On Matters of Marine Maintenance and Mullet Bellies

Catfish Larry yard signBy Cap’n Larry Jarboe
I drove down to DeSoto’s Landing Boatel and Marina in Benedict. Twenty five years ago, I depended on Eric DeSoto to blast the barnacles and algae from my cuddy cabin KenCraft. He also made sure the bottom was painted for the next season of fun and fishing.
Eric has actually owned and operated the boatel/marina combo since he was in high school. How many other business people can claim such consistent longevity for their enterprise? He has worked to fill his niche in a very challenging market by providing superb marine maintenance, boat sales, storage, and mechanical service for customers who wish to keep their boats running smoothly for many years.
I sold my boat to Phil Welch back in the mid-90’s as family responsibilities, politics, mill work, and a large surplus of fish in my freezer pulled me from Maryland’s Bay watershed and the annual Florida Keys blue water expeditions. The boat is now called Trotline and is docked at a nearby pier in Benedict.
Arriving in Eric’s ship’s store this week, I heard Eric call from behind a wall of marine goods. His voice was exactly the same. His hair has turned grey, but I can’t criticize. He has hair. A two dollar bottle of hair color and he is twenty years old again. Even with a wig, I’ve way passed that marker.
We reminisced about years past.
Eric remembered my ninth incarnation Jarburetor on the Datsun 210 station wagon that my wife handed down to me (I get a lot of hand me down cars and trucks). That particular Jarburetor was an electric humidifier that replaced the carburetor. It vaporized gasoline to, supposedly, run the car more efficiently. Since the humidifier had to be plugged into house current, the car could only go as far as the extension cord was long.
A better idea of mine that Eric and his Golden Retriever, Vicious, had personally helped me with was securing white anti-fouling paint to stencil a school of mullet bellies on the bottom of my freshly painted boat. The stencil was originally going to be ballyhoo bellies, but the little ballyhoo beaks were just too hard to paint, so I settled on mullet bellies.
So, there we were under the bottom of the boat with me on one side and Eric on the other side of the keel, our artist paintbrushes dabbing white bottom paint through a stencil creating the image of a school of baitfish as observed from below. Vicious inspected our work from his four legged stance wondering why humans do such strange things.
Obviously, such artwork would mean little to the predatory fish in the Pax River and Chesapeake Bay. The clean clear waters we remember as children have long since murked up as the sewage treatment plants upriver have dumped chlorinated effluent overboard and the water filtering oysters have been raked away. The undersea mural was intended to entice fish in the clear Gulf Stream waters of the Florida Keys.
My lead guitar picking buddy, Ralph Long, helped trailer the decorated KenCraft south for a couple weeks of wintertime fishing.
That time of the year, the dolphin are pretty far off-shore in around 800 feet of water. We launched at the Caribbean Club in Key Largo where the Humphrey Bogart movie was filmed. We traveled though the Key Largo Cut, across Largo Sound, and out North Sound Creek to head for the blue waters off the Elbow Reef.
After the waters changed color from grassy green or brown where reefs lay below, the light blue shallow waters beyond the reef line turned dark blue as the depth grew in the Gulf Stream. Past the second drop-off, in about 200 feet of water, we put out the trolling rigs.
We did not have to go very far when a huge school of ten to fifteen pound dolphin surged up from nowhere and grabbed all our baits. As we fought these fish, king mackerel, wahoo, barracudas, and huge amberjacks joined the fray and charged the boat.
I never saw such frenzy with many of these fish actually striking the bottom of the boat.
Ralph and I literally bailed fish by throwing over a single hook baited with a chunk of cut fish. Immediately, a fish would be hooked and flipped into the boat. There was no time to put them in the cooler as dolphin, mackerel, jacks, and cussed cudas flopped in a foot deep layer on the deck of the boat. The self draining scuppers at the stern oozed a nasty mix of slime and blood overboard.
That’s when we saw the fin.
It was no ordinary fin. That fin rose six feet out of the water and was making a bee line to the stern of our boat. I dove across the surging mass of fish into the cuddy cabin and grabbed my 12 gauge Remington stainless steel security pump shotgun that was loaded with pumpkin ball slugs. I also seized the Crown Royal bag of shells for additional ammo.
I tossed the gun and bag to Ralph who caught them in each hand just as the huge hammerhead shark chomped down on the starboard corner of my dive platform. That shark was as long as the boat and shook Ralph, me, and the boatload of fish violently as he chewed off that corner of the wooden platform.
“Shoot him in the head Ralph!” I bellowed as I cranked the diesel engine. Ralph pumped a shell into the chamber, popped the safety button, took aim on that head that was nearly as broad as the beam of the boat. Boom, he fired the first shot. The shark barely flinched.
That KenCraft was not a very fast boat but at full throttle we could just about stay ahead of the monster shark that was following us at flank speed. Ralph continued to pump pumpkin balls into the beast’s head. After each hit, the shark would hesitate, shake it off, and come on strong.
Between us and the shore was a shallow reef called Grecian Rocks. I knew that it was mid-tide and there should be about two feet of water over the reef. The KenCraft pocket drive drew only a foot and a half, even less on a full plane.
I flew over the center of the reef at full throttle avoiding dozens of snorkelers who, to that point, were having a perfectly lovely day. The hammerhead followed but the great depth of his body could not make it across the reef. The sight of a twenty five foot shark flopping on top of a coral reef caused pandemonium among the snorkelers. Among the confusion, screams of fear piped through snorkels, and chaos, no one got the boat numbers of my boat.
Ralph and I zipped back up North Sound Creek, across Largo Sound, and through the cut to get back to the Caribbean Club boat ramp. Within a few minutes, we had trailered the boat and were heading north on U.S. 1.
In Homestead, we bought ten big coolers, packed them with fish and ice and headed back to St. Mary’s County.
I sold the boat not too long after that as I decided to retire from fishing for awhile.
Some of you may question the veracity of this quite unbelievable story, but there are still a few blocks of frozen fish left in my freezer. Ralph can also vouch for me. The last time I saw him, he was in the detention center serving time for lack of child support.
Since then, I heard he went back to Florida, Central Florida; more accurately, in the middle of Central Florida.

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