“Merry Christmas,” said Captain Anderson, handing me papers filled with numbers.
“Are you serious?” I answered. “It might be the nicest thing someone has ever done for me.”
While her Merry Christmas was a bit out of season, the spirit was there. It was March 2020 and the world of COVID-19 was just beginning. Honestly, I couldn’t thank him enough, as what was in those papers contained something far beyond monetary value.
I first met Captain Anderson a year ago. He lived down the street and noticed all the fishing gear stacked in my garage. We immediately made a connection as he said he was a retired captain looking to sell his old tackle. I asked him why he fished and he told me stories about the commercial hook and line grouper fishery he did as well as his travels around the world for billfish tournaments.
His new passion became fly fishing in salt and fresh water in retirement. Trips to Georgia for stream fishing or to the east coast of Florida for rockfish and trout were his new fishing trips. When he told me his name, I recognized him from something else. Captain Anderson had previously made news for removing a bald eagle from the claws of an alligator in 2017, which he humbly acknowledged.
Over time, I would bring him additional fish from my trips to the Gulf of Mexico. He was also quite the chef, describing his grouper and snapper recipes. He had a vivid memory, able to recall his travels, and I loved hearing the stories.
One day he released what he described as “the holy grail”. It was his number book. For an offshore fisherman, this means the fishing grounds he frequents. Structures like ledges, piles of stones, holes and more. Before modern electronics could store GPS or Loran coordinates, fishermen would literally have a book full of various fishing spots written down by their locations. The dates were mostly 2005, when he converted them to Loran’s GPS with a few in 2011.
In Captain Anderson’s book, there were places where many anglers commonly named their favorite holes – 90-Foot Ledge, Big Break, Black Grouper, etc. But next to some places he had numbers.
âThat’s the number of 40 pound gags we’ve caught out there,â he said. “So we took 43 on ’40 lb gag ‘and 45 on’ Buttcruncher ‘.”
They were just numbers on paper, but to him, every point was more than that. It was a lifetime of work and effort to find and catch fish, something he has made of his career as one of the best.
âIt’s awesome,â I said, satisfied with the stories. âI love this stuff. Any stories you have, I’m ready to hear. He was always ready to hear how my recent travels have gone as well and offered advice when something seemed to go wrong for a day.
At the start of 2020, I found out he was moving. Our newly acquired friendship was going to have to continue at a distance while I got his number and new address. I told him I would like to send him some fish when I have more.
When his moving truck arrived and it was packed and ready to go, he pulled over. The doorbell rang and it hit me with Merry Christmas. He handed me his book, a copy of the papers with his life of numbers. As we said goodbye to each other, I cried, and I still do thinking about it, because I know this book mattered to him.
There were hundreds of spots all along the west coast of Florida. As I was able to get out and explore, some were excellent and well produced. I felt lucky to fall into such a chance and made sure to send him some extra fish.
Although it was definitely not Christmas time when I saw the Captain, it is still one of the best Christmas gifts I have ever received.
This story was originally published December 17, 2021 4:42 pm.