Rebekah Cooper called me last December to schedule a fishing charter for herself and her husband Marquis as a Christmas present for him. We set a date in December but had to reschedule due to bad weather. A couple of weeks ago we finally were able to get out on the charter. We left Seminole boat ramp in search of speckled sea trout. The day started out kind of tough because somehow all my live shrimp made it out the drain of my live well. Luckily, I just happened to have a bag of frozen shrimp so we made do with the frozen shrimp on jigheads with popping corks. The trout ate it up. It didn’t take too long to get our limit.
I thoroughly enjoyed that trip with Rebekah and Marquis. Marquis and I really hit it off talking about sports, fishing and video games and such. I had such a great time that I asked Marquis if he would like to go on scouting trips with me when I need a buddy to tag along to find some fish. He said he’d love to. So we exchanged cell phone numbers and Rebekah said, “Do you text message much?” I said, “Yeah, I do text a good bit”. She said, “You’ve done it now, he’s gonna be texting you about fishing all the time. You’ve made a friend”.
A week goes by and I get a text from Marquis asking how the fishing was going. I told him that he wouldn’t believe it but that the day after I took he and his wife, I found a school of over 500 redfish and that they chewed the bottom out of the boat. He thought that was really cool.
Last Thursday I had a charter in the morning and the water was going to be low during the whole trip. I knew I couldn’t fish the redfish school that I had mentioned to Marquis a few days earlier. But, I figured that after the charter the water would be high enough to get on those redfish. So at 10:30am I called Marquis to see if he wanted to go fishing with me after my charter to check on that school of redfish I had told him about. He said that he’d love to.
So after dropping off my clients, I picked up Marquis and I could tell he was excited to go. We hauled off to the north of the ramp and I told him to hold on because I was going to “burn some gas” as I was in a hurry to catch up to those fish before the tide began to fall.
When we showed up, I searched for 15 minutes and couldn’t find the fish. I even called a buddy and told him that the fish we knew about from a week before were gone. Right before I hung up I spotted the school. 500 strong. I cast my jig out with one hand while the other hand held my phone to my ear. Two twitches and the fish was on.
Marquis loved fishing. LOVED it! Just like me. I really enjoyed his company because he was so unassuming, laid back, and passionate about fishing. He was in heaven that day. The fish were all around and they were eating. When he stuck his first fish he said that it was his biggest redfish ever. He smiled so big as he admired it and then let it go. He shook my hand and said, “Thank you.” I patted him on the back and said, “Your welcome. Now go get another one.” He did too. He schooled me that day. He caught three fish for every one I hooked. And he smiled and laughed the whole time.
After several fish, I told him that I needed to get out of that spot before it got burned. What I meant was that if anyone saw us in there for too long they would know something was up. Then the spot would get hit by more and more people as fisherman tend to have loose lips.
I asked him if he was okay with hunting for other fish and he said that he was. We checked out at least 2 more miles of shoreline with only getting two more bites. He didn’t complain a bit. He genuinely seemed to be having a great time. After about 3 and a half hours I told him that I hate that it was a short trip but that I had to be heading back to pick up my kids. He said that was fine and that he had a great day.
While we were idling the boat to deeper water, he told me that he was headed to, “The deep blue sea in search of amberjack on Saturday”. Said he was going 60 miles out of Clearwater. He said that amberjack was his favorite fish to catch and one of his favorite to eat. He said the boat was full for this trip but he asked if I would like to come along on a deep water trip the following week. I told him that I would love to go offshore with him sometime but that I was already booked for a charter that day. I asked him if it ever made him nervous to run that far out and he said no, that the boat handled rough water well and they watch the weather to make sure it’s safe.
The next day I had an inshore charter and the weather was beautiful in the morning. My clients even mentioned how calm it was. By noon, the winds had picked up and the water became rough. I remember it being odd that the wind was blowing so hard that early in the day because I had watched the weather forecast the night before and I thought the cold front wasn’t coming through until later in the day.
When I got home that afternoon, I called Marquis and left a message on his phone asking him if they caught a bunch of fish. I never heard back from him. On Sunday, I was standing around with a few other guides at an Outdoor Expo and I was telling them about this great friendship I had struck up with Marquis Cooper and that he played football with the Raiders. One of the guides asked me, “Did you hear about the football players that went missing yesterday?” My heart sank immediately. I called Rebekah Cooper and found out that Marquis was indeed on the boat.
Saturday morning my friend Marquis and three other anglers headed out to the “deep blue sea”. Around midnight his family called the Coast Guard to tell them that Marquis and his crew were past due from their fishing trip. Yesterday they found Nick, one of the anglers, clinging to the upside down boat 35 miles west of Clearwater. He is still alive and recuperating. The other three anglers, including my friend Marquis, are still missing and the Coast Guard have given up their search.
I fear that I have lost a friend. I fear that wives have lost husbands. I fear that fathers have lost sons, mothers have lost sons, children have lost fathers…
I had already played out, in my mind, future fishing trips with my new friend. I will be praying for him, his family and his friends. I hope you will too.
I didn’t get to know Marquis Cooper as well as I would have liked to. It’s been almost a year since his loss and I wish that our friendship would have had a chance to grow. I think we would have gone on several fishing trips by now and would have had many more in the future. As we’re coming up on the anniversary of his loss, I want to send my thoughts out to his wife, daughter and family. I’m praying for you guys.