Over the years I’ve mostly avoided life threatening injuries largely due to the fact that I’ve gotten smarter about who and where I traverse the outdoors with. I’ve mentioned before that if myself and my cousin, Hunter, go somewhere together on any kind of trip, it’s likely one of us ends up in the hospital. For this reason I’ve avoided doing too much with him, especially since I’ve gotten a little older and don’t recover from aches and pains as well as I used to. However, today might have changed things a little. Hunter called me this afternoon to let me know he has just purchased a new deep sea fishing boat. Let the planning begin! With our record together, what could possibly go wrong out in the middle of the ocean?
Getting that phone call lifted my spirits a little, and it also got me thinking about another cousin of ours that we used to do some deep sea fishing with. Dan was our second cousin on my mother’s side of the family and was larger than life. He came from very humble beginnings in Smith County in a small community called Center Ridge. Dan joined the Marines, eventually retired from the Marine Corps, became a small business owner, and settled in Jacksonville, Florida with his wife, Candy. Dan loved the water and loved to fish, so naturally, we became close. He was also a big Jaguars fan so that made me love him even more. He was the life of the party and a pleasure to be around at all times.
I’ll never forget a fishing trip we took on the Pearl River in Lawrence County one weekend. We were running trot lines on the river and would fish from the bank while we were waiting. While fishing from the bank in the darkest night you can imagine, I remember Dan saying, “It sure would be nice if the tip of this rod was glow in the dark so we could see when a fish is on.” Fast forward a year later and I’m in a Bass Pro Shop in Kansas, and guess what they had. Glow in the dark eyes on a fishing rod. I called Dan to tell him that we missed out on a potential fortune. He just laughed and said they must have needed the money more than us. His laugh was infectious and I miss that.
Dan and Candy had a vacation home in Alligator Point, Florida and invited me and Amy down for a deep sea fishing trip about the time we finished college. Well, Dan invited me down to go fishing, and Candy invited Amy down to do girl stuff. The first morning, Dan and I accompanied his neighbor out to catch grouper and snapper. His friend, Frank, had a commercial license so there was no limit to how many we could keep. They just had to be a larger size fish than usual. We stayed out on the water all day and caught more fish than I cared to count. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun in all of my life. The next day we took the girls out for some inshore fishing on Dan’s boat. It was pretty hot so Dan and Amy jumped in the Gulf for a swim. Amy got a little panicked when I told her there was a shark that had been swimming around them almost the entire time they’d been in the water. Once again, Dan just laughed it off.
After lunch that day we went back out on the water. This time we decided to go a little further out and try to catch a grouper or two. We ended up catching grouper and a few snapper, as well. Amy caught her first ever grouper and her first ever shark. Then, we hooked into something big. The reel was singing, the rod was bending, and line was ripping out. Dan and I took turns on the rod for the next thirty minutes before we finally got a view of what we’d hooked. On the other end of the line was a twelve foot shark. To this day, it’s still the biggest fish that I’ve ever been hooked up to. We finally wore the shark out enough to get it up to the boat, snap some pictures, and cut the line loose. By that time the sun was starting to set and it was time to head back to the harbor. That was the last time I ever got to fish with Captain Dan.
Captain James Daniel Clark passed away at the age of 56 on October 3, 2010 from a sudden brain aneurysm. I was on my way home from a hunting trip in Woodville, MS when I received the phone call with the news. My heart was shattered. It still aches. Dan was my cousin, but more importantly, he was my friend. As I looked over the audience as I began my speech at his funeral, I was amazed of just how many people’s lives that Dan touched. The room was packed with businessmen from the Jacksonville area and with military personnel. Like I said, he was larger than life. Now that my cousin has bought a deep sea fishing rig, I’m hoping we can recreate some memories that we had with Dan. Time spent on the water in the company of family and friends is never wasted and never lasts long enough.