11 years ago I caught my first redfish in Port Charlotte. I was impressed with the power of the fish. I lifted it out of the water and wondered, other than the fight, what made people want these fish. They looked like carp with big ugly scales and a down turned mouth. But the more I caught the more I wanted. And never in my life did I expect that fish to hit home so hard 11 years later.
I caught my first redfish fishing with Captain Angel Torres. Back then it was just Angel. We both fished from shore, mostly at night. Under bridges and off docks and piers. We soon graduated to canals and mangrove shorelines when Angel got his boat. Soon afterward he became “Captain”. We fished every chance we could.
As most everyone knows we lost Captain Angel last December. It was a loss that most of us who knew him still haven’t gotten over. I know I haven’t. I still wait for that phone call at 2 a.m. asking me to go tarpon fishing under the 41 bridge. I still expect him to walk in the door of Fishin’ Frank’s. Well that happened just the other day…
Angel’s son Lil Angel walked through the door of the shop. He lives in New York so this wasn’t expected. He’s still just a smaller much quieter version of Angel. Enough that it hurt to see him. He visited for a few minutes with his Grandmother and then was off to visit with his Florida family.
Today his grandmother dropped him off at the bait shop to hang out with us just like his Dad used to. It was nice of his family to remember us and allow us to see him. I had the bright idea of taking Lil Angel fishing with Robert. Robert couldn’t go but he told me to take him and told me that he’s never caught a redfish. I was kind of dumbstruck by that comment and I had to ask Robert if he was serious. All the times he came down here and went fishing with his dad, who was one of the top fisherman in this area, and he’s never caught a redfish? Well, that’s how fishing goes. That’s why we call it fishing and not catching.
I told Robert that we would fix that problem. Storms rolling in, hotter than hades, crappy tides and not enough time or gas to run to the southern half of the harbor where most of the redfish are. Yeah, it was a cocky statement to say the least…
We hit a favorite hole near the beach complex for about an hour and caught a few small snapper and we decided to call it a day because the weather radar said we were gonna get wet with a good chance of getting struck by lightning. We started running back to Frank’s house where I keep the boat up river. We skirted the area where we spread Angel’s ashes and I quietly and mostly to myself apologized to Big Angel for letting him down and that I tried my best under the circumstances to get his son his redfish.
We passed under the 75 bridge with rainclouds all around us and I just couldn’t go back. How many times did me and Capt Angel say “one more cast”? How many times did we say we would be home early only to come home late? How many times did we say we would be home by midnight only to watch the sun rise? So I did what I knew we would do if it was me and Capt. Angel, I turned the boat sharp to the left and headed for a hole up river I’ve caught redfish in before. Nothing big, nothing to write home about, nothing to brag about, but every once in a while it holds a redfish or two.
Barb started to protest. She didn’t like the looks of the weather. She said we could ask to take him out again Sunday. She was right. We should just head to the dock. Keep everyone safe and dry. But that wasn’t Capt. Angel’s style. Live in that day, it might be your last. If he knew there was fish there you can bet your ass he would stop and fish them. And I couldn’t get those words out of my head. “One more cast…”. I had to stop. There was no choice.
That’s really all it took. That one last cast and Lil Angel had his redfish. 8 lbs and a shade over 27 inches. A first redfish he’s not going to forget and one that I’m never going to forget either.
And then the weight of that circle completing hit home. Capt. Angel taught me how to fish for redfish and he caught me my first redfish. Today I took his son and caught him his first redfish. It was a powerful moment and I had to sit down and take a minute to compose myself. It was bittersweet to say the least. All I could do was give Lil Angel a hug and tell him that he did a great job. Anything more and I was going to fall apart.
The rain and lightning was coming. I really wanted to head back to the 41 bridge where we put Capt. Angel to rest and let him know that I didn’t let him down. But that will have to wait for another day when I’m alone.