Before my father and I became business associates, we were fishing partners. I’ve been thinking a lot about our relationship since his passing a month shy of his 97th birthday. Some people would say his life was defined by his service in World War II, serving 35 missions as a navigator/bombardier aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress to defend the United States. Others would say his life’s work was the 38 years we were partners in a South Florida public relations firm that continues today.
But for me, the strongest memories of Lt. Stuart G. Newman will always be the fishing.
Our Miami Beach house was on the water, right off Biscayne Bay. As a kid, I’d fish off our sea wall. My sister, Cathy, and I would catch mangrove snappers, grunts and jack crevalle. Almost every fish I caught was proudly carried to the house to show to Mom and Dad.
We got our first boat in 1963. It was a preowned, 16-foot Sea Fury with a 40-hp Gale outboard. I remember it well because we took delivery on the Saturday after President Kennedy was assassinated. I was 8 years old, and America was in mourning. I recall feeling guilty about getting the boat, but Dad had paid $800 for it the week before, and it was ready for us to pick up.
Hurricane Betsy destroyed it in 1965.
Then there was our second boat, a 23-foot Dolphin with a 150-hp OMC sterndrive. It was brand-new when Dad bought it for $4,000 in early 1966. That boat was used a lot in Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic; we even took it to the Florida Keys and Bimini. We caught dolphin, kingfish, a variety of bottom fish and other species.
Several years later came a preowned 31-foot Chris-Craft Commander. It had twin inboards and a flybridge. I believe the price for our first “real” sportfisherman was $17,000. It was aboard the Chris-Craft that we had the most momentous angling experience of our lives. I was 16. We had fished Bimini numerous times seeking a blue marlin, the ultimate deep-water angling goal, but it was actually off Miami Beach where we found our fish. We left the dock behind our house early one Sunday in 1972. I was running the boat, and after we cleared Haulover Cut, my father yelled up to me, asking where our good trolling rods were.
We quickly deduced that they had been stolen. The crook, however, was generous in leaving two older spin outfits behind. So we fished what we had.
Lines were set, and soon we had simultaneous strikes. My father released a small bonito, but my fish continued to fight. About 30 minutes later, aboard came the largest bonito (known elsewhere as a false albacore or little tunny) we had ever seen. We raced to shore to weigh it, thinking it had the potential to be a world record.
The fish tipped the scales at 31 pounds, 8 ounces — a half-pound shy of the IGFA world record at the time for 20-pound-test line. But it was a clear record for the Metropolitan Miami Fishing Tournament, an achievement that stood for as long as the Met remained.
It was still early in the day when I’d caught that fish, so Dad and I decided to go back out. We made it to the Gulf Stream and caught a dozen dolphin. Dad eventually announced that it was time to return home to clean the boat and the fish, and to summon the police to file a report on the stolen tackle.
I agreed but suggested that we troll our way in. “Maybe we’ll catch a sailfish,” I hopefully declared.
We set out for shore with lines in the outriggers attached to skirted balao that danced on the surface. I steered, and Dad settled in the cockpit. About 30 minutes later, the line snapped from the starboard outrigger. We didn’t see the fish, but I yelled to my father to drop back. He closed the bail, and there was an explosion in the sea.
“There’s your sailfish, Andy!” my father yelled.
The fish leaped again.
“That’s no sailfish!” I screamed. “It’s a blue marlin!”
I jumped down to the cockpit to clear the other line, then went back to the bridge. It was a tug-of-war for three hours. Dad would gain line and then lose it as the fish sounded. He couldn’t put much pressure on the 20-pound test, which wasn’t exactly new.
Finally, he got the fish to the boat. In my memory, it was huge — some 10 feet long. I really wasn’t sure what to do. We’d never had a fish that big alongside the boat. There was a small flying gaff, and as I readied it, I swore that fish looked directly in my eyes, as if it were trying to communicate.
I was scared.
I closed my eyes and aimed the gaff for its belly, though I should have zeroed in on the marlin’s back. The gaff set into a sliver of its gut. I called for my father to put down the rod and get the tail rope we’d fabricated.
But while Dad was trying to get his bearings, the fish lunged and pulled the gaff and hook. Dad and I slumped in the cockpit. I was devastated. We sat for a couple of minutes taking in the previous three hours.
Then Dad said, “Andy, we always remember the ones that get away.”
So true, Dad. So true.