One steamy night at the Cape Coral Bridge, a client grabbed another adult beverage and with a burp that sounded like cannon fire, every head of every tarpon fisherman anchored along the span, turned our way and laughed.
It doesn't take much to entertain this gang, I thought. "Big Mike," as he introduced himself, cracked open number 19 of the 24 beers he brought with him, for a five-hour tarpon trip.
Earlier in the evening I thought, "Oh boy, here we go," as I shook his hand and tried to guide him away from my boat. He smelled like beer and apparently was filled with it, but did not stagger. After some dockside chat to find out if it was safe for him to be on board or not, I decided he showed no outward signs of intoxication. He seemed reasonable to a degree, although I would not want to be on his mean side, and it was a slow season. That clinched it.
Capt. George Tunison
We finally left the ramp and enjoyed the short moonlit river ride to the other bridge.
Still, after 50 years, every time I leave a boat ramp I'm filled with anticipation and excitement and that's really cool.
Mike was a Minnesota ice fisherman who told me several times during our four-hour tour, "I like to eat, drink, fish, hunt, chase women, and spend my granddaddy's millions."
He was telling me that yet once again just before he passed out, wearing a really horrible Hawaiian shirt and shorts combo that was way too small on him. He was just standing there on the back of the boat, holding my tarpon rod, a beer and a hardboiled egg, wearing sunglasses and that outfit when all of a sudden he simply passed out.
Within the blink of an eye he pitched off the deck into the dark, shark-infested Caloosahatchee River still clutching the rod, beer, egg and was gone, rudely and abruptly buried at sea. Time stood still.
The tide had really started to roll. Instantly I knew he was dead and with my luck I was going to somehow end up in jail. All of a sudden I heard a weak yell, "Captain Help!" He had surfaced and was swimming against the tide, taking on water.
I quickly released the anchor and to the cheers of the crowd got him back aboard. I was glad to have saved him, but not ecstatic to be minus one $500 tarpon combo. Practical. He promised he would take care of it and we finally settled back down to fishing.
With about an hour left in the trip I wanted to try some live ladyfish around the bridge. We were anchored up tide and 30 yards out from the bridge. I baited a rod for him with a lively 15-inch ladyfish. As I bent over to get a live squirming bait for myself, I heard him make a mighty cast.
Tires screeched as a woman screamed, while line suddenly poured from the big reel. Big Mike held on for dear life all the while screaming "Captain! Captain! I've got a monster!"
I watched as $100 dollars worth of Power Pro fishing line (and ladyfish) that was attached to whatever brand of car that screaming woman was in vanished from my reel and down the bridge at 90 mph. Meanwhile, Mike is getting the fishing thrill of a lifetime. The line snaps from the reel and is gone and I know I'm going to jail.
Back at the dock we shook hands, laughed, and he handed me 13 wet $100 bills from his shirt pocket that still contained the egg he somehow saved when he passed out. Honest.
Mike was killed the next night by a drunk driver. He was sober and going fishing with me again. Honest.
Life's funny like that.
Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Flying Fins Sportfishing.