Kingfish

So many of my fishing stories are with my brother Gary. Seems strange to me now, but I’ve got one to tell without him.

My sons and I were sub-contracting roofing jobs for various people.  When you do sub work, you don’t always get paid what you expect or when you expect it.  Sometimes we worked for Jax. Bargain Plywood, sometimes C & C; sometimes we got jobs on our own, and quite a few times we did work for Ricky Blalock.

Ricky always paid us, but sometimes it was hard to pin him down on when.  When pressed, he would always say, “I’ll pay you as soon as you get off the roof.”  The trouble was, when we finished a job, we couldn’t find him.  Well, at least not like we thought we should.

Three of my sons and I had just finished a job for Ricky one Friday afternoon.  We wanted to get paid and have money for the weekend.  Ricky’s wife answered his phone and told us that it would be Monday before Ricky would be back home.  Seems like he was fishing in the Kingfish Tournament they have every year and was out on a boat, cruising up and down the coastline.

I should have known already, gosh, didn’t we go through this exact same thing last year?  Or was it the time before Thanksgiving we wanted to get paid, but he was off hunting?  Oh yeah, which time was that?

Three of my boys, Michael, Chris, and Duane worked with me on that job.  They were pissed. “Dad, he does this to us every time. Why do we keep on doing jobs for him?”  I didn’t tell them that in my mind, I could just visualize Ole Ricky on the back of some nice cruiser just off the coast, enjoying a cold beer in the hot sun, laughing his tail off when he thought about it.  So I guess you could say I was mad too.

I was half kidding when I told the boys that we ought to put our boat in the water and go looking for him.  Looking back now, it seems a little far-fetched, because the Atlantic Ocean is a big place, and our boat was only 14 feet long.  That’s exactly what we did though.

We loaded up our fishing gear to take with us.  No sense wasting the opportunity.  If there was a Kingfish Tournament going on, we might just catch the winner.  Since it was such a far flung idea, it didn’t occur to me that we needed to register in order to win.  I mean, who would ever think that we were actually gonna catch a kingfish?

I said our boat was 14 feet.  Actually it was 13’ 2”.  A Boston Whaler, it was designed to take on big waves and heavy surf.  But with four of us in it, it was mighty small.  We put the boat in the water at the Joe Carlucci boat ramp.  It was getting later on in the afternoon, and we had to wait for some of the incoming boats that had decided to call it quits for the day, before we could get out of the way.

We were gonna use the cast net to gather bait, but the incoming boats were throwing their bait into the water around the ramp.  Dead, cigar size mullet were floating belly up all around us, so we just decided to scoop them up instead.  We got a lot of laughs and took quite a bit of ribbing from these jokers in their high dollar boats, coming in empty handed.  Here they were in expensive fishing attire, nice coolers full of cold beer, thousand dollar rods and reels, and ocean-going sized boats; everything they needed to go out and cruise up and down the coast looking for kingfish.

I might have smarted off to some of these jokers, I’ve been there before fishing with my brother Gary.  The fish don’t have any idea just how nice your boat is when they get ready to bite.  They told us we would never find our boss, and that we were taking our lives in our hands if we continued on, trying to take on the Atlantic Ocean in that small of a boat.

We cruised the back way out of Joe Carlucci.  I knew that if we headed out to the ocean from the river, going past the jetties that we would have to deal with a long stretch of rough water.  By going the back way, we cruised past Kingsley Plantation, coming out at Alimacani, just by the bridge on Heckscher Drive.  From there it was only about a 300 yard stretch of high impact surf and then, you were out in deep water.

Well, the heavy surf was all it was cracked up to be. No secrets there.  To my boys, I believe they thought it was a swashbuckling adventure, just getting through the surf, and it was, for sure.  Kinda scared the mess outta me.  If anything happened to my boys, I would never forgive myself.  It wasn’t like when I was a kid, with my little brother Gary. We did this sort of thing almost every day.  This time it was for real, life on the line and all that stuff. Over the top of one wave and through the middle of the next.

The boat had about 6 inches of water in it when one of the boys, who had a line trolling behind the boat with one of those dead cigar mullets, got a tug on his line, and then it took off running.  We were using heavy duty gear, steel leaders and 30 lb. test line.  I knew to keep the boat straight, every fiber in my body kept telling me, “To heck with that durn fish; you need to turn this boat back around and head for still water.”

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When you are in rough water, there is no safe place to turn around.  The best way to keep from getting swamped or overturned, was to keep going straight.  That’s what we did.  I don’t remember which son landed the beast. We all took turns bringing it in, and soon we had a 22 lb. Kingfish, it practically jumped into the back of the boat.  What a monster.  His eyes were staring out at us, looking like if he got the chance, he’d take a good sized bite out of us.

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I started thinking, well, that does it, mission accomplished, at least half of it anyway.  I knew durn good and well that we weren’t ever gonna find Ricky anywhere out on that ocean today. Besides, he always pays us, when he gets ready.  I started looking for a good opportunity to turn the boat around without swamping us.

The waves were cresting a good six feet high.  I took the boat almost to the top of one crest and whipped it around as quickly as I could to ride the wave back down into the trough, praying the whole time that the motor doesn’t stall or the boat doesn’t capsize.  We were a good mile off of the coast, I could see the tops of the dunes and the high point of the bridge from the top of the waves as they pushed us back towards the shore.

After catching the first kingfish my sons had readied their lines for another, and it wasn’t long after we turned around to head back to the safety of the inlet they got another bite.  This time it almost snatched the rod out of my son’s grip.  “Ride ‘em cowboy,” we had another.  The sense of urgency wasn’t as great this time.  If we did capsize, we were only about a half mile off the coastline, we were all good swimmers, so I tried to run as parallel to the coast as I could without tipping over, at least  until we landed the fish in the boat.  I thought it might be a cobia or a wahoo because it was yanking so hard.  There’s no way you can tell ‘til you get them in the boat…….that is unless it breaks water, and looky there, that’s just what it did, wow, the size of that thing.  It looked like a kingfish sure enough.  When we got it to the boat, I was too busy watching what I was doing guiding the boat through the big intimidating waves, I didn’t see how they landed it, one of the boys was hollering get the net, another was hollering get the gaff. What gaff?  We didn’t have no gaff. I hollered get the camera, because I was sure they were gonna lose it, finally, they threw the cast net over it and hauled it.

They looked like twins, one seemed a little bigger, but they were almost the same size.

There wasn’t any shame in calling it quits.  We had run our race with the Devil, he didn’t get us this time.  From the time we left the dock until the time we pulled back up to the boat ramp, it didn’t take much more than an hour and a half.  Some of the same guys that had laughed at us when we were leaving out, were still there, ready to poke fun at us. They sang a different tune when they saw the two Kingfish we had onboard.

The two fish weighed out at 22 and 23 lbs,  quite a catch for a boatload of roofers out in the Atlantic Ocean in a bassboat.  Nah,we weren’t registered for the tournament, but we would have won it that day.  At least we had bragging rights.  The guys I mentioned before in the high dollar boats were lined up wanting to buy our catch.  I can see their side of it.  Gary and I experienced the same thing before when we would pull in to the boat ramp in our dinghy with a stringer full of fish, along side of fifty thousand dollars worth of boat that got skunked.

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I used a saws-all to cut the fish up into steaks.  We grilled them in tin foil, with bell peppers and lemon juice.  Hmmm, good eating.  When Ricky finally showed up to pay us, I showed him the pictures and told him the story.  I am pretty sure I saw a twinge of envy in his face, and somehow in my mind, that made us even.

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