The family that guides together fishes together.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
MIAMI -- Clay Harris, 18, recalls precisely when he decided to become a light-tackle fishing guide like his dad: the 2001 Drambuie Key West Marlin Tournament.
"Once I won it, that was it," Harris said.
Harris--then 15 -- and his dad, veteran Key West captain Ken Harris, beat a fleet of 57 boats -- most of them expensive war wagons -- fishing aboard a center-console Conch 27. Clay caught the only blue marlin of the contest and won $20,000.
Now he's planning on obtaining his U.S. Coast Guard charterboat license and conducting back country trips for tarpon, permit, and maybe snook aboard his used 20-foot Seacraft.
"I'll get the snook thing down," he said.
Snook are a fairly common catch throughout most of South Florida-- except for Key West, where there is no nearby estuary to serve as nursery grounds for juveniles. Still, anglers catch snook every now and then on wrecks, around dock lights at night, and on the reef.
"There's snook everywhere. Can you find them? Will they eat?" the elder Harris challenges his son.
Guide to records
The father is glad his son has chosen to follow the same career path. After all, Ken Harris has been very successful at guiding both experts and inexperienced anglers to really big fish for more than 25 years. His charter customers and his wife, Doris (executive director of the Key West Fishing Tournament), have caught 69 world records.
Last April, Harris guided Miami attorney Rick Gunion to a world record 353-pound hammerhead shark on 16-pound tippet fly rod. Gunion and another client, Gary Spence, caught the first four tiger sharks ever recorded on fly rod -- including a 220-pounder. Harris and his anglers have won the Keys Classic -- fishing's equivalent of a punt/pass/kick contest known by various names over the years -- seven times. Before becoming a guide, Harris won the Fort Lauderdale Billfish Tournament in 1978 and '79.
"I take pride I've won tournaments in the '70s, '80s, '90s and today," he said.
Captain Harris never intended to push his sons toward careers as fishing guides. His eldest, Matthew, 21, prefers golf and baseball.
But, "Clay always took to it," the guide said. "I never let him fish the MET [Metropolitan South Florida Fishing Tournament] when he was young. I wanted him to fish because he liked fishing. I didn't want him to get into it for the trophies. I watched too many kids burn out and quit fishing. You want your kid to fish with you forever."
These days, the captain takes his son along as first mate on guide trips. The hard work helps season Clay for his chosen career, and it takes the burden of physical work -- pulling the anchor, emptying the cast net of bait -- off his father. The two fish together for fun (and learning) when the elder Harris isn't booked.
Clay said one of his goals is to guide customers to world records as his dad has done.
"I've gotta do that on my own," he said to his father.
Replied the elder Harris: "The feeling is mutual."