"Mike Frenette" ... I answered the phone as I always do.
Don't know why, but I guess since my cell phone is my office away from my office (which I am rarely in) and as the CEO, chairman of the board, CFO, president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer of my own little world, I opt to answer my own phone.
I have been trying to get someone such as Mark Zona to ride shotgun with me in my Ford Excursion, just to answer my phone. It would be pretty cool, and I imagine it would go like something like this: "Mike Frenette's office, Mark Zona speaking … Mike's busy driving, can I take a message?"
Personally, I think he would be an asset to me, as he has that slick radio/phone/television voice. But until then, I will continue to answer my own phone, as I did one certain morning a couple of months ago, when on the other end, Brady Walker introduced himself to me.
"I just watched you and Zona on TV catch those big ole reds," I said.
"Is that for real?" Brady asked
"No, sir" I replied, "that's made for TV."
"Oh," Brady answered.
"Just kidding … what can I help you with?"
"I'm stuck up here in Kansas — middle of the winter, cold, snowing, and just plain ugly — I need some relief," cried Brady.
The conversation continued. Brady, I learned, is a guide up there in Kansas and the owner and operator of Ducks and Bucks. With duck and deer season over and turkey upcoming but not there yet, he needed a redfish oh so bad.
"Been all over, caught several reds before, nothing big, just some 3- to 5-pound fish," silence for a couple of seconds, and then, "I need one of those monsters."
"Only time I can come would be the last weekend in March, as I have to be back for the first week of April. Turkey season starts," Brady explained.
"Let's do it," I said.
"Only want those big ones," Brady again informed me, and he also brought up another point, "I have a couple of friends who want the same."
Fast-forward to March 27, which arrived along with Brady Walker. Also in tow were Kevin and Don Sitton.
Courtesy of Capt. Mike Frenette
Sitting at my lodge enjoying dinner, conversations soon turned toward redfish.
"C'mon man, tell the truth" Brady says to me, "What are the chances of catching one of those Big Ole Red Monsters? Shoot straight — no guide talk, no pro Redfish Cup talk — what do you really think?"
Before I answer that question, I figured I had better think about it. Hard.
(This guy has his own guide service, shoots limits of mallards daily and has big bucks on his property.)
"Ok … No problem! Tomorrow it will be all about the big ones."
Even though Brady is a full-time guide, the excitement that danced in his eyes was a pleasure to observe. Not only Brady, but Kevin and his father were just as excited, both having expressed the desire for a large red. Like Brady, both had caught several small reds but never anything over a few pounds.
Tomorrow morning would not come soon enough.
In fact, the next morning was beautiful, save the fog. Light winds, warm temperatures in the upper 60s, and it was only 6 a.m. The forecast was to hit the low 80s by afternoon.
"Let's see," Brady said, "Yesterday when we left home it was 28 degrees — this is paradise!"
Waiting for the fog to clear, last-minute tackle rigging was the best chore to calm their nerves before heading out: Reels checked, line checked, jig hooks and soft plastics placed on the jigheads … Ready for battle!
The moment finally arrived: The fog was clearing, allowing the four of us to head to the battlegrounds where light tackle and an angler's skills are all put to the test. On the way out, I primed them for the moment.
Going through the motions, knowing these three had plenty of experience, I was not sure if a few pointers would be appropriate, so instead I just interjected a subliminal message into the conversation "You're not going to believe the strike — it's like nothing you have ever experienced. Just kind of lean into the fish and reel."
(But of course I was a little more animated, making for a better delivery.)
"Yeah, yeah, Mike — we got it," Brady said as he laughed, and of course my conscience was laughing as well — because I knew what might happen.
After a short ride, I turned my 240 LTS Triton down a narrow cut that empties into a bay leading onto the gulf. Just like magic there they were. My bronzed back beauties, herding mullet against the bank, just as the cut emptied into the bay. Oh, the script could not have been any better!
"Unbelievable …. Would you just look at that!"
"Told you they would be here," I said, and of course took full credit, even though I had not seen schooling fish on the surface for a few weeks.
Don quickly brought me down to earth with his response, "Mike, thought you said last night you hadn't seen schooling fish in a while?"
"Just didn't want you to get too excited, Don," but I could tell by the look on his face he had me pegged.
Plop. Plop. Kevin and Brady made perfect casts, right into the chaos unfolding at the surface. Immediately both had massive strikes, and immediately both slammed the hook-set — and I do mean slam — as both yanked the hooks from two monster reds.
"Wow!" I said, while breaking into laughter, "What a hook-set … had you engaged with the fish, you would have ripped its lips off!"
"Man, was I pumped" Brady said, likewise slipping into a laugh, "Boy, did I goof!"
"OK, OK … I get it," Kevin said between laughs, "Not exactly like bass fishing."
Composure was soon gathered and a couple minutes later, Kevin and Don were hooked to a couple of giant reds.
For the next three days, numerous fish were caught and released on light tackle, the average weighing in around 25 pounds, with several over 35, and about five over 40. There was tremendous excitement on each and every fish — hooting, hollering and whatever other sounds we as fisherman make when the rest of the world cannot hear us.
(Peyton Manning, after winning the Super Bowl, never exchanged as many high-fives as we did after each fish.)
Believe it or not, even after many years of fishing, I still believe every moment spent on the water is special. No question it is my business and my livelihood, but after my family, it's still my No. 1 passion. This passion for the outdoors is also quite obvious with Brady, Kevin and Don.
It has always been amazing how the outdoors places everyone on a level playing field, creating new relationships and bonds that will last a lifetime.
And it's days like these that reconfirm why we have all sacrificed so much to continue rebuilding what truly is "Sportsman's Paradise."
Now if I can just figure out how to get Zona to answer my phone, my life would be complete. Any suggestions?
Capt. Mike Frenette is an Oh Boy! Oberto Redfish Cup angler. For more information, visit his Web site, www.venicefishing.net or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org