By Merry Beth Ryan
The sky was blue and you could barely feel the wind. There was no doubt it was time to head offshore in search of some deep water action. Captain Travis Ormond, who operates Pelagic Charters out of Stump Pass Marina in Englewood, invited me to accompany his girlfriend Angie on an offshore adventure. Her nine year old daughter Ashley, and Cole, Ormond’s deckhand, joined us as well. I quickly obliged, after recently reviewing more than handful of exciting photos of various species Travis had been landing offshore. I wanted in on the same action.
It was genuinely heartwarming to see how thrilled the mother and daughter team were during our journey to the first of Ormond’s favorite holes. I could literally feel their excitement, and I think having an outdoor writer and photographer onboard, kept their game faces on. They were ready to do battle with whatever came their way. Young Ashley was exceptionally thrilled with the opportunity of having her photo printed in a magazine. As we approached our destination, we began to see baitfish scattering across the surface. We knew we were close to where we wanted to be. A few minutes later, Captain Travis set the anchor and positioned us just up-current of a favorite wreck. The girls knew the time had come.
Landing a hard fighting permit was our main objective. Permit tend to gather in schools of ten or more fish with an average size ranging from five to twenty-five pounds, not to mention real brutes exceeding thirty pounds are not uncommon. These silver-sided yellow-bellied jacks are packed with pure raw power. Pound for pound, permit put up a fight that has earned the respect of anglers of all skill levels. Travis had a bait-well full of perfect size crabs so our anticipation ran high. Contrary to what you might think, crabs do spend a great deal of time drifting on the surface. They’re specialists at hiding among small patches of floating weed, and the permit hanging around the wrecks know just where to find these tasty critters. Travis and Cole freelined several baits off the stern and we began the waiting game. It didn’t take long before we saw a pair of permit cruising below. Our adrenaline levels quickly climbed. Permit have tremendous eyesight and are able to pick out prey from great distances, so we hoped they would spot our baits. When the water is crystal clear like it was on this day, permits’ white rubbery lips stand out. The contrast makes them easy to spot in the darker depths.
We patiently waited and kept a close eye on all the lines. Action was slow at first; though we never gave up hope since we we’re extremely confident in our crew’s abilities. Nine year old Ashley quickly learned that with offshore fishing, patience is a must. Luckily, the Fish Gods didn’t let us down. It didn’t take long for a feisty permit to hone in on one of our crabs. Angie quickly grabbed the doubled over rod. Wouldn’t you know it, the permit grabbed the bait on the lightest outfit we had out so the battle was intense. Captain Travis patiently instructed Angie to fight the fish cautiously considering thin 8lb braid was the only thing keeping them together. Permit are really strong. These fish make long hard runs as they attempt to elude capture by heading straight for any structure they can find, and when the permit had the reel down to the mono backing, personally, I got somewhat nervous. Cole, the helpful deckhand, was also keeping a close eye on Angie’s progress. He assured us that she was gaining, even if it was inch by inch. Angie did a fine job which resulted in the successful catch and release of a very photogenic, and very shiny, fifteen pound permit.
The pressure was off. We had accomplished our goal and broken the ice. Now it was nine year old Ashley’s turn. She had just watched her mom do a great job at landing her fish, and desperately wanted her own turn to do the same. Knowing more permit were here, we stayed put, but as luck would have it, we never did get another bite. Hoping to accomplish our mission of getting Ashley in on some heavy duty action, we took a short boat ride to another of Captain Travis’ favorite spots.
As you already know, keeping kids busy during any fishing outing requires action- action- action. We all knew this trip wasn’t about landing any trophies. It was about providing a young girl with lasting memories that she will never forget. Ashley did bring along her portable DVD player which kept her busy when things were slow, but she was always ready. As soon as we stopped, Travis threw out a sabiki rig and caught a bunch of Spanish sardines. These frisky baits are like candy to most Gulf species. We tossed a few out to see if there were any interested takers, and within what felt like only a minute, the guys had Ashley hooked up to a big barracuda.
More determined then ever, she refused to give up the rod. It was her against the “monster” fish and she fought it like a champ. A few times her mom assisted with well thought instructions, shouting “Reel, Reel, Reel.” Ashley was quick to let everyone know she was going to catch this fish all by herself and did not need anyone’s help. It was surely her biggest fish to date so that alone fed her determination. To say the smile on the young girls face was priceless is a complete understatement. She was practically floating on air as she struggled for all she was worth. I’m certain she had much more fun fishing with us that day then she would have had at a new girls club her classmates recently started. She told us the initiation process included eating a bug. God, it’s so nice to be so young and so carefree. I miss those years.
After winning her battle, we all congratulated Ashley and told her she had done a great job. We posed for some great photos and let her help carefully release the toothy fish. We went on to catch several other fish that day, but Ashley’s barracuda was the special one. All in all it was a wonderful day on the water aboard the Pelagic, and Captain Travis and Cole were both first class.
As you can tell, offshore fishing can be great fun for the entire family. Most boats designed to fish offshore are equipped with private restroom facilities and plenty of room for all aboard. When it comes to taking kids fishing, just make sure you bring along plenty of sun block, snacks, and liquid refreshments. It can be a long day out there- hopefully a long day filled with lots of action and plenty of great memories.
If you intend to bring children on a charter boat, make sure you inform your prospective captain of your intentions well in advance of the trip, so you can get a read on whether the crew is “kid friendly” and will provide the necessary coaching. If the kids are having a good time, so will everyone else.
Captain Travis Ormond
941- 374- 1669