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Fishing in session
Gov. Crist comes home and calls to order an outing of fathers and sons for kingfish.
By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
Published December 21, 2007
Gov. Crist, right, and his father, Dr. Charles Crist, display the day's catch, a kingfish. They used to fish from the Pier in St. Petersburg, and still fish together every chance they get.
[TERRY TOMALIN | Times]
[TERRY TOMALIN | Times]
Gov. Charlie Crist, foreground, mans the helm of Sid Rice's boat on a recent trip to the Madeira Beach artificial reef.
An old buddy called during the first week of December, hoping to catch some kingfish.
"I've got a break in my schedule," Charlie Crist said. "I want to go fishing. I'll bring my dad. You bring your son."
Long before Charles Joseph Crist Jr. became the 44th governor of the 27th state, he was just your average angler, the kind of guy you call at a moment's notice when the fish are biting.
Times have changed. Today, everybody wants a piece of Charlie. If it's not Schwarzenegger or Buffett (Jimmy, not Warren) on the phone, then it's some Republican presidential candidate looking for a running mate.
Try to do something simple, like schedule a fishing trip, and you have to wade through a sea of aides and advisers. But every once in a while, Charlie slips away with just his cell phone (okay, and a bodyguard) to conduct really important business:
"Are the kings still running?" he asked. "I want to hook my dad up before they are all gone."
So on Dec. 8 we met at Treasure Island, and, as usual, the governor's father, Dr. Charles Crist, brought a thermos of the best-tasting coffee on earth.
"It's instant, I'm telling you," he said.
"Come on," I chided him. "Your secret is safe with me."
And Charlie, as fit and trim as the last time I saw him a few months earlier, looked at my gut and asked, "Did you work out this morning?"
"No," I explained. "I was up early with the kids."
As usual, Charlie had already swam laps in the dark, while the rest of the world was sleeping.
Our host, Sid Rice, a.k.a., King Gator of Gators Cafe and Saloon in Treasure Island, helped the Crists onto his 50-foot Hatteras, and started talking football.
"Do you think Tebow will get it?" Rice asked the governor, referring to Gators quarterback Tim Tebow and college football's Heisman Trophy.
"I hope so," Charlie answered. "He certainly deserves it."
Rice, a diehard UF backer, and Crist, a graduate of FSU, joked back and forth about the 45-12 whipping the Gators put on the Seminoles in football.
"Now, Sid, you know as governor I stay strictly neutral on these matters," Charlie said.
By now, the sun was just starting to peek above the horizon. Dr. Crist, 75, settled into a chair near the stern, while his son, a 51-year-old kid at heart, climbed up to the bridge to take the helm.
"Sweet boat, Sid," Charlie told his host as we motored out to the fishing spot. For the next 15 minutes, the governor, an unapologetic boat fan - he owns a 25-foot center console - asked about everything from the engine package to the type of wood used in the salon.
"I love boats," Charlie told Rice. "I got my first one when I was 9 or 10 - it was called an Orlando Clipper. My dad bought it used from a neighbor. It had an old Evinrude on it, and man, I used to cruise all over the bay in that thing."
When Crist climbed back down to check on his dad, the conversation turned to fishing.
"We used to go out and catch 50 or 60 Spanish mackerel in a couple of hours right off the Pier in downtown St. Petersburg," Dr. Crist recalled.
"Come on dad ...not that many," the governor corrected.
"Okay ...maybe 30 or 40," he conceded. "But we would take them home and cook them right up for lunch."
"Nothing like fresh mackerel," Charlie said with a smile.
The governor seemed to enjoy the chance - although brief - to talk about something other than property taxes, insurance rates and global warming.
But then my 6-year-old son, Kai, who had been chastised earlier that morning when I discovered he had tricked his babysitter into buying a box of forbidden sugary breakfast cereal, put the governor on the spot.
"Governor Charlie," he asked, "if Lucky Charms are so bad for you, then why do you let people sell them?"
For the first time in the 17 years that I've known him, Charlie appeared speechless. He thought about it for a moment, then answered, "Even though I am governor, there are some things that are beyond my control."
I could see my son's mind working. He was digging deep for another question. Please, don't ask him about vampires, werewolves or pet polar bears, I thought to myself.
Then a reel screamed as a kingfish tore off line and ran for deep water. Charlie grabbed the rod and put some tension on the fish.
"This one sounds like it has some size to it," he said. It had been a while, but the governor played the fish masterfully -a little give, a little take, as if he were dancing with the Speaker of the House.
The king tried to run under the boat, but Charlie gave it some line. Then, when the fish thought it had won, he applied a little pressure, and gently coaxed it back to the boat.
In one clean sweep, the mate gaffed the fish.
"What is it?" Rice asked, admiring the governor's catch. "It has the teeth of a kingfish but the spots of a Spanish mackerel. It must be some kind of a hybrid."
How appropriate, I thought ...just like my old fishing buddy. Not left, not right, but a new breed, for a new time.