Fishermen are sometimes prone to stretch the truth, but my claim of snagging a mighty big fish in the Gulf of Mexico is no exaggeration. Captain Frank estimated the old boy weighed around 300 pounds. I would have guessed 500 but he spoke first in front of witnesses.
Four generations of our family, ages 8 to 95, spent a week at St. George Island in early June. Our youngest grandchild, Walt, loves to fish and his sister, Melanie, wanted to take a deep sea excursion. A friend of Melanie’s dates Captain Frank, a young but extremely capable guide in Apalachicola.
Our daughter, Carrie, and husband, Clay, were also aboard, plus Seth, our favorite son. Cason, another young fellow, served as deckhand. He and Frank took us on a splendid tour of a red snapper honeyhole.
We were fishing a 100 foot bottom using heavy leads. It takes a stout fish to get your attention at that depth, and some of them are adept at stealing bait. That happened to me several times while others were filling the cooler. Once I got a belated hit, however, there was little doubt about the poundage trophy.
My thoughts went back to a 1968 fishing trip near Panama City. My parents, brother, and I were on vacation as were several others from our farming community. Jimmy and I joined Gene and Johnny Paul Deloach, J. T. Sparrow, and Larry Dunaway on Captain Mutt Wallace’s charter boat.
Jimmy hung a pole bender that got everyone’s attention. Captain Mutt, a weathered veteran of the seas, even got excited. He expertly maneuvered his boat as Jimmy kept reeling. A half hour later he landed a nice anchor someone had lost.
It didn’t take long to realize that whatever was on my hook had no intentions of cooperating. I reeled for a while, expecting the line to break or get bitten in two. Even with the drag set tightly the fish would pull out almost as much line as I could reel in.
Captain Frank took my rod to see if we might need a bigger boat. I think his real concern was the monster might pull me overboard, which would require tons of paperwork. He predicted I’d hooked a goliath grouper as he tussled with him for ten minutes or so.
Cason followed Frank manning the reel, saying he’d never caught a goliath grouper and had that on his bucket list. Then Clay took over and brought him to the surface. With three assistants I only claim partial credit for the catch, but full credit for getting him to take the bait.
Just as he surfaced the big fish rolled over on his back, which made me wish I hadn’t been quite as successful. It’s illegal to keep goliath grouper so it looked like his final moments might come while floating upside down waiting for a shark to end his misery. It struck me as a sad ending for a giant with a long history.
Frank explained the swim bladder fills with air when a fish is pulled up from the deep. It’s similar to divers getting the bends from pressure changes if they ascend too quickly. Once the fish got near the surface he was helpless as air buoyed him up.
Much to my surprise, Cason jumped in the water to have his picture made with Goliath. After he climbed up the ladder Melanie took a turn, a daring feat I applauded with considerable reluctance. Cason’s plunge provided excitement, but having a granddaughter swimming near shark bait in blue water with no life jacket was concerning. I knew if we lost Mel the fishing trip would be over.
After the photo shoot, Captain Frank used a long knife to bleed the air from the grouper, a painful procedure perhaps, but necessary to give him a fighting chance. I felt sorry for Goliath as he made weak, sporadic attempts to right himself. He seemed to be giving up, but after about 30 minutes managed to flip over and return home with a story of his own.
It was a great outing, followed by all 13 family members enjoying fried red snapper that night. I probably won’t ever catch another fish that size and I’m not sure I want to. But there was a warm satisfaction in helping create a memory which I trust will outlast me.
Most of my fishing tales would need considerable exaggeration to impress anyone. But even those of us with no special skills sometimes get lucky. That’s what happened to me on the Gulf of Mexico. It was a mighty big fish that came up from the deep.