0500, alarm clock rings, in a groggy haze its time to get out of bed and feel my way through the dark bedroom to the bathroom. The night prior I lay my clothes out in order, from underwear to hat, so I can put them on without light. I quickly apply sunscreen and brush my teeth, then try to exit the bedroom without disturbing Lauren too much. As I pass through the kitchen on my way to the garage I flip on the coffee pot and grab my truck keys. I push the button and hear the loud growl of the garage door opening, I squint my eyes as the bright fluorescent lights come on. Everything is laid out in order the night before and this part is very routine in an attempt not to forget anything.
First grab the rods and load them into their rod holders on the boat. Next grab the towel and give the boat a quick whipe down to dry the condensation from the humid Florida night. Next unplug the battery charger and turn on the battery switch. Quick systems check to make sure everything is working properly. Then to the deep freezer for ice and, if needed, frozen bait. After the cooler is filled, I put on my rain gear and I go inside one last time. Opening the door I hear the coffee maker just finishing the pot, thats how I know I’m on time, and the aroma of fresh brewed Dunkin hits me from the laundry room. I grab my Yeti Tumbler and fill it with coffee. Time to peak in Vance’s room, write Lauren a note, and leave them both sleeping soundly.
As I walk through the garage and down the driveway towards my truck I run through a mental checklist making sure I didn’t forget any needed equipment for the days fishing charter. I also quickly double check that the outboard motor is trimmed up, the trailer tires are full, and the trailer is hooked up properly. Inside my truck I wait for the glow plug light to go out and wake up the Cummins engine. Letting it warm up for a few minutes I hit the wipers and turn the vent on the windshield. The drive is peaceful at this time of day with very minimal traffic. As I drive through Matlacha I see other guides and recreational anglers alike pulled off to the side of the road in front of their favorite bait and tackle stores loading up on last minute essentials.
Arriving at the dead end of Maria Drive, you take a right turn onto a dirt/shell road and follow the pitch black tunnel of mangroves until you reach the parking lot and the one slip ramp. Usually theres a short line of other guides and commercial fisherman waiting to launch. The short wait allows time to unhook the boat from the trailer, power up the GPS, turn on the necessary lights, and load the last of the daily essentials… sunglasses, chewing tobacco, and wallet. The ramp is now open and after a tight U-turn and short reverse, the boats in the water. This process goes quick and we stay out of each others way.
I exchange pleasantries and secret spots from the day prior with other guides as the outboard warms up and ropes get put away. Its now time to reverse out of the slip and turn away from the one glowing street light that lights the ramp. It’s dark. In the distance some faint lights of South Seas Resort can be seen, but not much else. The water is high this morning so I bypass the short idle of the channel and jump across the shallow flat instead. Steering the boat south I take it wide out and around the clam lease then continue south for a few minutes. Once I get close to the flat I come off plane and idle into 3-4 feet of water and Power Pole down. I open the back hatch, get out a bag of dry chum and pour some into a small bucket, add a squirt of menhaden oil, and a splash of saltwater until its thoroughly mixed and has reached an oatmeal consistency. I also get out my 10′ Barracuda cast net and lay it on the deck for later.
This is now my favorite time if the day. Im standing on the bow of my boat coffee and chum sitting on the deck. Its still dark out with stars shining everywhere. I sip coffee and toss small pinches of chum into the water. For this 15 minutes all the world is right and nothing could possibly be wrong, it’s complete peace. The sun just begins to rise, slowly creeping up from behind Pine Island. Pine Island Sound begins to fill with life. It starts with a few minor splashes from bait in the water, or a local manatee coming up to the boat to say good morning. As the sun shows itself the birds flock in from all directions landing in the water nearby, just waiting for the bait to show up too. A few minutes later the sun has the sky on fire with amazing oranges and reds.
You can now see the greenbacks and threadfins dimpling the water in your chum slick. It’s time to put down the coffee and pick up the cast net. Its muscle memory at this point, fold the rope, grab the horn, with the same hand grab the net waste level and lift it off the deck. Pull off a few handfuls and up over your back shoulder the leads go. Now a couple more handfuls into my right hand then into position at the edge of the bow. Rock it back and forth then throw it, it opens pretty good, right on target. You can see the net light up with silver flashes, you’ve done good. Walk to the back of the boat dragging the net behind me, closing the bait inside. Drag the net up and over the side of the boat and open it back up into the live well. The baits gets acclimated to its new home as I throw a few more pinches of chum and ready the net. Repeat, until the well has too much bait for the days trip.
The sun is now up and its light out, you look around to take it all in and see you weren’t alone. A dozen other guides were near enjoying their own personal routines and rituals. It’s time to put away the cast net and get the 5 gallon bucket. Clean all of the seaweed and slime from the boat so its presentable for clients, take off my rain gear, and finish my coffee. Time to take it all in one more time before making the run to the marina and starting the fishing charter.