When we arrived at the Stock Island marina, just north of Key West, we were anxious. Like the feeling you get when you’re driving to a ski mountain. You’re excited. You’re listening to music. Talking. Then, out of nowhere, you see the steep slopes, the crowds, and you get that feeling in your stomach where it’s too late to turn around.
A week earlier, I called Captain Ryan Erickson (referred to me by a client) and asked if he would take us fishing. “Yeah,” he said. “You’re timing is good. Just got in town from my season guiding in Colombia. I’ll have the boat set up by Thursday. See you 8 am.”
“Great, see you then,” I said. “What should we bring?”
“Polarized sunglasses and whatever you want to eat or drink. I’ll have water,” he said.
The day before our trip, I got a text from him that read, “Want to get out by 7 am tomorrow. See you then.”
“OK,” I replied.
“Better get our lunch for tomorrow,” I thought to myself and headed to Cole’s Peace Bakery on Eaton Street for three Cuban mixes and some more waters. About those frosty beverages. Let’s get something clear. This is a fishing trip, not a booze cruise. There’re plenty of those in front of Schooner Wharf that I highly recommend, especially the sunset ones. This is a fishing trip. Not a cruise.
Our Uber arrived at 6:30 am. We met Ryan at his corner slip, and then it hit me. Dressed in shorts, we probably looked as green as if we had just exited a ski rental building dressed in jeans. “Sunscreen is useless on the flats,” he reminded me later. This might be a long day. Flip flops removed, we climbed down into his skiff, he sprayed our feet to keep the boat clean, not necessarily about our feet. It’s about the boat.
Before we go any further in this fishing story, let’s get one thing clear. When you’re fishing with a guide, he’s in charge. Not you. It’s not your boat. It’s his boat. Also, I can’t guarantee you’ll become friends. Don’t ever forget that this is about fishing, not cruising. The reason guides guide is because they love to fish. Every guide or charter boat captain I’ve fished with is passionate about fishing, so try not to screw up their day on the water. This isn’t a fishing lesson. It’s the pinnacle of the sport.
As we cruised to the flats, we rounded into the shallows, and Ryan killed the engine. He positioned himself on the stern platform with a 20-foot carbon fiber pole and began poling us through three or five feet of water. He did that for eight hours, mind you. “You guys hunt?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“This is like hunting,” he said (“Great,” I thought to myself). “You’re looking for fish, in this case permit, tailing as they nose around for crabs, maybe 100-yards off the bow. I’ll tell you the location, 10 O’clock or 1 O’clock. When you see the fish, point your pole to it and wait for my instructions to cast. Got it?”
“Yes,” I said.
Standing on the bow platform a couple feet in the air, smaller than a batter’s box, I felt like I was back in Little League awaiting instructions from the coach, trying to remember the signs given from third base. “What if I hook onto a fish and forget I’m on a platform,” I thought to myself. And then out of nowhere, Ryan said, “1 O’clock, 100-yards out. Do you see it?”
“No,” I said. Squinting hard.
“It’s coming at us,” he said. I still couldn’t see it. And then it was gone.
We did that for a few hours, jumping from spot to spot, flying around in a 15-foot flats skiff with a 70-hp Yamaha. Occasionally we saw Navy jets training off in the distance or a military helicopter flying over us. It was pretty cool, especially floating around eating our sandwiches with just a few puffy clouds in the sky.
“I wore a Trump hat all last season,” he said, in between bites.
I knew I had found a friend.
We fished some more, and as we were ending our day, we came across a tarpon floating just off a flat and casted at him—a perfect cast to give him a look he didn’t take, but the excitement of it is why you fish. And just like that, our eight-hour trip was over.
Until next time.
Action Line: I want you to get out there. Don’t just stand there, do something. This isn’t investing. It’s fishing.
P.P.S. Fishing with Ryan a few days afterward, here’s my client hooking on to a tarpon.
E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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