As I type this piece, it has been 43 days and 5 hours since I last wet a line. It has been about half that time since I have slept. You see, on December 18, I was blessed with my first son and future fishing partner, Brent J. Mechler III. With full intent of nurturing our fishing tandem, I have given much thought as to how I should develop his interest in the sport, and specifically that critical first trip. It has been during those hours that I have fondly recalled the excitement and hilarity of my first offshore fishing trip.
It was the summer of 1984, and my family had just arrived in South Florida by way of New York. My dad decided to break the monotony of the steamy summer by taking my sister and I aboard the local drift boat, Helen S. While we wearily ate doughnuts, the boat pushed off and mates busily handed out rods and frozen sardines. I watched as a young mate walked along the rail, collected money and jotted down names. When he reached us he turned to my dad and asked, “Would you like to try your odds at winning the pool?”
The mate quickly raced through a disclaimer that I would later in life become very familiar with…“bonito, remoras and sharks don’t count.” My dad handed the mate some cash and gave him our initials. Dad then turned to us and said something unbelievable.
“Okay, if you catch the biggest fish you win the pool,” he excitedly told us. I knew that pools were common in Florida, but this was unreal! Though our new home already had a pool, this one would be mine. Perhaps it could be installed in my room. Maybe I could stock it with fish and use it to practice my new hobby. Suddenly the stakes were much higher. I did not articulate the sudden seriousness of our outing to my sister, as I did not want to tip her off to my dubious plan. Little did I know that she, too, had every intention of winning that mythical pool.
After what seemed like an eternity, the boat arrived at its first locale. Both Courtney and I raced to our fishing rods, flung the sardines over the gunnel and put the reel in free spool as we were tutored.
Bird’s nest. “You have to keep your thumb on the spool,” the mate reminded me as he tended to the mess. “Ugh. Hurry up,” I thought. A pool hangs in the balance! For the next 4 hours my sister and I fished with the intensity of the fabled Santiago. Though we each caught blue runner and bonito, we remained out of contention. A man perched on the bow had caught a large porgy, and was poised to win my pool.
But on the final drift it happened. As I lowered my bait and studiously kept my thumb positioned on the spool, I felt the line suddenly accelerate at a pace much different than before. Instinctively, I turned the handle and unknowingly engaged the reel. The rod bent in a dramatic arch that seemed to touch the waterline.
“You have a big one! That could be the pool fish,” my dad shouted.
Of course I knew this, but the added pressure sent adrenaline coursing through my veins. I had never been so excited. As I diligently gained line, my sister suddenly shrieked and flew toward the gunnel.
“Dad help! I have one too,” she screamed.
“Wow! Maybe yours is the pool fish,” he uttered.
My heart raced, as Courtney managed to glance over and give me a wry smile. I can’t get beat by my sister. She can’t win the pool!
Within moments both of our fish came into sight. The mate swung the gaff, and swung it again. Two kingfish hit the deck almost simultaneously.
“Mine is the bigger one,” I claimed.
“No! Mine is,” Courtney countered.
The mate brilliantly accessed the situation and announced that they were exactly the same size, and were both winners. As final authority, I grudgingly accepted his proclamation and the reality that I would be sharing my pool with my sister. But back at the dock, reality came in a different form. There was no pool waiting, nor arrangements made for one to be installed. Instead, we were handed a wad of cash that my dad carefully divided between the two of us.
“What are you going to do with all that money?” he asked.
“I’m buying the pool they were supposed to give me,” I dejectedly said.
I never did buy a pool, of course. Instead, the money subsidized future trips aboard the Helen S. Though my first trip did not yield the prize I expected, my dad’s outing provided something much better…a lifetime love. I hope I can do the same for my son.