Back in early May, with the help of Paul Michele of Navionics, Florida Sportsman magazine editor Jeff Weakley and outdoors writer Mark Modoski, I caught a giant goliath grouper off an underwater shipwreck near Crystal River, Fla.
I’ve never wanted a fish more than I wanted that fish on that day.
It wasn’t just a fish.
It was the next chapter in a story I hope will never die — and more proof that we’re chasing so much more than pounds and ounces every time we put a hook in the water.
You see, a lot of what I’ve got came from my grandfather.
My love for Alabama football, my passion for the outdoors, my smart mouth — all of that was ingrained in me by a hard-working, 130-pound World War II veteran named Clifford Brasher, who I knew simply as “Granddaddy.”
Another thing I’d like to think I inherited from him — to some extent — is his storytelling ability.
Whether it was about fighting in the war, killing a big whitetail or watching one of his buddies do something crazy, he could describe it in a way that took you to that time and place.
One story I must have heard him tell a couple of hundred times was about the giant goliath grouper he caught off the Florida coast during the late 1960s.
He was on a party boat and got stuck with a rod and reel that didn’t have enough line to reach the bottom. So, he bought a 2-pound B-liner from another fisherman and used it for bait in hopes of catching a shark.
Instead, the little red fish was engulfed by a grouper that was almost as big as my grandfather — a fish that took 45 minutes and three sets of arms to land.
When he told that story, he described the surroundings so vividly that, if you were prone to sea sickness, you’d better take some Dramamine. Watching him relive the physical motion that went into landing the beast was like watching a talented actor auditioning for a movie role.
No matter how many times he told it, he’d always start like I’d never heard it before — and I’m sure there were times when I might have rolled my eyes at the familiar opening line.
But he passed away back in 2002 — and today, there’s nothing I wouldn’t give to hear him tell it one more time.
Short of that, the best I could do was write my own chapter to the story.
That’s where Paul Michele, a.k.a. “Captain Awesome,” came in.
I told him during the buildup to the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods in March that the goliath was on my bucket list — and he made it his personal mission to put me in the ring with one.
Actually, he put me in the ring with several.
The first one I hooked was so strong I couldn’t slow it down.
I landed the second one — but only because Paul stood beside me like an overzealous workout partner yelling, “Reel, reel, reel. Lift up on him. Now reel.”
By the time I coaxed the fish to the surface, I could barely lift my arms for the high-fives.
There would have been tears in my eyes no matter when it happened. But the fact that it happened May 9 — just two days after what would have been my grandfather’s 91st birthday — made it about as special as a moment can be on the water.
The next goliath was supposed to belong to Mark Modoski. But before anyone could reach the rodholder, the fish snapped a heavy-duty deep sea rod like a toothpick, about 2 feet above the reel.
It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen — and my first thought was, “I wonder what Granddaddy would have thought of that?”
For years to come, the story of my goliath grouper will start with the story of my grandfather’s goliath grouper.
I hope someday, after they’ve heard the story a couple hundred times, my children and grandchildren will add to it with their own goliaths.
That’s what fishing is truly about.
Beyond pounds and ounces and trophies and paychecks, it’s about writing your own story.
Keep that in mind — and go write a good one.