First fish

Remember catching your first fish? I do. Not like it was yesterday, but I do remember.

More important to me, however, are the memories of my two sons catching their first fish. I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything. And little did I know that those early events would lead to a lifetime of shared memories.

It's that first fish that brings all of us into the sport. Whether the cast is made for us or not, the act of reeling in a fish for the first time somehow leads us to this lifelong pursuit.

In that single moment, not only is the fish hooked, but so are we.

Young Boy and the Sea

My most memorable experience was a fish my son Daniel caught while we were vacationing in the Florida Keys. It wasn't his first fish, but it did come very early in his angling career.

Daniel was quite young then, still in elementary school. We were staying in Tavernier at my sister's house, right on a canal leading to a large ocean side flat.

Daniel Schultz with his first tarpon.

In the days prior to Daniel's big event, I discovered schools of permit tailing in the shallows very near the house. I found them while fly fishing for tarpon, and like clockwork, they would show up daily on the rising tide. So on day three, I got some small crabs and told Daniel and his mom to come with me, that I had a surprise for them.

When we arrived at the edge of the flat, we could see that the permit were already there — clearly visible by their cycle-shaped fins carving the surface as they scavenged the bottom in less than two feet of water. I told Daniel to be still so we could sneak up on them.

With his rod baited, I silently poled the skiff into position. I instructed Daniel to make a soft cast ahead of the school. His cast was true, and without hesitation the lead fish raced over and took the crab.

 When he stuck the fish, it immediately tore across the flat at warp speed, nearly spooling his reel. The drag screamed in response. In reaction, Daniel went into a crouched position, hanging on for dear life.

As the big permit moved toward deep water, I poled the skiff frantically in an effort to keep up. Sensing my desperation, and his own inability to control the fish, Daniel began to panic. His eyes flooded with tears as the fish swam aggressively toward open water. He cried out to me that he was about to lose the rod. So I tied off the push-pole and went to the front deck, urging him to hang on. No matter what, hang on!

Once at his side, I could see my son was whipped. The fish was overpowering and out of control. It easily outclassed the 10-pound spinning outfit it was tethered to. But somehow the line held.

Unable to crank the reel, Daniel simply clung to the rod for the next 15 minutes. All the while I talked to him, trying to make him understand that the fish was tiring, and that he would soon be able to reel it in. His tears kept coming. He wanted to give up. His mom, too, became emotional.

As I was just about to take the rod, the fish suddenly turned and headed back toward the flat. As it changed course, Daniel realized he could now gain back some of the line. I told him to reel fast and to keep it taut — no matter what, don’t let the fish have any slack.

As more and more line filled the spool, Daniel's confidence increased. The fish was tiring and he could sense it.

Trevor Schultz fishing in the Florida Keys at age four.

Minutes later we were back on top of the flat where it all began. Daniel's prize was getting closer with each turn of the reel handle. He was clearly winning the battle. As the fish rolled up on its side next to the boat, Daniel smiled. We thought it was over. But as I reached to grab the permit, it made one last scorching run, peeling off another 50 yards of line.

Stunned by the maneuver and the fish's unwillingness to give in, Daniel's face, again, took on a look of worry.I explained to him that the fish was fighting for its life, and that it would fight to the end. And to not give up … it would soon be over.

Minutes later, he pulled the fish boatside and I grabbed it by the tail. As I lifted it onto the deck, we were all amazed by its size. I've caught a lot of permit in my life, but never one this big. As it lay on the deck, I could see it was as long as the hatch lid it rested against — better than 40 inches!

I hugged Daniel, then told him I wanted to race to the house for a camera, and that we would release the fish right afterward. He said, "No Dad, I want to let it go now!" And after several failed protests, I finally agreed to let the fish swim free.

Only Daniel and his mom and I will ever know how big that permit truly was. But that's okay. More important is the memory of my young son battling his first trophy fish — and on light tackle! The fact that he wanted to release the very fish that had reduced him to tears said a lot to me. I was never more proud.

Time Lapsed Experiences

Since those early trips to the Keys, my sons and I have shared many days on the water — some in salt, others in freshwater. And on many occasions we experienced some truly fine fishing. Now that they're grown and nearly on their way, I'm left with those memories … which ain't all bad.

Three kings. Dave Pritchard, Trevor Schultz and Daniel Schultz holding kingfish from West Palm Beach.

Yeah, they still come around. But these days it's more for tackle than advice. That's what this sport should be about — passing the passion along to the next generation. Soon, they'll have sons or daughters to teach, and together they'll make their own memories. And who knows? I may even get to share in some of those experiences.

I'm sure many of you have memorable experiences to share — of that first fish, caught either by you or someone close to you. Tell us about them by using the Facebook forum below. We all love a good fish story.

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