Me & Den in Key West: Out for Wahoo


This is a party town and it’s reputation is ever at stake. First club we find is jam packed. “Come back for the next show.” Third pick can fit us in with a few standing. Roger and I go over to the standup bar while Den and the rest find seats and put tables together. We agree a break is in order and call for beer. There’s a continuous show of drag queens, gay comedians, dancers and parody musicians, all punching light fun at themselves, keeping the overpriced drinks flowing. It was fun. I kept waiting for Den to go for a microphone, but he was head down in conversation with a good looking couple who’d joined up with us as we left the Acqua Club. Finally, as time winds past midnight and the show takes a break, four of us say goodnight, hail a cab, and give name of the “four star.” Cab cautiously makes it’s way down Duval, still full of weaving people, onto Eisenhower, dropping us off at the Trinidad.

“Look boys,” Den says, “That couple I was talking to at the gay bar apparently have a humungus yacht parked out at City Dock Marina. Invited us out there for a small party and dinner tomorrow night. I told em’ we would and we’d call ahead if we got fish. We’d bring it for dinner. Any objections?”

That just brought a chuckle. Chance to enjoy an evening of such wasn’t to be passed up. Knowing Den, he’d find plenty of ways to liven things up.

“Jesus, what’s that? What’s goin’ on? Who’s callin’ us in the middle of the night anyways? Where am I?”

I leaned over and grabbed the inhouse telephone between us on night stand.

“Thank You” somehow worked it’s way past swollen tongue, woolly teeth, and desert dry mouth.

“Guess that means we’ve got to get up, eh? I don’t want to.”

I pulled my single sheet back, gingerly slid legs over the bed side, went looking for the hopper. Den was snoring again.


Nothing to have
a fish in your boat
worth in excess of
fifteen thousand dollars.


“All right,” I said shaking his leg, “Time to drag your ass outta that bed. We’ve got fishin’ to do and a bet going. Five thousand bucks on the biggest fish.”

“Whaaat.” Then another, even groggier, “Whaaat are you talking about? I never made any bet on the biggest fish.”

“Oh yes you did. Last night. Taxi ride back you started beating me up saying I couldn’t catch a fish in a pail of water. I said “wanna bet.” Then you said “five thousand on the biggest fish”.

“Never. Don’t remember that at all, all.”

By now I’d worked up his attention. Motion far later than his years, he stivered around the corner for a shower.

“Are you sure we made a bet like that,” he whispered across the breakfast table at the diner. “How could I, straight as I am, ever make a bet like that. Christ, if I lose five thousand dollars to you, I’d never hear the end of it. Five thousand dollars. That’s a lot of money. Why I don’t spend that in a year.”

And on he moaned. Over the first cup of coffee. Through bacon and eggs. Toast. Tipping the waitress. Walking back to the room. I just let him stew. “I couldn’t have been that drunk to make a bet like that. That’s a lot of money. We never bet on fish or game. What did I do? I must be losing my mind!”

“Miss B,” our boat for the day, a trim Bertram 31, sat idling at the dock as we put our meager gear aboard and introduced ourselves to Captain Johnny Rodriquez and his mate Raymond Hall. Capt. Johnny quickly outlined plans for the day. Several boats had caught Wahoo yesterday in an area south-southeast of Key West, near Fort Jackson. A few were near record class, 184 lbs. Fairly long run out, but worth the extra time if we could hook up. Wahoo, fastest of the game fish, can really put up a fight and do a show, smaller 20 pounders as well. Few years previous when I’d taken the family to Key West over spring break, daughter Ingrid had played a 23# for an hour with me sitting in the chair, arms around her. Thought her little heart was going to explode, she was so excited. Still keeps the picture of her “catch” on the fireplace mantle after these many years. Her children asking often for a replay of the fight.

We’re soon underway, little Bertram at 20 knots cutting the water beautifully, laying its signature flat wake as we rocket out the bight, through the harbor and strike south-southeast course. Raymond, as we soon learn, is from Cape Cod. Here for the winter season. He offers coffee and real donuts (baked by his wife) as we settle into the side chairs for some conversation and fishing tales.

Raymond has his own sportfisherman on the Cape, “Downeaster,” which come to find out is one of my 34s. Started life as a lobsterboat he’d repowered with a single Caterpillar 3208TA. He’d added flybridge and striking pulpit for Tuna and Swordfish. Planned to add a small tower this coming season for even better visibility. Tuna were beginning to show up on the Japanese buy list, making a few of the Cape boys some serious money. Nothing to have a fish in your boat worth in excess of fifteen thousand dollars and Raymond said he’d boated eleven that past summer.

Every so often Den would come back at me and question the bet.

Wilbur 34.

“When did we make it?” “Cab ride to the hotel.” “Why so much”… “You picked it.”…“Why don’t I remember it.”…“Quite obvious.”…“Are you positive I did that? You had a few drinks yourself.”

Finally, without quite facing him, I let a grin creep over my face and gave a chuckle.

“Aha, aha, I knew it. You made all this up. I never made any such bet. Boys’ you’d have been some rankled if I’d won now wouldn’t you. Tell you what though. Let’s make a bet on the biggest fish. Five dollars and I’m gonna take your money. You just wait. You conniver you.”

Two-hour run goes by quickly. Ray, like a lot of New England fishermen, has a good sense of humor and a pocket full of good stories. He tells of hard weather, busted trips, and big fish, of other charters and life here in Key West. How the town is changing with the arrival of “New Money.” People buying the old “conch” houses and cutesying them up. Tells of prices getting so out of line it was hard for working people to find a reasonable place to live. He laughed as he told of how town government was on another of it’s campaigns to get rid of the chickens which pretty much run wild all over town. Futile battle against an ingrained Key West tradition. He regaled us with stories of the various parades, and “Fantasy Fest” and costumes, how some dwellers of the town dress only in body paint and how it’s close to impossible to get a room unless you’ve booked a year or more in advance. Way better time than Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Den, for a change, listens. Capt. John pulls the throttles back.

• R E C I P E •

Rascal House Whitefish

Trying once again to condense, consolidate, get rid of, I happened to find this recipe, bringing back great food memories from the days of Miami Boat Shows. This one, from Wolfie Cohen’s “Rascal House,” a true Jewish Deli, acclaimed as the best in Sunny Isles, is an all-time favorite. Would that I could revisit just once more. Unfortunately, the Rascal House is now a fancy gourmet food store.

1/2 small red onion, fine chopped 1 lb. boneless smoked whitefish or trout
1/3 cup mayo
1/4 cup sour cream
1 T chopped dill
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Place chopped onions in a bowl and cover with cold water to mellow the bite (about 15 mins.). Strain and set aside.

Use a fork to flake the fish into a bowl. Add the ingredients, stir and season with pepper. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days...if you can go that long!!!

(Note: great way to serve is on a toasted bagel with tomato and onion slices.)

Are you salivating yet?