Fish, fresh air, sun and plenty of fun

A local anglers club didn't let Red Tide stop it from having its annual fishing trip with the Upper Pinellas Association of Retarded Citizens.

Published September 27, 2006

On the dazzling waters near Three Rooker Island, the nine anglers on the 22-foot pontoon boat were puzzled.

They had been fishing almost a half-hour and there was nary a nibble. With tasty bait - jumbo shrimp, squid and fiddler crab - the only thing they managed to boat was seaweed and one agitated blue crab that ran around on the deck waving its pinchers.

"Red Tide has killed a lot of fish," said Dave Sellers, who has been fishing for 40 years. "But we're having a good time and that's what counts."

That was an understatement.

Despite a few tangled lines and fish adept at dining and dashing, the day netted a treasure trove of sunshine, fresh air, sea spray and smiles.

The half-day fishing trip is an annual get-together for members of the Upper Pinellas Association of Retarded Citizens, their support staffers and the Hurricane Pass Anglers Club.

The 114-member, 16-year-old club began sponsoring the event 10 years ago after Sellers took a fellow from UPARC on a fishing trip and saw just how much he enjoyed it.

On Saturday, a flotilla of 13 boats carried dozens of developmentally disabled adults, their caregivers and experienced anglers from Home Port Marina in Palm Harbor to the outskirts of Three Rooker Island, a narrow barrier island between Honeymoon Island and Anclote Key in the Gulf of Mexico.

Fishing club members furnished the boats, sodas, snacks, life vests and, quite naturally, their enthusiasm for the sport. The old salts baited hooks, gave tips and taught the novices the names of fish.

Roger Dellamotta, 81, a fisherman since the age of 12, shared his technique with Chris Tench, 47.

"You've got to watch the bobber. When it goes 'beep, beep,' you pull it in," Dellamotta said.

Tench was so eager to go fishing that day, he had awakened his caregiver, David McIntyre, at 3 a.m. and asked, "Are we ready to go?"

"I was just too excited," said Tench.

Eventually, the fish started to bite. The fishers on the pontoon boat pulled in many pinfish and a couple of jacks.

Each was returned to the sea - either as bait or free to swim away.

Everyone seemed to have luck except for Jimmy Smith, 38, of Clearwater .

"I know there are fishes out here; we just have to get them," he said. "If I get a big fish, I'm going to keep it, cook it and eat it."

Pat Carmichael caught the biggest fish of the day: a gag grouper about a foot long.

He was proud of his catch.

"I like it," he said. "It's a good fish."

Tim Kingsford caught a 6-inch jack.

"It's my first fish ever," he said, stroking its scales. "It's awesome."

After a few hours of fishing, all were treated to a chicken lunch sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Greater Clearwater.

Despite his efforts, Jimmy Smith never managed to catch a fish.

"I couldn't get them to take the bait," he said.

Nevertheless, he had a thrilling day. On the way back to the marina, he was given the opportunity to take the helm and drive the boat.

"Oh yeah! Oh yeah!" he said cruising St. Joseph Sound at about 20 mph. "This is even better than catching a fish."