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'Thunder' in the bay

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Published:   |   Updated: July 6, 2013 at 02:22 PM

HERNANDO BEACH

The fishing rod arched down and sliced through the turquoise water.

Then the reel locked and shrieked until the line went tense, and the man who held it hauled backward and cranked on the lever.

But whatever held him in place from the other side of the line let go and, smiling, the man went gradually backward onto the large wooden bench behind him.

Fred Javidi, of Hernando Beach, turned away from the Gulf of Mexico.

"No break dancing on the boat," Javidi said, then he cast his lure back over the side of the 31-passenger "Thunder," which is where more than a dozen residents and visitors paid $70 a head Thursday to venture out into for 20 miles with "rod, reel, tackle, license, everything," and 10 hours to fill two large ice coolers with as much fish as can be caught in the right size and season.

People like Vic Tanner, who used live bait, hooked a disproportionately high number of gag grouper this Fourth of July. Equally impressive, Roger Holden on at least two occasions managed to catch a yellow, orange, white and black colored fish that bloats its neck out like a frog, called a "toadfish." Holden did not keep them.

Capt. Michael Senker said he didn't name the boat "Thunder," but he's not changing it either.

"That's what it was called when I got it - they say it's bad luck to change it," he said. "In 1994 I was doing grouper fishing and stone crabbing, and then I got into doing six-pack charter. And 2006, I started doing this."

The six-pack charter was a side job, but for the last seven years the "Thunder" has proved self-sustaining.

And the Gulf is full of gag grouper, and this season has been very good when it comes to reeling them in, Senker said: the most recent closure on gag grouper fishing has helped.

First Mate Mickey Estevez has been in this business for the last 16 years and with that same observation.

"Real good," Estevez said. "Just came back in a couple days ago, and we've been catching 20-30 grouper daily. (Wednesday), we caught him a 32 or 33 incher."

Senker has 20 years of fishing programmed into his boat's radar, where crowds of fish appear in white with green and red outlines on those familiar reefs he keeps going back to because they keep his fishing patrons satisfied.

"It's always a lot of fun," said passenger Scott Cooley. "Mike and his first mate are a lot of help, and they're on top of things. It's always good to have a group of friends out here."

Jon Cooley, Scott's father, however, spent most of the trip between the floor and holding the guardrailing. Overcome by the rocking and the waves, Cooley's Fourth of July experience this year is why the crew tells anyone prone to motion sickness to take Dramamine, which helps prevent and treat symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and dizziness, before deep sea fishing. Ginger also helps, said Estevez and Senker.

After heading out at 8 a.m. and docking at 5 p.m., the group brings the day to a close, unloading their catch on a cleaning board. Several decided on when to drop the fish off at R Beach restaurant, where Javidi said the chefs at his restaurant will cook what they've hooked.

"This doesn't feel like work to me," Senker said. "Every day I wake up and get to go fishing."

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