When you grow up with a fishing captain for a dad, things tend to come pretty naturally for you around a boat.
For 11-year-old Connor Kelly, not much in the bay gets him very excited. He’s caught plenty of monster trout and redfish, and helped countless others reel in personal bests working as first mate for his dad, Ingleside Capt. Dan Kelly, during the summers off from school.
But some things do get him excited. The 48-hour offshore adventure aboard the Freeport-based “Papara Rey” in mid-August certainly qualified.
The main reason for the trip was to get young Kelly hooked up to a billfish, and Capt. Kenneth Doxey made sure it happened.
After several hours of trolling on the second day, and two nice wahoo already in the cooler, a marlin finally rose next to a weedline to strike the blue artificial bait several hundred yards behind the boat. The fight was on.
Connor jumped from his position in the back of the boat into the fighting chair, as deck hand Matt Fishbeck handed him the large reel and strapped him into the chair.
Connor’s dad yelled encouragement as the marlin tailwalked several times, stripping line as he powered away from the boat.
“This is your billfish, boy,” Dan Kelly yelled. “Keep cranking on that reel and don’t point the rod toward him. You’re doing great.”
Connor struggled for more than 10 minutes as Doxey maneuvered the boat to keep pace with the frantic marlin’s dives, twists and turns. But the young man held fast, and soon the marlin was coming straight up from the bottom.
All hands were on deck as the Captain shouted he could see color. Soon, the big fish was beside the boat as Fishbeck, now joined by First Mate Barrett Garrison, grabbed the leader and brought the marlin securely to the side of the boat.
Dad and son shared a few special moments leaning over the side of the boat, watching the big, 150-pound fish come back to life after the grueling fight. After a few minutes of reviving the fish, Garrison released the fish back into the deep. The marlin kicked its tail several times, pointed downward and swam off.
High-fives and war whoops followed on the deck.
“Conner, you did it,” yelled Dan Kelly. “I’m really proud of you.”
Connor was shaking after the fight as the adrenaline was released into his body.
“That was a big fish,” Connor said, out of breath after the fight. “That was cool.”
Back at the dock after the trip, the crew presented Connor with the flag, signed by everyone on board, and the lure that caught the fish — a huge surprise from Capt. Lee Weidner, who helped with the trip.
“You’re one lucky man,” Doxey said to Connor. “I thought Lee would give you his wife before he gave you that lure. That has caught a lot of billfish.”
Maybe none as special as the marlin on this trip.