25 years ago the Hill family and my family became fast friends. I grew up spending my summers with Josh, Travis, Mandy and Lindsy Hill (the Hill children). 13 years ago the New York Yankees drafted me and I moved to Tampa to play baseball. Tampa Bay just so happened to be the Hill family’s favorite place to vacation. When baseball didn’t work out, I chased after my second passion, fishing, and became a full time fishing guide. The Hill’s, who love the outdoors and camping, found out I was guiding and have chartered me every year from day one of my fishing career. Over the years we’ve caught redfish, snook, trout, snapper…. and this year we planned on fishing for the same fish. But then yesterday, I had a good day tarpon fishing but a slow day fishing for snook, redfish and trout. So I called the Hills last night and asked them if they would like to chase after BIG fish.
They said they were game. So… the full moon this week is producing a “hill tide” in the afternoons. A hill tide is when we have only one leaving tide in a day and it is a big one. I told them that there was no reason to go fishing until after 2pm because the tide wouldn’t start moving real well until late afternoon. The game plan was set.
I picked up Bobby (Lindsey’s husband), Travis (the youngest Hill son), Jeff (the dad) and a new guy named Landis (Mandy’s fiance… not sure of how to spell his name) a little after 2pm and stopped at a small bridge to pick up some threadfin herring to use as bait until the crabs would start showing up (due to the huge tide later in the afternoon). Once we had a 5 dozen (or so) threadfins, we headed off to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in search of tarpon.
We fished for an hour with nothing really going on and I kept telling them to be patient because when we start seeing the crabs floating by, the bite would turn on. A buddy of mine came by in his boat and he gave us some crabs he had caught the day before and we tied a few on. The first drift, with our precious gifts on the line, produced the first heart racing scream of the drag on Landis’s reel. Fish on! Landis didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he signed up for this trip and as the 115lb+ fish jumped and made long runs he was grinning from ear to ear. At least for a little while. He didn’t know the fight was going to last 30 minutes. 10 minutes into th efight he realized that this was going to take some work on his part to land the fish. Finally and about of gallon of sweat and a lot of muscle fatigue we had the first fish boatside for pics (coming soon from the Hill’s camera).
As we idled back to the bridge, we started seeing the crabs passing by. So we grabbed the net and scooped up 8 or so and threw them in the well. On teh very next drift through the bridge, I hear Jeff say, “Uh oh!” When I turn around I see his rod bowed over and I hear the drag screaming. The fish began jumping and making it’s way through and around a few pilings. Jeff fought the fish as it jumped around pilings and made a few long runs but he soon wore out due to recovering from sergery a few months earlier. So, he handed the rod off to his son travis who whipped the fish in about 20 minutes. Pics coming soon.
We hooked thre more fish over the next couple of hours and each time the rod was handed off to Bobby because he had yet to feel the power of a tarpon pulling on the line. Each time he took the rod the fish jumped and spit the hook. Eevrybody began ragging on his that he doing something wrong or that it just wasn’t meant to be for him to get one.
Bobby made up for it at the end of the day. Travis hooked a fish and handed it off to Bobby and this fish took him for a ride. 1 hour, 3 bridge pilings, 2 cargo ships and 2 miles later, bobby boated the biggest fish of the day. A solid 125lb+ silver king. We took a couple of pics, revived the fish and headed for the dock.
I’ve known Jeff and his family since I was 8 years old. Each and every time I take them fishing I urge them to not pay me but they always insist. The money is always appreciated and it truly is a blessing to me and my family but it isn’t worth anything compared to the words he shared with me at the end of the day as we idled the boat back up to the dock. He said, “Clay, I think this just might be the most exciting and fun day of my entire life. I’ll remember this day as long as I live.”