Monday, June 18, 2018
Dining

A hook-to-table food experience in Tampa Bay

Going fishing is like doing your taxes. If itís something you dive into just once a year you end up relearning the whole thing every time. Jake Whitfield eyed me, no judgment, and decided to cast for me the first time, my little wriggling greenback zinging way out into the flats not that far from the Courtney Campbell Causeway. He handed me the rod and I started slowly reeling, visions of ginormous redfish and snook in my head.

Not long into the trip we reeled in a beauty, a silvery snook with pale yellow fins and a dark lateral line arched like a painted-on eyebrow. Alas, only 22 inches (keepers are 28 to 33 inches). The next one was just shy, 27 inches, and then we hooked a huge one, one that set my jaws and cramped my thumb a bit from reeling. Before I could get him in the boat, that sandpaper mouth frayed the line and he slipped away.

By this point I was doing my own casting, nothing too pretty, as I listened to Whitfield and fellow guide Jay Plastic talk about this new venture. The Godfrey Hotel & Cabanas Tampa has partnered with Top 5 Fishing Charters for what they are calling a hook-to-table experience. Guests go out, fish for four hours and bring their catch back to the hotelís restaurant. Maybe bartender Danny Franco will shake up a sly spin on a classic cocktail like a Scofflaw or a Mai Tai, and then executive chef Joe Garcia, executive sous chef Sean Champe and their team will consult with you about your fish: How do you feel about sea trout tacos? Whatís your thought on pan-searing with a mango pear salsa? And then itís chow time.

Honeymoon, bachelor party or just an oh-so-Florida vacation experience, itís a beaut (but not cheap: it starts at $600 for up to four boaters, plus a dining room charge of $14.95 per person). Capt. Frankie Diaz of Inshore Rush Fishing Charters was staying at the Godfrey and thought, "Hmm, this looks like something we could do."

Banding together with Whitfield (who runs Florida Outdoor Adventures), Plastic (Stealth Fishing Charters), Tim Whitfield (Swift Fish Charters), Justin Lofaro (All American Charters) and Wes Burns (Gulfside Fishing Charters), Diaz met with the Godfreyís chef Garcia and worked out the details. It can be for lunch or dinner, can be combined with an eco or sunset tour, and guests can embark from the 3,200-square-foot pier at the Godfrey, or, if the weatherís a little choppy, from the boat ramp at the Courtney Campbell. Guides clean the fish and stick it on ice for guests to bring back to the hotel restaurant.

But back to me and my snook. My casts got better. I got in the groove. Nonetheless, redfish eluded me (Plastic, who has been a guide for 12 years, says it has been a pretty paltry year for redfish) and snook taunted, fighting me, dipping under the 22-foot Pathfinder only to wriggle off the hook with my baitfish in tow. Was I mad? Nah, thereís still nothing better than spending time on the water on a glorious Tampa Bay spring day.

Of course, for Whitfield and Plastic, the day started at dawn with a 10- to 12-foot cast net collecting 300 to 400 baitfish. One charter trip in the morning (they were either luckier or more skilled and brought in loads of keepers), then a wobbly journalist in the afternoon. Trips run through 6 or more gallons of gas, they need new rods and reels every year or so, thereís marketing, motor servicing, insurance, truck payments and all that chum. Whew, a lot of work, but for Whitfield, Plastic and the rest of the Top 5 Fishing Charters team, it still means theyíve escaped the grind and "gone fishing."

Fishless but happy, I depended upon the beneficence of that dayís earlier charter: luscious trout tacos, then a snapper dish with citrus vinaigrette and crisp-tender broccolini. And I knew better than to bore anyone with my "one-that-got away" stories.

To book, call (813) 609-8675 or visit fishingcharters.guide/tampa.

Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.

 
Comments
From soft serve to ice pops, 12 places to get frozen treats

From soft serve to ice pops, 12 places to get frozen treats

I know we have three more months or so of hot-as-dog-breath Tampa Bay summer, but letís start things off on the right foot with some frozen treats. Ice cream is on my mind after a recent visit to Disney Springs, when I found love in a perfect scoop o...
Published: 06/13/18
Five restaurants worth checking out at Disney Springs in Orlando (w/video)

Five restaurants worth checking out at Disney Springs in Orlando (w/video)

LAKE BUENA VISTA Disney Springs has swiftly become a playground or trial balloon for the country?s celebrity chefs. Art Smith, Masaharu Morimoto, Rick Bayless, Guy Fieri, Tony Mantuano, Wolfgang Puck and others are already on board, with names like ...
Published: 06/13/18
A hook-to-table food experience in Tampa Bay

A hook-to-table food experience in Tampa Bay

Going fishing is like doing your taxes. If itís something you dive into just once a year you end up relearning the whole thing every time. Jake Whitfield eyed me, no judgment, and decided to cast for me the first time, my little wriggling greenback z...
Published: 06/11/18
Ceviche closing in South Tampa

Ceviche closing in South Tampa

TAMPA Ė The Ceviche restaurant at 2500 W Azeele St. is closing.Caledon Concepts, which operates Ceviche restaurants in Orlando, Tampa and St. Petersburg, said the restaurantís last day at that location will be June 16."The expiration of the lease for...
Published: 06/08/18
Deal alert: Hard Rock Cafe has 71 cent burgers for its birthday

Deal alert: Hard Rock Cafe has 71 cent burgers for its birthday

SAVE THE DATE: HARD ROCK B-DAYOn June 14, 1971, the founders opened their own American-style diner in an old Rolls-Royce dealership and called it Hard Rock Cafe. They had a vision to combine music, memorabilia and all-American fare. Hereís a tip: To ...
Published: 06/06/18
Restaurant review: El Chapo Taco fills a need with fun, friendly Mexican spot in Gulfport

Restaurant review: El Chapo Taco fills a need with fun, friendly Mexican spot in Gulfport

GULFPORTWhat do we know about El Chapo, a.k.a. Mexican drug lord JoaquŪn GuzmŠn? He ran the Sinaloa Cartel, even from prison, and first appeared on Forbesí billionaires list in 2009. Heís 5 feet 6. Heís the father of 12 or 13 children. He has a talen...
Published: 06/04/18
Updated: 06/07/18
National Doughnut Day is back. Where to get free doughnuts, doughnut beers and more

National Doughnut Day is back. Where to get free doughnuts, doughnut beers and more

Believe it or not, Friday is already June 1, which means National Doughnut Day is back with sweet deals.The day was created to celebrate the Salvation Armyís "Doughnut Lassies," who served the treats to American soldiers on the front lines during Wor...
Updated one month ago
A look at how Tampa steakhouse Ocean Prime keeps its menu fresh

A look at how Tampa steakhouse Ocean Prime keeps its menu fresh

TAMPAThe executive chefs all fly into Columbus, Ohio. Before they step into the kitchen, before they sharpen a knife, they sit down and have a meeting, an open dialogue. They examine the whole menu: Whatís working? What needs fixing? And then they ge...
Updated one month ago
Restaurant review: Bar Asia will have to raise the bar if it wants to thrive in South Tampa

Restaurant review: Bar Asia will have to raise the bar if it wants to thrive in South Tampa

TAMPALetís review our star system. One star is fair, two is good, three is great and four is mind-blowing. Iím going to start my review of Bar Asia by saying that one star for service is generous. Hereís why.On my first visit, the bartender was crabb...
Updated one month ago
Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

ST. PETERSBURG ó Chuck Prather, owner of the Birchwood in St. Petersburg, returned from his daughterís Maine wedding this week with an exciting announcement of his own. On June 7 the St. Petersburg City Council is expected to sign off on him being on...
Updated one month ago