Get the Net

Just offshore from his Indian Beach home, 5-year-old Kelly Kirschner goes fishing in Sarasota Bay.

By staff April 23, 2014

By Kelly Kirschner

It was the spring of 1980. I was 5 years old and in our family’s Sears rowboat, fixated on a large, chartreuse and orange bobber floating on the choppy waters of Sarasota Bay close to our Indian Beach home, with a live shrimp dangling a few feet below it. I remember the bobber because it was the first time I’d ever seen those colors outside of a bowl of Fruit Loops.

I was the youngest of three boys, and before this, I’d always waited on the shore for my father and older brothers to return from fishing. Then I’d examine their catch, just as the children of the Tocobaga, Timucuan and Calusa had done on the same beach 10,000 years ago. I had already caught my first fish, though, in a brackish neighborhood pond where we were sent to practice. It was a tiny brim the size of my 5-year old hand, caught on a Zebco 404, using stale bread as bait. The brim would steal the bread 10 times before you’d ever hook one. They weren’t much of a fight, and you’d just throw them back.

Now, out on my first fishing trip in the bay, 100 yards from shore, I felt I was on the high seas. “When you see the bobber go under the water, count to three and then pull back hard,” my father had instructed before I had cast my shrimp into a stand of old concrete pilings. After a wait that seemed forever, the bobber started bouncing like a basketball, until it was pulled violently under. I counted to three as quickly as I could and then stood up and jerked my pole back multiple times and as hard as Papa Hemingway must have done in setting the hook for a 1,000-pound marlin. Immediately, my pole doubled over, bent by the weight of my prey. I had never felt anything like this—the exhilaration, the speed, the strength of the fish at the other end of the line. I still feel the boat rocking and myself screaming, “GET THE NET! GET THE NET!  GET THE NET!”

I treasure the tattered black-and-white photograph we snapped a few minutes later: me with a barely legal redfish.

Kelly Kirschner, former Sarasota City Commissioner and mayor (2007-2011), is dean of special programs at Eckerd College.

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