Ahhh, South Florida!


After more than a month of moving in and out of the polar vortex, it was nice to be back on the water off South Florida last night. Real nice.

Five of us cleared Hillsboro Inlet at 5:15 and headed about 23 miles to a spot on the darkening horizon in the Gulf Stream, where we would spend the next five hours drifting for swordfish.

The crew consisted of a doctor, a local fishing sharpie, a publisher, an editor and a photographer. Some new friends and some old. Two of us were in town for the Miami boat shows, which start tomorrow. This was a good way to jump in. It’s always better to be on the water, fishing or just knocking about, than it is talking about it.

Dressed in jeans and a long-sleeve black T-shirt, Howard Khani, a general practitioner and certified fish nut, turned his cap backward and pushed down the throttles on his 31-foot Contender with a pair of new Yami 300s bolted to the transom.

The engines are about a year and a half old, and Howard has already put about 630 hours on them. “That’s above-average,” said Mike Theis, a custom rod builder and accomplished angler who has worked at Tom Greene’s Custom Rod and Reel in Lighthouse Point for more than 20 years.

And then, with a bit of understatement, he added, “The guy who catches a lot goes a lot.”

This is the good doctor’s fifth outing in as many days, although most are a good bit shorter than this one. The 14-year-old Contender is named Hooked, which describes Howard’s relationship with fishing.

Inshore or offshore, Mike is a smart fisherman and a good teacher. He provides the know-how. The good doctor brings the passion and energy of a thunder squall.

“I’m knowledgeable in science and medicine,” said Howard, a Type A whose private practice has leaned toward a growing number of fishing patients as his enthusiasm for the sport grows. “I’d say I’m an expert. But with this boating and fishing stuff,” he continued, his voice rising, “let’s say I’ve had a long residency.”

We banged out into a 2- to 3-foot head sea, which flattened out nicely as we got closer to the Stream. Conditions were good; wind and current shook hands and moved in harmony. We drifted under a waxing moon, which cast of plenty of light. The breeze was warm, and thoughts of the frozen Northeast sailed away with the waves of night clouds.

The fishing was slow, but the company and conversation, landscape and music (“old hippie stuff” — Howard) couldn’t have been more pleasant. We had a 500-foot cargo ship pass a quarter-mile off our stern early in the evening and a container ship steam a half-mile off our bow later.

“Gorgeous night,” said Howard.

“It keeps you young,” said Mike.

“It’s therapeutic,” noted Trade Only publisher Dean Waite.

“Beautiful. Just beautiful,” said photographer Billy Black.

Mike has seen a lot in two-plus decades in the tackle business. “People phase in and out,” he said of sport fishermen. “It’s like golf.” Once they feel they’ve mastered it, they often move on to something else, he said.

“The guys who have fished since they were little kids can’t get it out of their system,” he added. “I love it.”

The moon and stars walked across the sky as the hours clicked off. Mike fought a heavy fish about midnight that struck just as we were bringing in the baits for the night. After dumping a good bit of the line on two runs toward the bottom, the fish and Mike, a brawny guy, settled into a protracted tug of war.

The leader finally parted at the hook crimp, cut through cleanly and indicative of a big shark rather than a sword. We had hoped to see the fish, but maybe he or she did us a favor. Mike reeled in, we stowed the gear and we ran back to terra firma, everyone feeling full and alive.


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