“Matt — Hey buddy, I had a cancellation for tomorrow and thought of you. I remember you asking for my help on a Biscayne Bay bonefish feature. Can you meet me at the ramp at 7:00 a.m.?” Those were the words of Captain Joe Gonzalez when he called me a little over a year ago to help me out on his day off. It may seem like a small gesture, but to me it meant everything. I don’t know how many days a year Capt. Joe fished, but it was probably close to 300, and he had been doing so for decades. Yet, he still made time for me, a young editor looking for a story, and refused to accept a dollar for his efforts. That’s the kind of man Joe was, to me and to everyone who knew him on and off the water.
A few months ago, we lost Captain Joe Gonzalez, an icon in the world of sport fishing. Captain Joe lived for his family, his faith and, more than anyone else I’ve ever known, fishing. Good thing, too, because along with being one of the kindest human beings around, he was truly a master of his craft. Whether it was in his home waters of Biscayne Bay or in nearby Everglades National Park, Captain Joe possessed an unparalleled knowledge of the fish he targeted. A bonefish guru if there ever was one, he ran his legendary “Funny Bone Charters” with a smile on his face and love in his heart.
Along with his many accomplishments on the water, I think it’s important that we, as a fishing community, remember Captain Joe for who he was off the water. Not just his kindness and positivity, but the impact he had on so many anglers. Though he was a mainstay in the region’s flats fishing community as a guide, it’s still a tough job drumming up business, particularly in a market with no shortage of competition. However, Captain Joe never hesitated to share his knowledge with anyone who would listen, including many of the young guides looking to build their own businesses. Whether it was on television, on podcasts or in this very publication, he found so much joy in sharing his relentless passion for what he did.
I met Captain Joe in 2011, when my father booked a trip with him as a birthday gift to me when I was still in high school. I remember the day vividly, as I landed my first double-digit bonefish and my dad and I doubled up on monster permit. Despite our great day of fishing, I remember the day so fondly because I met one of the best in the business. By the end of the day, it felt like we’d known each other for years.
Fast forward to a decade later, when I reached out to him as the Editor-in-Chief of Florida Sport Fishing magazine to pick his brain over the phone on a feature I was writing. When I told him my name, he remembered me from all those years ago and with his joyous laugh asked me how I was doing. Again, that’s the kind of guy he was. That phone call started a wonderful relationship that included hours of conversation about bonefish, tarpon and permit behavior and even a fishing trip when he had time.
On our most recent trip, our goal was to catch a few bonefish for an article I was writing. Conditions weren’t great and the fishing had been tough, but, needless to say, Captain Joe made it happen. Our work was done, but what struck me was that he didn’t want to call it a day and catch up on some rest. Instead, he said, “The permit bite has been really hot, let’s go take a few shots at some fish!” We ended up catching more permit than we could count. Eventually we ran out of live crabs and started catching them on bucktail jigs, which was a first for me to get a permit on an artificial. Amid the controlled chaos, I saw something I hope I never forget. After poling for hours in the hot sun, I saw Captain Joe smiling from ear to ear as he held the push pole between his legs and made a cast, teased a few aggressive fish at the surface with his jig and finally hooked one to complete the most legendary doubleheader I’ve ever been a part of. His enthusiasm and love for what he did left such an impact on me, and it brings me joy that so many anglers over the years have learned from him and laughed with him as well.
“Stay with me, stay with me.” That was Captain Joe’s go-to phrase on the poling platform as he gave every fish and guest angler his all, spreading joy through this sport we love so dearly. He will be missed.