The Big Catch

They all were to gather at the Rocky Bottom bar that Friday evening for the Captain’s meeting of the big 1st Annual Fishing Tournament that started bright and early the next morning. Being that is was a holiday weekend, this added to the excitement. Spring Break was in full effect and with Saint Paddy’s day having just passed, everyone was reeling in vacation mode. This was the last weekend of the break.  Everyone was there and on time including our Captain Keene. They were all pumped and thirsty which was not necessarily a good thing. They all needed to get up early if we wanted to catch that prize winning fish.

The plan for the tournament and rules were laid out formally by the owner of the bar and tournament sponsor. After that everyone started drinking and carrying on like any other Friday night. The Captain and some of the other cohorts that were on his boat said they were heading to the Ave. and suggested that Jim should join them. Jim knew better and declined. He wanted to be ready to catch that prize fish off of Captain Keene’s boat which he had impulsively named, “The Hookers”. Drunk Joe, was fully convinced to join them for a few drinks, but Jim talked him out of it. Before the captain had left for the avenue, Jim and Joe had both paid their 100$ entry fee and were to meet at the dock at 6am. Everyone else paid their entry fees to the bar or their captain. It was on!

    After the others left for the avenue, Jim worked hard to make sure he didn’t lose Drunk Joe and insisted he crash at his house so there were no disconnects the next morning if he was going to be at the boat…. on time.  Joe agreed and they proceeded with their Friday night drinking and Karaoke fun, foregoing a trip downtown. The roadhouse was cranking and the booze was flowing. There was so much fun to be had that Jim and Drunk Joe quickly lost track of time. Joe had agreed to crash at Jim’s place and they agreed to leave the bar early (1AM was usually early for them). They were to stop on the way home for plenty of beer and ice and go back to quickly pack the coolers and have everything they needed securely in the car so they would not be late for the early morning muster at the Captain’s boat at 7AM!

Around 5:30AM when Jim’s alarm went off, he rolled over and immediately hit the snooze, still reeling from the booze in my head. After pushing the snooze button three times he awoke with a shock of fear he had already missed muster. Before waking Joe, he tried calling the captain to make sure he was awake. He got nothing but voicemail! Jim tried texting several times, went downstairs for a glass of water came back up and then laid back down for a quick 20 minute snooze.

  He awoke again, what seemed seconds later to see that the clock showed 7:05AM. He jumped out of bed and ran to the guest room and shook Joe.

  “Wake up man, we are late and I cannot reach the captain!”

  Joe awoke after shaking him several times and it took him a minute to get his senses together.

  From there it was a blur. They made their way to the garage and Jim was, at first not even sure if they had stopped at the store on the way home for necessary supplies.

What time had we left the bar, thought Jim in his panic.

They literally stumbled to the garage and luckily they had made a stop but were short of supplies. All they had picked up was beer from a local store that was open late. Jim couldn’t even remember what time they had gotten home. Of course they hadn’t even packed in advance. They  quickly loaded the car with what they could muster and speeded over to the Captain’s house.

            Jim  knocked on the Captain Keene’s door several times and there was no answer. In his current state, all Jim could do was start dialing. He was frantic with the thought that we had missed the boat. At this point in his relations with the patrons of this new world pirate bar (the place was built in the early 1940’s) there was no way in hell he wanted to miss out on this huge holiday event.

He tried calling the other crew members and got nothing. Jim was about to bang on the door one last time and the door flew open. There stood the Captain, eyes half open and swaying in the doorway. He obviously had over-indulged the night before as well.

            Jim looked over at Joe who was slowly coming around. Jim’s head was banging by now but the feeling was instantly replaced with a renewed spirit of adventure and zest for the day!

  “Captain, wake your ass up! We have a tournament to win” he growled.

            Douglas Keene was one of the best fisherman he had met since he started learning the ways of the seas on the South Florida Coast. He had his own marine repair business and was quite successful at it. He could find, fix and flip anything nautical and was a whiz at tinkering with any engine. He was not however the best Captain. He always relied on his scallywag cohort Jamaica Bob, who was quite the character. Bob didn’t drink, but had more vices to make up for that, especially working deals and shady ones at that. He always took the helm once the captain started drinking. At least the Captain was smart enough to relinquish his boat to his trusted co-captain. As for the other boats, there was much competition for today’s tournament and Jim recalled, not so vividly at this moment, that Captain Veroni had left the bar only an hour after the rest of the boatsmen had left for the Ave. He was sure the other crafts were in the water by now and had already started heading 15 miles into the great Atlantic Ocean to where the Mahi and Black Fin Tuna were running this time of year.

            Keene rubbed his eyes and tried to focus as he gained consciousness. It came to no surprise to Jim that there was no sense of urgency as he was sure the captain had stayed out most of the night. From inside he could hear someone making coffee.

            “Come around back to the Tiki bar whilst I gather my things and we can head to our boats together. Not to worry, I know where the fish are and no one else knows my spot”,  he mumbled confidently while rubbing his eyes.

That wasn’t enough for Jim. He didn’t know that spot and was still a bit of a rookie. This was his first tournament and it was not off to a great start. His anxiety was through the roof. He had been looking forward to this day since the announcement of the 1st Annual Rocky Bottom bar’s tournament a month ago. He looked over at Joe who was swaying in the morning breeze. The sun was making its way over the palm trees and the weather this morning was perfect. It was about 75 degrees and humid with a slight breeze that  whispered of calm seas just a few miles away off the coast. 

Jim nudged Joe in the direction of the backyard and they made their way around to the Tiki bar. They both took a seat and Jim rubbed his eyes. His head was banging by now and he was ready to eat something to keep from throwing up. He had some chips he had grabbed from the car and was trying to get them down to dry up the rum and cokes he had been tossing down just hours ago.

“What time did we leave the bar”, asked Jim.

Joe replied in a stupor,

“Hmmm?” he mumbled as he sat at the bar with his head in his hands, his matted brown hair heading in all directions out from under his fishing hat. You could not see his face and that was a good thing.

This frustrated Jim even more.

Jim texted the others while waiting impatiently for Keene. There were responses at least. Some had made it to the water and were heading out.

“Dammit Joe we are late!” yelled Jim. Joe didn’t move with his head in his hands. “Wake up man, we have  a tournament to win if you recall.”

Joe lifted his head and his face was blood red and his eyes were even more so. He didn’t say a word but stood up and almost fell over. He reached for the bar and sat back down.

Oh my God, this is not going to go well, thought Jim.

Captain Keen finally came out with at least a bit of pep in his step. He was carrying a cup of coffee and a half gallon of Captain Morgan’s.

“Time to shake it off chaps!” the captain said spritely. Joe heard that and came back to life which was not much of a surprise to Jim. There was a reason they called him Drunk Joe.

Keene grabbed three shot glasses and started to pour the spiced rum.

“Hair of the dog!” Joe chimed in with new life in his voice.

“Oh no!” yelled Jim. “Not me, and on that note I am out!. There is no way I am going on your ship of fools”, Jim growled and did an about face, heading to the car. “You can go on Billy’s boat without me.”

He turned just in time to see the two toasting and he almost threw up.  When the empty shot glasses hit the bar, Captain Keene, Billy the Kid we called him, cleared his throat and chimed,

“Oh you are such a pansy, Jim. Just take a small swig and you will be fine.”

There was no way in hell that Jim could imagine taking a sip of rum and getting on a boat. It was hard enough to control Drunk Joe as it was and he promptly responded,

“ Joe, I am going home and going back to bed. Come get the beer and your rods out of my car. And for that matter you can take a cab home if Billy won’t take ya.”

Joe just looked at Jim with glazed eyes, then turned to Billy with a grimacing smile and poured another round. Jim’s gag reflexes kicked in again and he almost hurled. That was the last straw, he was not going fishing today. He should have known that this was going to happen. Just being in the bar on a Friday night was enough proof it would turn out this way.

“Come on Jim, we need you out there today. Who am I going to best now?” joked ‘Billy the Kid’ Keene. “Just one shot and you will be back in the game.”

Jim was fuming mad and turned to leave. He had been awaiting this day so bad.

Just like the Holidays. he thought as he stormed back to his car, all red eyed and head banging. It always happened that Jim enjoyed the anticipation of the holidays and vacation more than the actual sacred days themselves. The night before always seemed to turn out like this. He jumped in his car and sat there for a moment, debating turning the key.

Anticipation, he pondered. Why do I do this to myself. He sat there recalling the night before his maiden trip to the Island with his newly acquired boat. He and Manny had hit the Coco bar and restaurant before their big trip the next day to camp on the island. As planned, they had anchored right inside the inlet and passed out after their bar fun. Of course Jim, being the Captain, had not contemplated the fact that he could not sleep.  Once anchored, he was all ears even in that pre-vacation intoxicated mode. By 5AM, as the fishing boats were rolling out he was wide awake. This particular vacation he was recalling was the ceremonial trip to The Island and he was so excited that he got trashed at the bar before they were to leave the inlet into the Atlantic sharply at dawn.

Damn it, he thought recalling how he felt that next morning. Manny had pleaded to him to just go out the inlet, anchor for 20 minutes and take a nap to get at least some rest before the maiden voyage. Thank God he did because he was fine after that. With the cool ocean breeze blowing through the port hole into the cabin, he had awoken feeling brand new and off they went!

This day is not the same. Jim tried one last time to convince himself to remain steadfast. They just had shots for breakfast! Jim pounded the steering wheel turned the key and hit the gas, burning rubber backwards out of the driveway, slammed it in gear and smoked the tires again and sped home feeling worse than he had in a very long time.

By the time Jim got home, his wife and son were still asleep and Jim did the same as well. He awoke a few hours later to eat something. He couldn’t remember if he had even talked to his wife before crashing but he must have as she had a comforting breakfast waiting for him. He told her of the great let down and she consoled him. He knew he had made the right choice but he was still deeply saddened by the way things had turned out on his first official fishing tournament. In all reality, he knew it wasn’t really official. All of the entries were friends of friends from the local watering hole and by no means were they all professional or even dedicated enough to NOT get trashed the night before a big fishing event! He was still feeling that dark, sullen feeling of remorse. He ate and went back to bed, thanking his wife for putting up with him and his adventure seeking pirate friends. She understood. After all, it was the time of year when Spring Break was in full force and everyone was all about getting back to some major fun in the sun!

A few hours passed and Jim rolled over to find his wife shaking him. He was just starting to feel like himself again after some much needed food and shut-eye.

“Honey, your phone has been blowing up for the past hour. Billy has called at least ten times. Maybe they are in trouble”, she whispered.

Jim rubbed his eyes and looked over at the clock. It was 3PM already! Wow, that place was really rockin’ last night he thought. Then suddenly he remembered; the tournament! He jumped out of bed and went downstairs to get his phone. Indeed there were many missed calls and a voicemail from Billy. He listened to it but it was all broken up and staticky. He immediately called him. No answer. He went to the kitchen  to get a glass of water. Man what a night and more specifically, a morning.

It was still a blur. He was almost finished with his water and trying to recall the crazy ordeal and the phone rang. It was Billy.

“What’s up Billy? You guys alive out there or did you even go?” he asked sarcastically.

“Of course we went and we are on our way back. Can you meet us at the dock? We have a bit of a problem”, said Billy with a peculiar tone in his voice.”

“What is it man?’ Who do I need to take to the hospital.?” Jim said. He was sure he was being asked to help them with some tragic drunken mishap.

“No man, no time for your badgering, we are running on one engine at about 8 knots. We are 12 miles out. Jamaica Bob jumped in and was cooling off and somehow let the anchor fall. When we took off it came from under the boat and wrapped around the starboard prop and that engine is dead. Jim, we have the winning fish, the biggest Mahi I have ever caught! We will barely make it to the dock in time to drive it in. We need you to meet us there and run in our trophy fish. We may make it but it will be close!”

Jim was in shock and fully awake now.

“Uh, ok, uh I am getting in the car now.” Jim quickly did the math as he ran outside. “It takes 20 minutes to get to the dock and another 25 to get to the bar. “How long will it take you to get to the dock?” Jim asked. There was a moment of silence. Jim panicked.

“Keene, are you there? He paused. Keene?” The phone went dead. Jim kissed his wife, ran outside, jumped in the car and cranked it up.

“At least no one drowned or was hurt”, he said to himself. Part of him wished he would have gone. “I guess there is a reason why I stayed home today.”

The phone rang again as Jim pulled out of his driveway.

“Jim, you there?” came the voice of Captain Keene. Jim grunted as he barreled out of his subdivision.

I better drive safe or I will not do anyone any good if I get pulled over, he thought, his palms already sweating.

“I’m on the way Bill.” How far out are you?”

“I am about 7 miles out. I will make it there around 4:40. That will leave you about 15 minutes to get there. It will be a close but you can make it. And Jim we also have another problem.” Bill’s voice came all staticky and broken. It was a miracle he even had reception that far out.

“What is it Bill,” Jim asked. There was silence again. “Bill?   Bill can you hear me?” I will be at the dock. Can you hear me?”

Jim hung up the phone and sped  towards the dock. It was going to be a miracle if he was able to get the fish to the bar in time to weight it in.

Jim’s mind went wild wondering what was the other problem. Maybe someone had drown. Maybe there was an injury. He would know soon enough.

Jim was close to the dock now, his palms sweaty and adrenalin rushing through his body. He had gotten enough sleep. Not being a heavy drinker, he felt fine. Of all times for the bar to be in full swing. He recalled singing several of his favorite songs and chuckled in pride thinking of their group rendition of Long Train Running by the Doobie Brothers. He loved to play his harmonica to that piece and last night they had really brought down the house!  He could only imagine the agony he would have endured being out on the boat with those crazy pirate-like drunks.

As he pulled into the boat launch area he saw the boat cruising up to the dock, several of the crew members on the bow holding the lines and ready to tied it up. They were scrambling all over the deck. He could see red in their faces. It must have been brutally hot out there.

He pulled straight up to the launch ramp, swung the car around and backed it up, leaving the car running. It was 23 minutes ‘til 5pm. There was no exception for the weigh-in cutoff time. He had to be quick. He ran down the dock screaming to hand over the fish. He could hear the Captain yelling out orders to the scurrying crew.

Before the lines were even secure and the boat snug against the dock, Jim saw the Keene take a running jump to the dock almost missing it, catching himself and making his way to the car. He was in bad shape and looked exhausted but he had a lustful look in his eyes.

“Ok, you and I are bringing in the prize Mahi. Bob and crew will pull the boat and meet us there”, said the Billy, exasperated.

“Get me the fish, man. We are barely going to make it. We have twenty minutes and it takes twenty-five” Jim commanded.

The back door flew open and two people jumped into the back seat.

“Get out and get the fish in the trunk, now!” Jim screamed. Captain Keene repeated the same in support of Jim who had come to the rescue.

“Get out and get that fish in the car”, Keene repeated. “Jim and I will run the fish in but we will be close!” There was pleading and drunken debating from the back seat mainly from  Drunk Joe.

“Out! Now” barked Billy.

Jim popped the trunk, the guys got out of the back seat and as soon as the trunk slammed shut, Jim hit the gas.

“ Dammit man, I didn’t get to see the prize!” exclaimed Jim.

“Trust me it is the winning fish, now just focus on driving and do not get us killed or pulled over.” pleaded Billy.

Jim did just that. He wildly got back on the Federal Highway and barreled down the road, bee-lining for the Rocky Bottom bar. He quickly decided to veer over to Dixie Highway, taking a right onto 1st Avenue where the Captain had, only a few blocks over, been just hours ago enjoying the night life. The car almost lost traction and he caught the back tires locking them back in before careening into a bicycler on his morning spin.

                   “Easy Killer”, warned Billy, “We want to make it there alive and on time. “It would be a sad ending to the day if you kill us both or a pedestrian.

                   “Shut up,”growled Jim with white knuckles on the steering wheel. He looked at the clock below the dash and it showed five minutes ‘til five. It was going to be close.

                   Jim dared not say another word and kept focused on the road. He wanted to give Billy a piece of his mind but he knew that was the past now and he needed to focus. They both remained tight lipped. Billy had both hands on the dash. They could see the bar about a mile on the left. They were so close. The clock showed two minutes to five.  

Just then a car, probably some old snow bird, pulled onto Dixie Highway less than a quarter of a mile ahead taking it’s sweet beachcomber time. Another car was heading their way in the opposite lane. This would make or break them , thought Jim as he gunned it.

          “Oh shit” screamed Billy, as Jim left his lane and dared the oncoming car to a game of chicken. “Oh shit” Billy yelled again as Jim quickly cut in front of the slow car barely making it back into his lane before careening the oncoming car. They heard a car horn changing pitch as they sped on. Jim looked over at Billy who was white faced by now.

The bar was about 500 yards away. The clock showed 4:59. Jim didn’t slow down as he careened into the parking lot, hitting the emergency break and skidded to a stop at the back entrance to the bar. Without a word the two got out, grabbed the cooler and came running into the back entrance to the bar with the cooler, screaming,

“Wait!”

          The patron’s, all alarmed by the chaos, turned and stared.

The bar owner, Miguel stepped up. Ok guys, relax, you made it. Let’s get that leaky fish cooler out of my bar and out back to the scales.

          Jim and Billy were still in shock. They had made it!

          “Now show me that fish, Billy!” Jim exclaimed still catching his breath. The cooler was not all the way shut. Jim could see a huge tail revealing itself from the closed lid. All the other contestants gathered around with much anxiety that they may not have won the tournament.

          Miguel opened the cooler and stuffed inside was the biggest Bull Mahi Mahi that Jim had ever seen!

          “It looks great”, commented Captain Veroni, but can it beat my 48 pound Mahi that is my winning fish?” It was going to be close.

          There was a dead silence as Miguel hooked the tail of Billy’s grand fish and lifted it onto the scale.

          “We have our winner, weighing in at 53 pounds!”, cried Miguel.

Billy and Jim looked at each other still reeling from all the excitement, latched on to each other and started hugging and jumping around screaming.

          “We won Jim! Thank God you didn’t go today!”

Jim continued bouncing around, then laughed,

“I want my gas money back, Billy and a big piece of the bounty for my grill!”

Billy, almost teary eyed replied almost immediately,

“Sure thing Jim ole buddy!” “oh yeah and the other bad news I was going to tell ya.

“Yes, what else?” Jim could care less by now.

“Well, When we hooked the big catch, Your lucky pirate’s tumbler that you keep on my boat flew off the boat and was lost at sea.”

“Jim hesitated and everyone waited for his response in silence.”

“I won’t be needing that anymore, replied Jim. “After today, I quit drinking.” The whole lot of folks at the Rocky Bottom bar started hee-hawing.

 “Yeah, just like you will never sing Karaoke again,” retorted Billy the Kid, Keene.”

You could hear the cheers and laughter as Jimmy Buffett’s song, Margaritaville played in the background, a fitting ending to another perilous adventure in South Florida!

2022-04-14T12:23:19-04:00