The fog was beginning to lift. We could see more clearly the huge aircraft carriers docked along the shore of the St. Johns River. Where the St. Johns River flows into the Atlantic Ocean is huge. Although the water was calm, we felt intimidated by the immensity of our surroundings.
Under instructions from Captain Ray Singleton, the Captain of the Mary Anne, to be wary of the slippery deck, we moved cautiously, to the galley for coffee.
The Mary Anne, a former shrimp boat, had been converted to carry people deep-sea fishing. It was a good-looking boat equipped with all the necessities to go after the big ones; however, as sailed farther off shore, the boat seemed so small on the big ocean. Captain Singleton assured us that the boat was equipped with the latest safety equipment including lifeboats and radar.
We prayed that we wouldn’t need the lifeboats. Donald and Jerri Lewis, our companions for this fishing excursion, put their arms around our shoulders and smiled reassuringly.
The rising sun cast a beautiful spectacle across the waves as “Cap Ray”, as he would soon come to be known, steered the Mary Anne east into the gently rolling sea. My stomach felt a little queasy and the look on B. J.’s face gave me cause for concern.
Looking back at the shoreline, the last things we saw were the superstructures of the giant aircraft carriers moored in Mayport. We were headed into the warm waters of the Gulf Stream thirty-five miles out. Cap Ray had promised us “good fishing”. As we gradually got our “sea legs”, we circulated slowly, mingled, and got acquainted with the other fishers. We were all intense with excitement. Cap Ray informed us that there were snacks and coffee available. “If you’ll eat a little something along, it may keep you from getting seasick. We will have hamburgers for lunch.”
About an hour later, the Mary Anne began slowing. Some of the crew began rigging the large fishing poles attached to the sides of the boat. Bait containers were placed at various places around the deck. As the Mary Anne drifted to a near standstill, Cap Ray came from the cabin and made an exciting announcement: “We’re well into the Gulf Stream now and there are fish beneath us an all around us. It should be a good day for snapper.”
A crewmember brought us some heavy-duty poles, baited them for us, gave us brief instructions on how to work the reels, made long casts into the deep blue water and then placed the poles in our hands. “Get ready. You’re gonna catch some fish,” he told us with a chuckle.
We had not been fishing long before B. J. got the first hit. Her line tightened and her pole bent almost double. “Set the hook! You’ve got ‘im!” the crewman said elatedly.
B. J. with tightened lips, gritted teeth and a determined look, reeled frantically until the line tightened to the point she could reel no longer. Eager to see what was on B. J’s line, I put down my pole and anxiously stood by the rail.
“Ya gotta give ‘im some slack,” the crewmember told B. J. as he helped her adjust the drag.
Ten minutes later, I saw a flash in the sunlight down in the water. Then there was another flash. As B. J. gradually reeled the fish closer to the surface, I could tell that there were two red snappers on her line. Darting this way and that in the clear blue water, they flashed their colors and put on colorful show. The thrill was apparent on B. J.’s face. I was happy for her. She would “boat” the first catch of the day.
When she brought the fish to the surface, the crewmember netted them and brought them onto the Mary Anne. There was applause for B. J.
The fish were removed from the hooks and placed on the scales. One weighed six pounds and the other weighed four pounds. There was another applause.
A short time later, I pulled in my first catch. Donald and Jerri had made a catch, too. Jerri would catch the biggest fish of the day—a twenty-pound grouper. We would have fish for our freezer.
The mystery of the day came when I hooked something really big. I tried to crank the reel but it wouldn’t budge. I tried harder but it still wouldn’t turn. I braced myself against the rail and held the pole tightly. The crewmember came rushing to my side and took the pole but it was too late. The big line snapped and whatever it was on the other end was free.
“That happens a lot when you snag a big one and don’t know how to play ‘im,” said the crewmember.
It would be the old story of the “big one getting away.”
We indeed had a fishing trip that we would long remember.