People have divergent reasons for visiting the Keys, and for a group of New York buddies a recent fishing trip was testament to a conquest over the rigors of cancer, the bonds of male friendship and one big ole’ wahoo.
For eight years, Long Island, NY natives Timi “Hook” Lober, his father Greg Lober, Sr., Pat Holbrook, Frank “Uncle Frank” Cowden and Manhattanite Matt Dalton, have culled both bait and Florida fishing tips from Captain Hook’s Marina & Dive Center, located at mile marker 53 in Marathon.
“We catch striped bass in NY, we really don’t know too much about what this is, or what that is, here,” joked Timi Lober, whose tattooed and silver-laden forearms earned him the handle “Captain Hook” among friends, thus the go-to place for bait.
“We started coming to the Keys because of my dad,” Lober said. “Years ago, he dreamed of catching a sailfish, and that’s what we did. We catch more fish here than anywhere, and come back every January.”
As unlikely a prediction that the group would land a whopping 82.7-pound wahoo was the idea that it would be in less than 60 feet of water. A stomach ache required they drop the senior Lober back at their vacation condo’s dock, so the group continued back out Vaca Cut Channel toting fresh ballyhoo and cold beers.
They weren’t expecting big fish, just some fun noodling around, enjoying each other’s company and a day on the water – the absence of a leader on 60-pound test mono-line equipped with three simple hooks wasn’t unusual to them.
As the afternoon waned, with satisfactory catches of yellowtail snapper, mahi mahi and the occasional barracuda, the group made a final trolling pass when Timi Lober’s Shimano baitcaster started zinging.
“I thought whatever was on there was going to spool us,” Lober said. “It was like hitting a fire hydrant in a car going 50 miles an hour. Within seconds there was nearly no line on the reel.”
Dalton was convinced they snagged the bottom.
“The bottom doesn’t pull back,” Lober quipped.
During twenty-five minutes of hefty hauling, Lober and Cowden took turns at the reel as the others kept the line out of the motor before successfully boating the bulging fish.
“Thank God we found a gaff on the boat,” said Lober, laughing at their dumb luck.
As flummoxed as they were to land the wahoo in shallow water, what made it even sweeter is that one of them, “Uncle Frank” Cowden, nearly did not make this Keys trip– his first – at all.
Cowden, diagnosed with an inoperable tumor behind his eye and given six months to live – having crafted a will and retired his panhead Electra Glide to the garage – yet aggressive chemotherapy has so far reversed the illness.
“I wanted “Uncle Frank” to reel in those last feet of line,” said Lober, and credited his father with the fortuitous find.
“We never even would have been in that spot if we hadn’t taken dad back to the dock.”
Near dusk at Captain Hook’s the rambunctious New Yorkers were met by staffer Brian Pilarski returning with Michigan anglers – whose sizeable snapper paled in comparison to the girthy wahoo awaiting Pilarksi’s skilled filet knife.
Over the next two hours, fish tales and fish steaks were swapped between all at the dock, and laughter filled the air.
“This is a trophy we’ll all remember,” said Lober, in his thick borough accent.
“We’re all happy, all healthy, we just love it down here – the locals, the hospitality, they treat us with respect.”