The Foundation works with other organizations to recommend recipients to us. Networking is essential for smaller groups such as ours and as president I am always open to connecting with people who share our core mission. I received an e-mail from Brad Jones who works with the Outdoor Dream Foundation in South Carolina. They are a non-profit dedicated to granting hunting, fishing and other outdoor adventures to children and young adults facing serious or life threatening illnesses. They have provided over
400 trips since 2004 and have excellent credentials. They were seeking a Florida Keys adventure for an 18 year old heart transplant recipient named Jake Paul. Jake’s dream was to fish in a place with clear water where you could see all the marine life. It seemed like a good fit so I called Brad. As I talked to Brad I got a good vibe and went with it. I’m sure glad I did. We made plans for the trip.
When I first heard that we were going to have a fellow fishing addict with us it made meeting up with Jake Paul and his mother Larenda that much more exciting. Knowing that someone already enjoys being on the water and the fishing lifestyle makes it easy to bond with them. Jake grew up in South Carolina avidly fishing for bass,crappie and bream and had the pictures to prove it. He had his own fishing style and technique that worked for him.
Jake had a heart transplant in August of 2013. In November of 2014 he was diagnosed with a rare type of transplant rejection called late antibody mediated rejection. AMR is rare, about one in a thousand patients. The condition is not treatable if diagnosed more than six months after transplant. The donor specific antibodies cause coronary artery disease, damaging the microvascular system that supplies the heart muscle with blood. Jake has been through all available treatments to reduce damage caused by the antibodies with no success.
Capt. Neil Gryder ,who also works for the Foundation, would be in charge of this trip.
We had arranged a special surprise for Jake’s trip. From the “Wicked Tuna” TV show non other than TJ Ott and Tyler McLaughlin were going to fish with us. They both spoke with Jake when he first arrived and they were nearly as excited as he was about the trip! We all figured out what type of fishing we were going to do for the next day, devised a plan and were now just waiting for the morning.
We met at the dock around 8 a.m. and even though it was a little later than we wanted,we decided to take a chance and try for some blackfin tuna behind the shrimp boats in the Gulf . After that we would play it by ear. The shrimpers clear their nets of all the shrimp and bycatch early in the daylight hours. While loading the shrimp in the coolers they push the bycatch over so it attracts the tunas, bonitas, dolphins and sharks etc. to the surrounding area. We loaded up and struck out as fast as we could and headed northwest. Weather wise, we could not have asked for a better day. It was slick as glass, sun was out with not a cloud in the sky, sick day already!
We ran for a little over an hour before we saw our first boat on the horizon. Just behind that one were many more of the fleet. As we pulled up to the first one we did not see much action happening so we “turn and burn” and head to one of the others only a mile or so away. We show up to the second shrimp boat and almost immediately saw signs of life with TJ on the Raymarine sounder marking fish below us. Tyler, referring back to his natural fishing habits, started throwing small chunks of bait over to see what we could chum up. Bonitas! Before we could get turned around to tell everyone, Jake already had a rod in his hand ready to go. He pitched his bait out towards those bonita almost as if he had done this many times before. Jake ended up catching some nice sharks as well in the mix. Jake’s mother Larenda then gets hooked up to a stud bonita as well and man – handles that fish up to the boat like a pro!(must run in the family). It was a blast bouncing from boat to boat but unfortunately never found the blackfin tunas as we had hoped for. After, TJ mentioned running to a tower that we had passed a few miles back to the east to see what kind of action we may find there. We got cleaned up and started heading in that direction.
We got to the tower after about 30 minutes and it was still parking -lot slick. We first see if we can sight any permit cruising around before we tie up. We spot a few schools and free-line a crab down to them but they seemed to have a case of “lock jaw” at first. Jake gets hooked into something we think may be a nice one but once we got a closer look at it we realized it was a big Jack Crevalle which was still an awesome catch!!
After that, we decide to tie up to the tower. Tyler was on the bow and decided to jump onto the tower verses toss the rope over the leg! He kept saying he would climb to the top and jump off but figured it was not too good of an idea and came back to the boat. We then put some chum in the water and try for some yellowtail snapper while we wait for the permit to come out from the structure of the tower. Jake was pulling in snapper left and right! Each one seemed to be larger than the last. At the same time we tried repetitively to stay hooked up to a permit but seem to loose them every time in the structure underneath us. Moments later someone brings in a nice blue runner and we send it back down to the bottom because we had seen a couple of nice sized shadows down deep that we believed to be bull sharks. That bait did not last 2 minutes and boom fish on… big fish on. We untied from the tower and positioned the boat properly to try and hoist this beast off of the bottom. Jake was getting after it making it look like there was nothing to it. About 25-30 minutes into it Jake hands the rod off to Tyler to see if he could budge the fish anymore. It was just NOT moving! Tyler tried for a good 15 minutes as well. TJ finally spoke up and joked at Tyler saying “let me show you how to catch a fish” and commenced to winching this fish to the surface. Finally we see color slowly ascending from below and can see just how big this bull shark is. We estimated it at around 400 lbs.! TJ got it to about 15 feet under the surface and it decided to take one last run down. The shark tail sliced the line and the fight was over, but man what a fish!
After that we decided it was about time to start heading back to the dock for the day. On the way back both Jake and his mother were sleeping in the E-Searider beanbags from fighting fish all day! We got to Key West Harbor Yacht Club, cleaned the fish and all finished up over at the restaurant there for a cook your catch dinner and strategized a plan for the next day.
We decided to shoot offshore to see if we could find the mahi’s that were said to be pushing through the several days before. We ran to about 250-300 ft of water, put a spread out and kept our eyes peeled as we trolled south looking for birds or any structure on the surface. We trolled for a good 2 hours without seeing anything besides scattered empty patches of grass. We did not hear of much action on the VHF radio so we decided to head back in to a spot where TJ had mentioned he knew the permit would be.
We get around the area where TJ said the fish would be and man was he right. There were hundreds of permit schooling all around us! They seemed to act a little skittish when we noticed the massive shark lingering around them. We knew once we got hooked to a fish we would have to act quickly to get him in before the shark had an early dinner.
Both Jake and TJ were pitching crabs into the school and letting them sink deep so that the fish had a visual on the bait. Line starts peeling out of Jakes Shimano baitrunner and TJ is yelling “You got him! You got him! Reel!” and just like that Jake is doubled over with a nice permit! He lays him up next to the boat like a true professional and lands his first permit! Now Jake has a handle on this, he is up on the bow pulling them in over and over! He was showing everyone else up. Seeing the true joy and excitement in his face made everything worth while to Krissy, Larenda, TJ and myself. It was stellar to see him in action with no help or guidance to make things happen. He ended up landing 5 permit within a 2 hour period!
After that, TJ had to be in a little early so we came back and dropped him off and headed out to try and get some more action in before the sun went down. We anchored for a little while seeing if the snapper would show up but it never evolved. We decided to go to the Vandenberg wreck and get on some barracudas. On the way there we rigged up some “cuda tubes” and planned to troll around the surface of the wreck. We made a couple of passes and Jake gets locked into a nice barracuda that was putting on an awesome show for us! He must have pulled in another 5 or 6 after that. It was time to call it a day so we ran back in to the yacht club and went to the Square Grouper for dinner that night which never fails to please. Krissy’s husband, and my friend Captain Dave Moloney with Grateful Dave Charters, came and was planning the next day for Jake to fish for tarpon.
The weather was not cooperating so Dave decided to make the call and wait till nightfall and get on the fish then. This worked out well and gave everyone time to recoup during the day.
Larenda decided that she wanted to go check out the Key West shopping scene that evening so she brought Jake over to Dave and Krissy’s house as we were prepping to put the boat in the water. We grabbed the rods, reels, bait, etc. hooked the truck to the trailer and headed to The Wharf to launch. At around 9:00 we got set up on a falling tide and put lines out with live bait waiting for a bite. Tarpon were everywhere around us! Jake wanted some action while we watched the live bait rods so he was casting a rod with an artificial lure on it and slowly reeling it back to the boat. Dave, Krissy and I are in the stern of the boat when we look up right as Jake sets the hook. Boom! He is hooked up to a nice tarpon cutting cartwheels out about 50 feet from the boat. We come off of the anchor and quickly chase after him. After a grueling 20 minute fight we got him to the boat. What an awesome fight! As fast as we could, we released the fish and got back into position to get another bite. Within a half hour the same scenario happened again! They wouldn’t eat the live bait but were dog piling the artificial! By 11:30 everyone is worn out and Jake has landed two 40 lbs tarpon. We decide to call it an evening and head home.
We planned a trip to the Dolphin Research Center(DRC) in Grassy Key which all of us were amped up about. We arrive just before noon and the wonderful people there at the DRC got Jake and his mom in to swim with Santini and Gypsi first thing. Just watching the dolphins show off their skills to the group was really amazing. How gentle yet powerful they are and have the intelligence to differentiate the two is absolutely crazy to see. Jake and his mother are both out in the water with the biggest smiles on their faces as they interact with the dolphins. The trainer ,Katherine, showed Jake and Larenda different hand signals to ask the dolphins for different behaviors, and man did they love to show off! Gypsi’s back tail walk (where they “walk on water like you have seen in “Flipper”… she is a Flipper granddaughter) and Sanitni’s dives are impressive.
After the DRC we went to Key Colony to grab a bite to eat. With not a moment to spare, as soon as we were leaving the restaurant it was as if the bottom fell out of the sky and it started pouring. We called it a great trip up to Marathon and headed back for the evening.
The next day we headed over to No Name Key to kayak with a good friend Kasey Fay, and her dog Kylie. Another slick day on the water. She took us through a mangrove forest and showed us all the different birds, crabs, sponges, and even spiders. When we came out of the mangroves we were in a beautiful salt pond. Kylie saw an egret, jumped out of the kayak and went full speed toward the bird. Kylie continued to chase the egret even as it flew away. Oh the life of a keys dog. We hung out and floated around just enjoying the scenery. When we turned around and started to go back through the mangroves the mosquitos were in full force. We paddled as fast as we could.
After kayaking we were all a little burnt out, so everyone went home for a little siesta, and met back up at “My New Joint.” The owner Lynn Bell opened an upstairs to her famous downstairs restaurant “Square Grouper Bar and Grill.” The upstairs is a cocktail lounge/tapas bar. Downstairs we always over order because there is just too many delicious things you have to try! Upstairs all the food are small plates. Fondue, lollipop wings, pork belly sliders, empanadas, oh the list goes on. Then came desert. I feel full just thinking about it.
When it was time to say our bye for nows, we were all tearing up. To think that this young man is grateful for every minute that he’s alive, and how selfish and ignorant we can be at times about little things is very humbling. Getting to spend time with Jake and his mom was truly enjoyable to me. Even though he is younger than I, Jake really reminded me what life is all about. Don’t sweat the small things and just enjoy what you have in front of you. Enjoy it with the people you are around. I don’t know if I have ever met someone as upbeat as Jake is. Growing from this experience and gaining a great new friend in the process has been one of the best times I have had. Just goes to show, that wisdom does not just come from age, but from experiences. Knowing what Jake has gone through in his life, I have nothing but respect for him. I feel very grateful to now have this young man as part of my extended family.
Capt Neil Gryder