My buddy, Clyde Preston, from Fort Lauderdale and I have been planning a fishing trip for almost two years. You wouldn’t think it should have taken so long, but it did. So, we were very excited as we headed out of Sisters Creek into the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean offshore of Sombrero Beach.
I first met Clyde because of his involvement with the Salvation Army. But when it comes right down to it, I didn’t know that much about him as a person or fisherman. There’s always a sense of mystery the first time someone is on my boat, just as I’m sure it’s a mystery for those whose boats I travel on for the first time.
I gave Clyde a little travelogue as we “no-waked” it through Sisters Creek. When we passed the outer marker and throttled up, Clyde and I both broke out in smiles, hoots, and hollers. He had passed the first test, as he hooted just as loudly as I.
I get fired up every time I hit the throttle at the end of the no wake zone. The throbbing four-stroke sound of my Suzuki outboard and the pushback of power as we hopped up on-plane reminded me of the breathtaking high-torque acceleration of my beloved, now long gone, Polar white with lipstick red leather interior Corvette.
We had a plan for the day; we would travel out to deeper water, 650 feet or so. Since I had a very good day in that area recently, we had decided not to get distracted by possible indicators of fish activity unless we found only “a sure thing,” like birds cartwheeling directly on the surface, or the holy grail of fish indicators — floating barnacle-encrusted palettes.
About ten miles offshore, we ran into a trio of birds swirling close to the surface. I pushed the Otto Pilot button and started deploying our first bait spread of the day. Clyde jumped up and pulled a rod from the nearest rod holder. “You familiar with lever-rag reels?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” he answered.
Jumped up to help in the cockpit, I thought, knows how to handle the gear. And Clyde just passed test number two. Of course, these aren’t real tests, but they are things you have to think about before you can feel comfortable with a new fishing buddy. We made a couple of passes under the birds; our lines got weeded up a couple of times. We spent some time dragging baits in the general area, then pulled the lines and headed deeper.
Clyde and I talked about past fishing adventures. His fishing history is very similar to mine. In fact, my first offshore fishing forays were done offshore of Fort Lauderdale. When I first moved to Florida from Boston, in 1970. I fished the three reefs just off the beach most of the time. The water went from sandy beach to 200 feet deep in less than three or four miles. The locals caught lots of kingfish and sailfish when I was there.
We made it out to our targeted area. Clyde and I set out a typical four-line spread of baits. By the time we were done putting lines out and prepping the cockpit, I was totally comfortable with Clyde’s abilities and exuberance. Then the scattered weeds showed up. How typical for this year’s fishing season. We worked the cockpit like a seasoned team. Wham, one of the Shimano TLD 25s started screaming as line flowed from the reel.
“Your fish!” I yelled and slowed the boat. Clyde grabbed the rod, pulled up and reeled down. From the moment he took the rod, he carefully laid the incoming fishing line evenly on the reel with his thumb. I love this guy. “Let me stand to your left,” I told him. “And I’ll gaff this fish.”
Clyde brought the defeated fish to the side of the boat, I gaffed him and pulled him aboard.
The fish was vibrant turquoise blue. His spots were fluorescent yellow and green. We decided to take a picture before the fish lost his colors and turned dull green. “Great idea,” Clyde said. “He’s beautiful.”
I fumbled with Clyde’s phone, trying not to let our captured fish lose his colors and flash. Another line got hit. We looked at each other for just a moment. Line was evaporating from the reel as the new fish fought against our clear, 30-pound monofilament fishing line. “I’ll open the fish box and you drop him in,” I said. “We’ll take the photo later.” Clyde sprang to action; I opened the box, and the fish went in immediately.
Another line got hit “double header.” We boated both fish, looked around and spotted birds a couple of hundred yards away. We charged over to them and set out full spread of fresh baits. Clyde and I were exhausted, but not tired — at all. We had a cockpit full of adrenaline going on here. A black-and-red Iland Lure got hit and a monster bull dolphin skyrocketed toward heaven behind the boat. When the big fish dropped back into the water, it sounded like a very heavy man doing a cannonball in the pool.
He put up a valiant fight. After ten to 15 minutes, the fish was still pulling line from the reel. Clyde was determined and slowly but surely easing the uncooperative mahi mahi to the side of the boat. He made one last run, pulling line from the reel and bending the rod. Eventually, Clyde got him to the side of the boat and I gaffed him.
We high-fived and cheered each other. It was a flawless team effort with a wonderful payoff. We trolled toward home while we drank ice-cold sodas and ate our lunch sandwiches. We boated two more mahis before we pulled all the lines and called it a day. This was another day of world-class fishing in the Florida Keys. Clyde turned out to be a good friend and a heck of a fishing buddy. We promised not to wait so long for our next fishing extravaganza, and both agreed that life is good in the Florida Keys; life is very good in the Florida Keys.