When you're 65 miles from land in the Gulf of Mexico, you don't have to worry about cell phones, e-mails or clients stopping by to complain about their day in court.
"Isn't this great?" Steve Yerrid said as he searched the livewell for a pinfish. "We have a blue sky, calm water and nobody to bother us. This is what fishing is all about."
Yerrid, a Tampa attorney, relishes his time on the water.
"It always makes me thankful for what I have," said Yerrid said. "We are so lucky to live here.
"Now if only the fish would cooperate."
Yerrid almost didn't make it offshore on this picture-perfect Friday morning. A few nights before, he and baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs were alligator hunting when Yerrid took a fall as he battled an 8-foot reptile.
"I think I might have broken a rib," he said as he picked up a fishing rod. "Whatever it is, it hurts."
Yerrid wasn't looking for sympathy. The former amateur boxer has a reputation as a real battler — in legal circles, that is. That's why Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Yerrid as special counsel to represent the citizens of Florida in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the gulf.
"But I don't want to talk about that," he said as he dropped a bait over the side.
"I'll tell you about a real fight."
Fourteen years ago …
Back in 1996, Chuck LaMar, the first general manager of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, approached Yerrid with an idea.
"He wanted to put on a first-class celebrity fishing tournament to raise money for an organization that helps young cancer patients," Yerrid said. "But he didn't know where to start."
There was another problem. It would cost money. Yerrid pulled out a check.
"This will cover the cost of the tournament," Yerrid said about the conversation. "Now all you have to do is figure out how to raise some money to help these kids."
In the years that followed, the Grand Slam Celebrity Fishing Tournament brought some of the major names in sports to the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg for two days of highly competitive fishing.
Participating anglers are teamed up with a celebrity, such as Boggs, and one of the region's top fishing guides.
Over the years, Tampa Bay's premiere inshore fishing tournament has helped raise more than $1 million to fight pediatric cancer. Each year, the disease kills more children younger than 20 than asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and AIDS combined.
"When we first started this tournament, three out of five children survived their fight with cancer," Yerrid said. "Today, that number is four out of five.
"That is just amazing. In a few short years, to have made such a difference is truly something to be proud of."
In recent years, however, the tournament and the Pediatric Cancer Foundation it benefits have struggled to find funding. But when the major sponsors dropped out, Yerrid's Foundation and Bonefish Grill stepped in to fill the void.
The wrong rod
As the pinfish slowly sank to the bottom more than 150 feet below, Yerrid looked at his fishing pole and began to panic.
"Wait a minute … this is the kingfish rod," he said. "How did I end up with this thing?"
Yerrid glanced at the heavy-duty amberjack rods ready for action then at his tiny reel and hoped for the best.
It took about 30 seconds for the fish to find his bait. Then the rod bent like a U, and Yerrid nearly went over the side.
"Oh no," he said. "This is going to hurt."
Amberjack, a thick-bodied brute that will leave an angler bruised and battered, are known for punishing, deep dives. They are challenging on heavy tackle but almost impossible to land on lightweight rigs used for kingfish.
Each time the amberjack dived, Yerrid hauled back on the rod, wincing in pain. The rest of us knew his ribs had to hurt. But being fishermen, we tried not to laugh.
"You almost got it," I said; "just a couple of more minutes."
Finally, after 20 minutes, the fish came into view. With one strike of the gaff, the 40-pounder ended up in the ice box.
Yerrid collapsed into the fighting chair, stared off into space for a minute then said, "Okay, let's do it again."
Terry Tomalin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org