A few weeks after connecting with Make A Wish, we were sent some information about a young man named Tyler Murdoch. His wish was to stay at Hawks Cay Resort in Duck Key and to go salt-water fishing. Hawks Cay had an excellent relationship with Jose, so I went to them and asked if they would like to help. Not only did they say yes but they told me that they wanted to do more in the future. So the next step was to find a Captain. Greg Poland had been a great friend to my father over the years so we reached out to him, and before I could even ask, he said, “Whatever you need I’m in!” Next came our gear for a take home gift, AKA swag bag. Yeti coolers, Costa Sunglasses, Under Armour Fishing gear, Shimano, and Chasing Fin buffs all pitched in with boxes of goodies for the family. Mellow Ventures Key West offered to hook them up with a paddle boarding/snorkeling trip, Dolphin Research Center agreed to have the family come by and hang out with the dolphins, and Digital Island Media would be there so Tyler could have his own take home fishing show. I thought to myself, “Seven months have passed, and we are getting somewhere.” But the team pulled together in ways I couldn’t have imagined when Tyler and his family got here.
Day One, the family arrives at Hawks Cay, and I meet them for dinner. Right off the bat, these are the kind of people you meet and you feel like you’ve known them forever. Tyler is accompanied by his mother Danielle, father Gary, and big bro, Matt. Earlier that day I had dropped off the box of goodies to have in their room when they walked in. “It’s like Christmas!” Tyler said. We wrap up dinner and I headed home for the night.
Day Two, the family and I go to Key West and do the Duval Crawl minus the crawl. If you are in the Keys, of course you have to see the Key West flavor. We then meet Rob from Mellow Ventures and head out to Boca Grande for a paddle-boarding trip. With the paddleboard decked out with Yeti Coolers, the family begins the paddle-boarding excursion. Stingray, sharks, sandy beaches, and a bald eagle are not a bad sight. As the day begins to wind down, we scoop up the family and bring them to a wreck close to the area. We are losing light but there is still plenty to see. Being from New Jersey, the chilly water is no problem for this family.
Day Three, I get a call from Mikey saying that there are a change of plans. We are meeting at Plantation Boat Yard, not at Greg’s marina. I don’t know why until we get there. The guys from there are hooking us up with a 37 ft Sea Hunter to use. This thing is brand new! Greg explains that he had talked to the guys there a few days ago and they wanted to help out. The family is blown away by this boat just by looking at it, let alone riding in the thing! We set out to get bait, and even though Greg dropped the cast net in the water on his last cast, we work together as a team to gaff the net as it lay sinking, and still get the bait. Sorry, Greg, had to say it!
Can you say SAILFISH!!! I mean everywhere! I am in the camera boat taking stills, with Captain Matt Bellinger, and Steve Panariello from Digital Island media, and we are running and gunning all over the place. This is intense! Gary and Tyler both hook up a sailfish, and Tyler litters one. After he fights one for 45 minutes and it breaks off, we decide to do some more relaxed fishing to wrap up.
Day Four, Greg scoops up Tyler and brings him to his house to meet Wyland, the marine life artist. He signs a book for him, shows him around the studio, and tells him to bring back a mangrove snapper if he catches one. After a day of hooking up a few sailfish, we go to a wreck and Tyler gets Wyland’s snapper. By boat we go to Wyland’s house to deliver it.
That night I get a call from Greg asking me if the family would like a football signed from Jimmy Johnson. “He does something in football right?” I asked. No disrespect to Jimmy, but if you asked my dad to name Florida’s teams, a blank stare would be your answer. I know abit more, but I am by far no expert. I call the family and get a very excited “Yes!” from Gary.
We arrive at Plantation boat yard for our last day of fishing and Jimmy Johnson is there! Pictures taken, we head out for our last day of fishing. Sharks seemed to be the way to go, since it is blowing 15-20 mph. Everyone catches a lemon shark over six feet long!
Day Six, last day before they leave, we spend at Dolphin Research Center, my second home. They meet their trainer Jennifer (who I’ve know my whole life) for an amazing session with Tursi, the daughter of Flipper. We walk around the grounds and meet the rest of the pod with trainer Kelly Jayne (who I’ve also known my whole life) along with Karen, a blind, 25 year old sea lion, who gives the best hugs ever. The day winds down with a delicious dinner at the Square Grouper Bar and Grill.
Looking back on this experience I feel an overwhelming feeling of “Yeah Team!” We had the itinerary planned in the beginning, but all the extra things that came along made Tyler’s wish extra special. Matt Bellinger doing shout outs over the radio during his fishing report to the Murdoch family, the gang at Plantation boat yard going that extra mile, and Steve Panariello coming along to shoot a second camera to get some epic footage, and an extra hug and kiss from a sea lion. It felt so good to do something good and to do it well. I know you are smiling down on us, Dad, and I know you are so proud of all of us!