Tag Archives: charter fishing

Saltwater Fishing: A Father’s Day Fishing Tail

Charleston Marsh

I awoke to a dull but persistent sound of freight containers being offloaded at the Port of Charleston. “That’s the sound of money,” I had once heard someone say. I was tired from travel. Coming home was always a mix of excitement and exhaustion. Friends and family; a beautiful city by the sea so steeped in history. Long before me centuries of tides had moved life-sustaining nutrients, boats, people, and commerce through meandering fingers reaching deep in to the heart of permeable shores.

But it was 6:00am and time to rise for a fishing trip with my father. Having spent so many years living great distances from him, I was looking forward to spending some slow time exploring narrow creeks and marshes in pursuit of redfish and trout. In the days proceeding, bending rods and screeching reels filled my imagination and intensified the anticipation. I hoped my suppositions would become reality.

I was a little dismayed the day before when I came in to town and witnessed the impending storm clouds on the horizon. When it began to rain in buckets, I thought the trip would be canceled for sure. A somber call to Dad allayed my fears somewhat. He’d been studying the weather and felt confident we should give it a go. I hung up the phone and noted the rain gear in my suitcase.


Despite my doubts, dawn rose fresh and brilliant. I looked across the harbor to see Charleston filling with the flow of men and women making their way to work. I felt fortunate to have grown up fishing these waters. Before I could even walk I bounced around in a basket at the bow of my father’s John Boat. In those days my mother would have been younger than my wife is now.

Exploring the fringes of one of America’s oldest and most beautiful cities was always an adventure for a young child. The biology of bringing up a seine on a mud bank, catching a shark, getting caught on a barrier island in a fierce thunderstorm, or heading shrimp till my fingers bled. These are just a few of my memories.

We arrived at our first fishing spot. The marsh grass gleamed green against the backdrop of palm, live oak, and pine, and somewhere in the brush a warbler welcomed the day. I spoke of friends, money, and new developments that are further protruding and forever changing the landscape. We could see countless new homes from the boat where, before, we could have never conceived of their existence. Now I think we feel hypocritical for simultaneously wanting environmental protection and economic improvements. But we know the solutions must be there. They have to be. Who doesn’t want their children to experience the same natural beauty that we shared with our parents?

The entire time I spoke, my father simply listened. At first I wondered why he didn’t readily join in. But then it occurred to me that he always listens to me, providing feedback when necessary; guidance when required. While the amount of talk is not the measure of quality time spent together, I hope he knows I am there to listen to him as well.


I watched my father make a cast close to the bank, and in an instant his line went taut. There were no jerky movements, foolish displays, or wasted effort. Instead, his actions were smooth and practiced. Dad pulled in a beautiful bass; and then promptly released it. The day was far from over, so we made our way to several other spots. We caught some, lost some, and all the while soaked up the landscape that has helped to shape the lives of each of us.


On the way back in we followed the “Winds of Fortune,” a shrimp boat returning with its days catch. At one time my grandfather operated two shrimp boats, the Carol El and Princess Anne, the latter of which sank out at the jetties with him on it. It was a different time back then. Much of the area was forest and farmland. Then a bridge was built.

I tried to picture what home was like in those days. What it was like for my grandfather to fish with his father. I wondered what it would be like to fish with my son.


The Keys to Giving Thanks

Casa_MoradaSure, family is important, but if you are tempted to avoid all the hassles of baking a bird and packing on more calories than nature ever intended, you might just think about disappearing down to the Florida Keys for Thanksgiving. That is exactly what I chose to do this year, and a light suitcase containing no ancestral commitments was all the trip required.


I’ve been to Key West before, and while I enjoy a vibrant downtown scene and the anthropology of people watching, I wasn’t really interested in that being the focal point of the trip. My primary goal was to hide out, maybe get a little fishing in, and set aside plenty of time to relax and catch up on the stack of books I’d built up. While planning, I systematically went through every Key in the chain using Google Maps to find the ideal spot, and I kept coming back to Islamorada. It is close enough to civilization to make driving or flying a snap, but far enough in latitude to give you the island feel you’re really needing. Plus, it just so happens to be an epicenter for excellent backcountry and deep water fishing. If Jimmie Albright were still around, he’d tell you himself. But more of that in a minute. First thing to do is to get a solid place to sleep.

Casa Morada

I’ve got to admit, I’m a bit of brat when it comes to quality accommodations, especially on my precious vacation. I’d rather save money eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just so I can blow it all on a decent place to rest. No, I don’t want to “Conch on In,” and there is nothing more annoying or distasteful to me than some cheesy motel-hotel bespeckled with expired sea creatures and fishing net decor. I want nice ambiance, good thread counts, and quality customer service.


Maybe it was the article in Conde Naste, or the fact that they have a nice website, but I kept coming back to Casa Morada. Owned by three women with hotel management experience, they’ve taken the time to construct an experience beyond just heads-in-beds. It’s not ridiculous, in other words, don’t expect a valet to polish your ass to a shimmering hue, but they do offer excellent customer service and plenty of attention to the little details. The rooms are well-styled with views of the water, beautiful landscaping, and there are a myriad of little things like complimentary breakfast, yoga, web access, bottles of water, movies, or even just a cool hand-delivered scented towel by the pool, to accentuate your personal enjoyment and help you get in the groove.

There is plenty to do if you need to DO something. Take advantage of their bocce court, sunset sails, snorkeling equipment, sea kayaks, and close proximity to all the restaurants and bars you would want to visit in Islamorada. If you want to leave there are several beautiful state parks close by, and I must admit I did end up driving down to Key West one day just to pay homage to Ernest Hemingway – it is approximately a 2-hour drive one way. But the other big thing you should do at Casa Morada is get picked up right at the property  for a charter fishing trip.

Charter Fishing


November is an interesting time for the Keys when it comes to catching fish. Tarpon and Bonefish are pretty slow, but there are plenty of Red Fish and Snook to be had. Out beyond the reef the Sailfish are coming in to play, and there’s always the chance for a Dolphin. Just depends on what you’re interested in. For me, well, I grew up doing plenty of inshore fishing. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, in fact, I look forward to going back down to the Keys to do just that. But for this trip it occurred to me that I had never before caught a Sailfish.

There are a lot of guides down in the Keys who run 40+ foot yachts with tuna towers. They do this so they can carry a crew and sight fish from overhead. The problem with this is you are going to pay around $1200/day plus any tips you decide to toss around. Beyond the expense, this route can be a little unnecessary unless you need to run really far offshore. What is so great about the Keys is that you don’t have to motor for miles to get into some really good offshore fishing.


Personally, I would rather run with a guy on a smaller boat, fish with lighter tackle, and be a part of the process. That’s exactly what I got from Chris Barron at Stray Cat Charters. He’s been guiding down in Islamorada and the Keys for 30 years. Needless to say, he knows what he is doing. We were monitoring the success of many of the other big boats over CB radio while were trolled about, and most of them were having little to no success. But Chris hooked it up, and I had a ball fighting a beautiful sailfish that took me full circle around the entire circumference of the boat, putting up an impressive display.

Even though it was a slow morning, Chris took the extra time to troll closer to the reef. Before I realized it, he was turning the boat into a shower of Ballyhoo, and moments later there was the heart-starting pop of the line and the sound of the drag reeling off to the stubborn pull of a Dolphin.

Sailfish Fishing


Good eats are the only fundamental functions of a good vacation that are a little lacking in Islamorada.  Beyond the good food at Casa Morada, my favorite bang for the buck was Morada Bay Restaurant. Even though I had to send my lobster bisque back, the rest of my meal was satisfactory and the ambiance was great. If you head to Key West for the day and are a fan of oysters on the half shell, pop in to Pepe’s Cafe.  Established in 1909, Pepe’s garners the title of “oldest restaurant in town.” To me that says they’ve had plenty of practice. The oysters are shucked only after you order them, so you are guaranteed they will be plump and delicious. Hemingway's_House_Cat


It is a difficult thing for me to do, but I hope you find time to simply relax and read. Ernest Hemingway once said, “All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened.” If you are interested in some offbeat Florida-centric humor, check out Carl Hiassen’s, Skinny Dip. If history is your game you might find Les Standiford’s, Last Train to Paradise interesting, for it deals with the construction and destruction of Henry Flagler’s railroad, which once connected to the Keys to the capital markets of America.

So next year, save a turkey and come back home a little sun-kissed and satiated from some time in the southern climes. You’ll catch up with your folks over Christmas…or Easter…or some time soon. Better yet, have them meet you there.