Mindie Whitten, a dental hygienist from Boise, Idaho, had never fished in saltwater prior to entering the Columbia Sportswear's "Reel Stories" contest. This four-month long, national contest - conducted on the company's website — required viewers to study four animated fishing stories, and to correctly identify the one "tall tale", or false story. Chalk it up to intuition or luck - or perhaps a combination of the two - but Mindie correctly identified the one "tall tale" among the four fishing video clips. Up for grabs was an all expenses paid fishing trip to Bimini in the Bahamas with me and my Mako 284 center console — MARC VI.
The website saved Mindie's name, along with thousands of others who also correctly picked the false tale. However, when the contest ended and the computer selected the grand prize winner — it was Mindie's name that came out on top. Columbia Sportswear flew Mindie, along with her sister and brother-in-law - Shellie and Charles Martin - to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where they overnighted, and then on to the Bimini Sands Resort and Marina on South Bimini, for a four-night stay. It was here, at the Bimini Sands Marina, where I first met Mindie and her crew.
In my mind, I knew this had the makings of great television episode. Think about it. Here's a woman who has never fished in saltwater, and she's from Boise, Idaho, no less! Of course, there's not a thing wrong with the wonderful folks in Boise, but the last time I checked, the city — and even the state — couldn't be found on the list of the world's top 100 saltwater fishing destinations! What a great story line!
However, having not fished in saltwater before, I was so very worried about Mindie getting sea sick; I couldn't help but worry and think "Would she be able to handle it, or would she hit the canvas hard, and not be able to get back up?" The deep waters around Bimini can be extremely rough — and dangerous. Talk about a coin toss - this trip could be super, or disastrous.
As luck would have it, this trip was already postponed twice, due to Hurricanes Gustav and Ike threatening the Bahamas and South Florida. The third time — October 16th through the 20th - was nearly cancelled at the last minute, due to an early season cold front that ushered in 25-knot winds and tumultuous seas. However, Mindie was running out of vacation time, so the trip had to go on.
I was worried big time. Mindie flew to Bimini, and here I was at home in South Florida, looking at very rough seas to cross over in. We were set to meet and fish the very next day. I was picturing a total blow out, and wondered if I could even get there safely. In a worse-case scenario, I was prepared to fly over and take her fishing from the shore!
By one incredible stroke of luck, the weather forecast called for those harsh winds and seas to drop out by the afternoon on the day we were scheduled to cross — and then die out completely the following two days. There was our window! I had to get to Bimini."
We crossed with two boats - my Mako 284, and my friend Carl Grassi's 28-foot Hydra Sport. Carl's boat would take cameramen Kevin Tierney and Rob "Swede" Greene, to shoot the action aboard my boat. Joining the camera team was Columbia Sportswear staff photographer Mike Gray.
I had chatted with Mindie on the phone and by E-mail numerous times prior to this trip, so it was like I had known her for years when I finally met up with her. Her sister and brother-in-law were very pleasant and friendly. We cleared Bahamas Customs and Immigration, brought our personal gear to our rooms, and told Mindie and party to get ready; We we're going fishing! The seas had settled down to a maybe a two-foot chop. We had the weather in our favor, so I took them on a 25-mile run south of Bimini, to a productive bottom-fishing spot of mine. We put out a bag of Captain Mark's Pure Sardine Chum and started fishing. Shellie scored first with a big barracuda, but, soon after, something hit Mindie's rod and started taking line.
I wasn't quite sure who was more excited at this point — Mindie or me! Here she was, battling her first ever saltwater fish — and on national TV! She was struggling to hang onto the rod, but kept adequate pressure on the fish and retrieved line when she could. Her facial expressions were priceless! Nonetheless, her perseverance showed and we soon netted an 11-pound Cero mackerel. And for a Cero mackerel, that's big!
The day produced plenty of one- and two-pound class yellowtail snapper and a few more Cero mackerel. Back at the dock, the fish were cleaned and brought to the restaurant at Bimini Sands, where they were cooked up for dinner as a special treat for Mindie.
Day two dawned as flat as a swimming pool, a prime opportunity to take Mindie, Shellie and Charles to another favorite bottom spot of mine some 42 miles northeast of Bimini. It was so flat calm, we were running the boats between 50 and 53 miles per hour and anchored on our numbers in less than an hour. I began chumming and, as expected, the large schools of big yellowtail snapper that this area is known for came to the surface.
Within minutes, dozens of large golden-yellow "balls" amassed at the surface. Mindie, Shellie and Charles hooked up immediately and began reeling in yellowtail snapper averaging between two- and four pounds. Mindie had this Cero mackerel thing going on, and scored a few more trophy class fish. The highlight of the trip, as it turned out, were three large bull sharks that arrived on the scene, aggressively trying to devour every fish we hooked! The sharks were often successful, yet sometimes they weren't.
With the sharks around, we had to muscle and reel in a fish as quickly as humanly possible, or the sharks got them. It was hysterical watching Mindie and company reel like there's no tomorrow, trying to horse in a big yellowtail. It's not an easy task. So I cheered her on, while we all watched these six- to eight-foot long sharks chase after each snapper we hooked. On occasion, these sharks chased the hooked fish right to the outboards! The look on Mindie's face was, again, priceless.
A cold front blew in on the third day, which set up a prime opportunity to take Mindie and crew on a tour of North Bimini, and also the Bimini Sands Nature Center on South Bimini, where she saw wildlife native to the Island, including the Bimini Boa.
This couldn't have been a more enjoyable trip for me. Mindie brought a ton of luck with her. I couldn't believe how we had two days of still seas, smack in between the middle of two major cold fronts! In fact, when Mindie flew home, we were stuck in Bimini for two more days, until the winds subsided enough for us to safely cross the ocean to get back home. But that was OK; I love it here!
Mindie, Shellie and Charles were some of the nicest people I've met, and a joy to be around. We hung out with each other, laughed and joked like we were all old friends. And I'll tell you, if those freshwater anglers in Boise are anything like this gang, they sure do take their fishing seriously. They're no slouches!
I could tell that this trip was really special for Mindie, and that she totally had a wonderful time. We all did. In fact, it was sort of sad when the trip was over and we all had to go our separate ways. But one thing is for certain, Mindie doesn't have to win a contest to go fishing with me again. She has an open invitation to be my guest anytime she wants.
For more on "George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing," visit www.georgepoveromo.com.