MIAMI (MCT) - Tony Caroleo, a New York City snowbird retiree who winters in Hallandale Beach, Fla., caught and released a 15-pound permit Thursday night near Government Cut.
A respectable fish, to be sure. But downright impressive when you consider what this 58-year-old angler had to overcome to bring it up to the boat.
Caroleo has been blind for more than 20 years, a result of the genetic disease retinitis pigmentosa. So he never got to see the permit when his guide, captain Jimmy Wickett of Cooper City, held it up for photographs.
"I'm proud of you, Tony," Wickett told him.
If blindness wasn't enough of a setback, Caroleo also wore a splint on his left index finger, plus a bandage that covered 14 stitches.
An accident, he said sheepishly, when his wife unintentionally slammed the bathroom door on his finger, which he then cut on the door frame. The mishap required an overnight stay at Aventura Hospital.
Of course, none of this stopped him from indulging in his favorite sport - and the target of the night was tarpon.
Air and water temperatures hovered in the 60s when guide and angler began fishing on the south side of Government Cut's south jetty. The tide was about to start dropping, and shrimp had been seen running out of Biscayne Bay. But the previous night's dramatic cold snap threw a bit of uncertainty into the mix. Tarpon are known to favor water temperatures in the 70-plus range. The gauge on Wickett's boat showed 65.2 degrees.
"Cold weather, cold water," Wickett said. "But Tony's usually pretty successful bringing good luck."
He baited Caroleo's 25-pound conventional outfit with a live shrimp on a 5/0 circle hook, which Caroleo free-lined with the gentle current. For good measure, the guide baited a 20-pound spinning outfit with live silver-dollar-sized crab on a circle hook.
Wickett was encouraged to see a pod of small tarpon roll right beside Caroleo's shrimp at sundown.
"You're going to get picked up here in a second," he told Caroleo.
Caroleo got picked up all right - but not by the target species. Suddenly, the spinning rod that Wickett placed in the transom rod holder doubled over and the drag began to whine.
Wickett took Caroleo's rod and handed him the bent one. At this point, both were fairly certain that a medium-sized tarpon had hold of the bait and just hadn't bothered to jump yet.
Caroleo kept steady pressure on the fleeing fish and eventually brought it close enough to make out a flash of silver in the clear water. Wickett leaned all the way over the gunwales of the 19-foot skiff and scooped the fish into the boat.
It was Caroleo's first permit.
"That's the fish I wanted to catch," he said.
Having caught and released tarpon, snook, redfish, cobia and swordfish on previous South Florida excursions, Caroleo could add a new species to his life list.
As it turned out, the permit saved what was a slow night. Despite running shrimp in Biscayne Bay, the tarpon never made an appearance in any of the three spots Wickett checked.
He and Caroleo decided to try again next week, when waters were expected to warm up a few degrees - and when Caroleo would have full, unimpeded use of all his digits.
© 2009, The Miami Herald.
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