I got everything," he said.

He instructed me to meet him at a bait shop on the banks of the river at 7 a.m.

He was there when I arrived and we walked into the shop to get bait. He placed a 5-gallon bucket on the counter said, “Give us 10-dozen shiners.”

The fellow took the bucket and headed for the shiner tanks in the back of his shop. When he returned, he put the bucket on the counter and said, “That will be $150.”

The guide looked at me and said, “Pay the man.”

I was stunned and I paid. I didn’t mind paying for the bait, but I sure wish I had known it was expected.

But that was just the first of several surprises on the day. When he headed out to the dock, I discovered his “bass boat” actually was a 25-year-old pontoon. And his rods and reels were out of a 1955 Montgomery Ward catalog. They were glass rods, with ancient spinning reels filled halfway with 10-year-old monofilament.

It was plain to see that this guy wasn’t a bass guide. He really wasn’t a fisherman at all.

We didn’t catch a fish that day.

I later learned he ran river tours aboard that dilapidated old pontoon.

Another blacksheep was a fellow I named Capt. Catastrophe. Every trip I ever made with him was a calamity.

I won’t go into detail on most, but I will tell you that he lost sunglasses, bent the axle on the boat trailer and ran onto oyster bars.

A day or two before a scheduled outing, he called and asked, “What ya want to do?”

I told him that I’d do whatever he wanted. He was the guide.

“We could fish the bay for trout. I had a couple of folks out the other day who caught some nice trout on fly.

“Or we could head down south a fish for snook.”

I thought snook sounded good.

So, we met and headed south. I knew we were in trouble when it became obvious he had no idea where the boat ramp was. When we finally found it, it didn’t take but a minute before he ran the boat onto a mud flat. We were stuck. We got it off after about 15 minutes of pushing (we had to get out of the boat). But we were stuck on another in just a minute or two.

Half hour later, we ran into an oyster bar.

Don’t ask me why I fished with this fellow again, but I did. I figured out his problem was that he didn’t do what he was capable of doing. He was capable of hitting singles, but always wanted to slam a home run.

He asked me to meet him at ramp south of Venice at 1 p.m. Although I like to get on the water early, it was his trip. We head south down the Intracoastal and into a creek. There, he said, we’d fly fish for snook. I landed a 10-incher the first hour. Two hours later, I jumped a 5-pound tarpon.

That was it.

On our way out of the creek, two fellows in another boat passed by and asked how we did.

“Great!” said Capt. Catastrophe. “We got snook and we got about a 35-pound tarpon on fly.”


Capt. Cat heads the list of catastrophe trips over the years. There haven’t been many, but there have been a few.

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