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Huffy vs. the outdoors writer

Captain Dave Mistretta shows off the kingfish he caught just off of Clearwater Pass. As the water temperature rises, kingfish should be arriving in the bay area soon.

BILL SERNE | Times (2004)

Captain Dave Mistretta shows off the kingfish he caught just off of Clearwater Pass. As the water temperature rises, kingfish should be arriving in the bay area soon.

With the water temperature on the rise, it is only a matter of time before the king mackerel start showing up along local beaches. The kingfish, hungry after a rough winter off the Florida Keys, will be ready to eat. Anglers will have a month or so to catch their share before these free-swimming predators head to their summer hunting grounds off the Florida Panhandle. So get ready. Here they come.

The five p's

An old buddy, the late Col. Larry A. Hoffman, spent weeks preparing for kingfish season. Hoffman, an ex-Army Green Beret, liked to say, "Proper planning prevents poor performance."

Well, in the spirit of full editorial disclosure, the grizzled Vietnam vet liked to throw an extra "P" in there, but this is a family newspaper.

Capt. Huffy, as his friends called him, was a perfectionist. There was nothing he hated more than losing a big fish except, perhaps, an outdoors writer losing a big fish.

Once, during a particularly tense tournament, I let a big one go. Hoffman yelled at me so long and hard, I tried to crawl inside a tackle box and hide. I blamed it on the line, which he checked and announced it was, indeed, old and brittle.

But that did not change the fact, he said, that I was still an idiot. But from then on, Hoffman always changed lines for every big tournament.

Do it yourself

Once, during another particularly tense tournament, Capt. Huffy asked me to retie a broken line to a wire leader. Being a Boy Scout, I knew my knots.

But being your basic, run-of-the-mill outdoors writer, I did not know the Huffy Knot.

Later that morning, I hooked a big, mossy-backed monster, so fat and thick that I swore it was wearing shoulder pads. After a half-hour fight, the beast tail-whipped the line and sliced it like a piece of kite string.

Huffy inspected the line and announced my knot had failed. I objected, arguing with eight trolling outfits on the boat, how was he sure the offending knot was, indeed, tied by an ignorant outdoors writer and not an omnipotent fishing captain.

The knot could have been tied by anybody, the captain announced, but that did not sway his opinion that I was still a high-functioning moron with a laptop computer. But from then on, Hoffman always tied his own knots in every big tournament.

Stick with the plan

Once, during yet another tournament, but not so tense, it seemed as if everybody but us was catching kings. We were working an offshore wreck while the rest of the fleet was fishing off the beach.

"Don't believe the chatter," Capt. Huffy said.

"Those are radio fish."

Tournament fishermen, he explained, are fabulous fibbers. Some will even go as far as issuing reports over the VHF radio just to mislead the competition.

As a member of the media and slave to instant gratification, I suggested it would be better to move to a spot where we thought there might be some fish than to stay in spot where we knew there were not any fish.

Hoffman, an open-minded angler, saw my point and suggested I go check it out.

"If you start swimming now," he said, "you should make landfall by sundown."

So we stuck with his plan and an hour later caught a 30-pounder that put us on the winner's board.

Forget the plan

Sometimes, you just have to trust your instincts and do what you think is right.

Being an outdoors writer, I talk to a lot of fishermen, many of whom are more than willing to share the latest inside information concerning the migratory habits of the elusive Scomberomorus cava.

Big kings, also known as "smokers" for their ability to melt the internal workings of old-time fishing reels, had been caught all week on a certain offshore artificial reef. I shared the intelligence with Capt. Huffy, and he agreed that is where we would fish the following day.

Come Saturday morning, with the wind blowing hard out of the east, Capt. Huffy decided to scrap the previously mentioned plan and fish the beach, where he knew the kings would be hunkered down in the lee of the condominiums.

Once again, we argued. The captain won, and I lost, which was a good thing for he was right and I was wrong. But what do you expect from a simple-minded outdoors writer.

Huffy vs. the outdoors writer 04/01/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 11:55pm]

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