by Berry C. Williams
One day, soon after moving to Ft. Myers, I drove out to Ft. Myers Beach to line up a fishing trip. At the foot of the black wooden bridge to the beach, I saw a tar-paper shack with a big sign that read, “STAN LUMMIS, FISHING GUIDE.” Beside the sign, suspended from a brace of two-by-fours, was a silver King Tarpon. I stopped and chartered a boat to take me out fishing the next day.
Early the following morning, as Lummis maneuvered his 26-foot Joyvan through the shallow pass back of the beach, I rigged a line with three feet of 42-pound-test steel wire for a leader and a weighted white feather for a lure. Stan said that I might as well put it out while we were enroute to the fishing grounds some 16 miles out in the Gulf. He said it wouldn’t be long before we’d be over a shell bottom and I’d probably get a strike. He slowed the boat and we proceeded with the motor barely chortling. My line was out about 30 yards. I kept pulling the rod tip toward me, then letting it out again to be sure the feather gave the proper action in the water. Pretty soon, I noticed a bump-bump on the lure.
I let out a yell for Lummis to slow the boat and swing to starboard. I eased the star drag and, sure enough, something made a run with my line directly toward me and then, swoosh, dived to the bottom! I loosened the star drag again, offering no resistance other than to keep the line taut. Then, after a 30-yard run, I slowly began to tighten the drag and reel in, stroking the handle gently to secure the hook. Then the play started. Not a lot of fight, but a lot of lashing, diving and hard swimming. Not being certain of the size of the fish, I gave way each time for fear it would break the 36-pound-test line I was using. Then I started slowly reeling in, raising the rod tip, then giving way and reeling hard. Lummis set the course and came running with a gaff hook. When I hove the fish to within reach of the boat, Lummis leaned over, took hold of the leader, and snatched the fish aboard—a fine black grouper weighing 8 pounds.
After giving me a moment to savor my triumph, Lummis said that we ought to hurry on out to the “Mud Hole” to catch the best fishing time there. He revved up the motor and away we went.
When we got there, Lummis told me that big Loggerhead turtles, grouper and jewfish [Goliath Grouper] made the big rocks in the “Mud Hole” their headquarters. I put out a bright red and white metal squid with a piece of pork rind swirling off the end. Lummis was using a #5 silver spoon. We pulled the lines for a long time, then whang! whang! whang! Something was after my bait.
The fish dived and my old reel started spitting out line. I let him go until I suspected he was heading for the rocks, and then I started pressuring the star drag. Lummis was trying to steer the boat and reel his line at the same time to keep our lines from crossing.
When “old fighter” made another burst for the rocks, I started alternating between straight horsing and reeling. He ran from me twice more before I got him to the side of the boat where Stan, with his trusty gaff, pulled him aboard. What a beauty! Shimmering, silverish yellow sides with tail breaking out into a point. It was a large jack crevalle, as fighting a fish as one may hope to latch on to.
This fish is called the “bull dog” of the ocean. The difficult thing about a jack crevalle is that, when they hit, they usually sound, and it’s like trying to lift an anvil off the bottom. One seldom loses a jack after he’s caught, though, for the jaw is tough and it’s hard for him to shake the hook. This one weighed almost 10 pounds.
Lummis warned me that I might snag something really big in the “Mud Hole,” and suggested that I put on a big-headed white or yellow feather, which I did. We started circling the area and had hardly made one circle when all hell broke loose.
Lummis warned me that I might snag something really big in the “Mud Hole,” and suggested that I put on a big-headed white or yellow feather, which I did. We started circling the area and had hardly made one circle when all hell broke loose. The fish hit about 25 yards from the boat. I heaved to and started horsing my line furiously. Lummis shouted for me to ease the drag and let the fish run. Despite my pressure on the drag, the fish was already running. I’ve never seen a fish slash and hurl itself like this one. There could be but one answer. I had a tarpon!
Lummis slammed the Joyvan in reverse and the motor started churning. I let the fish run, just barely keeping the line taut, reeling gingerly, careful not to break the line or throw the hook. I was so busy trying to manage the rod and reel that I couldn’t count the great leaps of the fish. Lummis was yelling at me to take it easy, let the fish tire itself out. “If the hook is caught in the upper part of his mouth, he’ll tear it out! But the lower mouth is tough and bony. If the hook’s caught there, you might land him.”
After 20 minutes, the tarpon began to weaken. Stan warned me to keep the line tight, but to let him go when he wanted to take it out. I did this 8 or 10 times and finally got him to the side of the boat, yelling for Lummis to gaff him. Stan told me not to be fooled by the placidity of the fish. Whether the fish was tuckered out or not, I certainly was. “Gaff him!” I gasped.
So Stan learned over the side and hoisted him aboard—a 43-pound silver king tarpon!
Lummis told me that the waters of Lee County are considered one of the finest tarpon grounds in the world. I said that if they all fought like that one, it wouldn’t take long to get a fellow down. He laughed and suggested we fish for Spanish mackerel a while and away we went.
We used a pair of Bosch & Lomb binoculars to spot birds diving into schools of bait fish, soon located one, and took off in that direction. Pretty soon we could see a school of mackerel feeding on droves of minnows. The swarms of birds that follow them invariably give them away. We churned into the mackerel and each cast a line with a long steel leader with a #3 spoon, trailing the lines about 30 yards off the stern. I was afraid we were going to get the lines tangled. In less time than it takes to tell it, I felt a jerk on my line and yelled to Lummis that our lines were fouled, but he shouted, “Wait a minute. Did you yank my line?”
“Our lines aren’t fouled. We’ve both got a fish on!”
No sooner had he spoken than my line started singing as only a line being unwound on a good reel can sing. There was no time for anything else then.
We let them run as far as they wanted, praying they wouldn’t foul our lines. They didn’t. We reeled them in fast and swung them aboard, not bothering with the gaff. They looked to weigh 3 or 4 pounds apiece. We hurriedly checked our wire leaders to see that they had no kinks and let the lines back out. Lummis had one on in just a few seconds and before he could get his reeled in, I snagged one and reeled him in. We didn’t slow the boat, but kept going in a circle through the school. We fished the school out and I was amazed to see that the fish box was almost brimful. We must’ve had 25 to 30 mackerel.
Then we traipsed off in another direction, got into two more schools, and really racked them up. At about 3:00 in the afternoon, we started homeward. When we could see the houses on Ft. Myers Beach, Lummis told me to put out a rod with a #5 spoon on it, that two days before several boats had brought in some large kingfish from the area. I did as he suggested, and in about 10 minutes, whatever struck my line started to take rod and reel away from me. Lummis shouted that it was a kingfish. I played him carefully and finally got him close enough to the boat for us to see him, but at the sight of the boat, it was off again and that old line went zinging through the water. With a little patience, I soon had the fish swimming within reach of the gaff hook, which Lummis unceremoniously sank into him with a lurch over the side. And there he was, all 22 pounds of him!
After this, full speed ahead. In we churned, real proud of ourselves. I’d been truly “hooked for life” while fishing with Stan Lummis.