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I caught a fish THIS big!

Run for the Bulls Tournament 2020

Story + Photography by Kim Smith

I caught a fish THIS big! I know that’s code for an exaggeration, but these pictures don’t lie. The fair ship Game On and its crew were kind enough to let this intrepid photographer/greenhorn tag along on their hunt for the biggest bull dolphin (male Mahi Mahi). The winner gets legit bragging rights, not to mention many a fine meal. More importantly, the Run For The Bulls tournament raised well-used funds for the Waddell Mariculture Center.

THE EARLY BIRD CATCHES THE FISH My little odyssey began with my sunset walk at Palmetto Bay. I saw a bunch of boats lit up and decked out in full gear and guys hanging out like adventure was brewing. I asked what the deal was and they explained the tournament. On a whim, I asked this friendly enough bunch if I could document the expedition. “You can come along, but we leave at 4 a.m.,” said captain Dan Cornell. Gulp. “To heck with circadian rhythms and beauty rest,” I told myself.

SLEEPY STOWAWAY Not surprisingly, I almost overslept and was running late per usual. With exactly two minutes to spare, I ran down the dock yelling “I’m here!” I was met with confused faces when I realized I was at the wrong boat (it was dark.) I found the right one, engines already humming and ties being loosened. With my gear clutched tight, I jumped the gap on board not so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I asked who took bets that the girl wouldn’t show. I never did get a straight answer but I truly hope I proved someone wrong. I love doing that.

NOT SO SMOOTH SAILING The antsy anticipation was palpable, but with a two-hour hike to the fishing spot, patience was a virtue and an unavoidable necessity. They warned me how “sporty” (rough) the ride might be. I brushed it off, but I’m glad I skipped breakfast. Note to self: Take an antacid next time and skip the coffee.

FISH ON With the tournament clock ticking, the crew wastes no time getting started upon arrival. Reeling in a catch takes a lot of coordination and a good team spirit. Working closely together on a long tiresome day can be wearing. Good personalities and a healthy dose of humor go a long way.

TUG OF WAR It takes some serious stamina and strength to do this all day. Sporty waters, the drag of a moving boat, 30+ pounds of hydrodynamic muscle resisting you and possibly smacking you in the face is no joke. “The wear and tear on a fisherman’s body takes a toll,” said Warren Holland. I believe that. I was getting tossed around like a rag doll, but these sure-footed guys anchor themselves and somehow win a battle of wills in the choppy tug-of-war.

GUYS WITH CHARACTER When I finally saw how beautiful Mahi’s colors and markings are, the crew’s fashion choices made a little more sense. Seriously though, the colors that flash on these fish are so brilliant, they’re visible from a good distance. When another species gets snagged, I appreciate these guys for only keeping what would be eaten. Long live and prosper, barracuda.

GILLS AND THRILLS The passion for this pastime was foreign to me. Anyone who knows me has heard me say, “Fish are friends, not food.” Seafood isn’t my favorite, and I made friends with a grouper on a dive in Cayman Brac once. (They like their bellies rubbed.) So I didn’t think I’d enjoy this part of the experience. I have to admit, catching a glimpse of a Mahi on the line was exhilarating. A snag is followed by abrupt commotion, buzz, yelling, energy, excitement and ultimately, celebration. The thrill is absolutely contagious. Now I can see how this becomes an addictive, natural high.

RACE AGAINST THE CLOCK The guys had a pretty good stride going, but the clock was winding down and they weren’t confident they found the big one. So from the uppermost deck, Captain Dan saw a possible sweet spot and had a hunch. Co-captain Curtis Josey made a beeline. Without much ado thereafter, they snagged this big boy!

GAME OVER FOR NOW At the end of the day, the Game On crew walked away with a highly respectable second place. I walked away with a big smile and a new infatuation. I’m hooked. Pun intended.