The wind whips our hair as we zip across the emerald water, speeding away from Captain Anderson’s Marina in Panama City Beach. This is not about a leisurely day at sea. Our family is headed out for a half-day deep sea fishing excursion with Salt Shaker Charters, to check another item off our PCB bucket list, and we expect to catch some fish—preferably on a scale Herman Melville would appreciate. 

Other than the hope of landing the “Big One,” we aren’t sure what to expect. Freshwater fishing has often been equal parts frustration and disappointment, since lake fishing involves great amounts of sitting still and being quiet, an art lost on small children. I am hopeful that fishing deep at sea will be different.

Before we arrived Captain Bryan packed everything for our trip, including fishing licenses, ice for our catch, lures and state-of-the-art rods. All we need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride to deep water. 

We reach the proper depth, cast our lines, and wait. Within moments we hear a gentle whizz from the corner of the boat, the unmistakable bending and bowing of the rod. We have our first bite! No sooner does one of the boys jump up to grab the rod and reel in the catch, than the rod on the opposite edge of the boat starts to bend.

Now two kids are reeling with palpable anticipation of what might be on the end of the line. With confidence, they each bring in their first fish. The excitement only mounts as the fish come onboard with a flip-flop and the boys survey their catch. From the sounds of the excited voices, they are completely satisfied with fishing in the Gulf. Could I even say they are hooked?

Although we only catch medium-sized fish in the 1-2 pound range, these are trophies in my children’s eyes. Between catches, we enjoy snacks, swap stories and generally have a great time hanging out together. There is no shushing, and very little sitting still and waiting. Instead there is constant, delightful activity with plenty of lines to cast and reel.

As we are enjoying a snack, we all catch the sight and sound of one of the lines in the deeper water bowing under the weight of a catch. Everyone jumps to attention and all hands grab for the chance to reel in the biggest catch of the day. Two of the boys throw all of their effort into getting the fish onboard, but the fish puts up a terrific fight. It is obvious that whatever is on the other end has plenty of weight and will.

Dad jumps in to add more manpower, and an epic tug-of-war between man and beast ensues. Excitement mounts, and all of our voices elevate as Dad pulls hard and the rod looks ready to snap under the weight.

 “It’s a big one!” the captain announces from his vantage point above deck. With one final grunt, three novice fishermen give it all they’ve got to finish the act.  Seconds from the moment of victory, the line goes slack, and the hook comes aboard with nothing but some half-chewed bait. In the battle between man and beast, the beast has won the day.

The empty hook does nothing to dampen our spirits on board. Getting too close to the catch of a lifetime is enough to whet our appetite for a return trip. We may not have caught the “big one,” but our catch is impressive enough to let the kids spread their arms and tell tales of catching one “this big.” In the same breath, they also have the tale of the one that got away, as all fishermen do. It’s just the kind of thrilling hunt that will keep them coming back for many more deep sea fishing excursions.