When Sonny Bright of Pennsylvania walked up with his grandchildren, a group of young girls and a couple of guys, to board the Lady Em the question running through Capt. Mike Eller’s mind was "Can they handle 260 feet of water and the heat for three days of fishing?"
“They never missed a down, they were there every single down,” Eller said.
Bright, who has fished with Capt. Eller for the past six years, decided to treat some of his grandchildren to a three-day fishing trip. The group of eight left Saturday night and got back Tuesday just after lunch.
“It was one of the most amazing adventures I’ve ever been on,” said 18-year-old Kaleigh Bright. “It was insane … it was incredible.”
Kaleigh was the oldest of the grandchildren, while Preslee Zeigler, 12, the youngest.
“I caught one of the rarest fish out there,” said Preslee, who pulled in a huge African pompano. “It was amazing,” Preslee said.
All of the children were ecstatic over their massive haul that included three swordfish, snowy grouper, yellowedge grouper, scamp galore as well as mingo, black snapper, barracuda, a couple of wahoo and dolphin.
“We also caught a 110-pound amberjack,” Sonny said. However, the amberjack had to go back because the fishery didn’t open until the day after they got back.
The fishing trip came about when Sonny just wanted to do something different.
Although it wasn’t different for Sonny, who’s been with Capt. Eller six times and has a trip planned again next week, it was for the grandkids.
“(Sonny) called me and said you think they can handle it,” said Jennifer Bright Zeigler, Sonny’s daughter.
“I said, ‘Oh, yeah,’ she’s been wanting to go for years,” Jennifer said pointing to one of her daughters.
Other grandchildren on the trip included Peyton Zeigler, 14; Piper Zeigler, 13; Mason Spearing, 15; and Devin Schaffer, 18.
“It was the first time out for most,” Jennifer said.
All of the youth were quick to point out which fish they caught as Eric Hayles and Kevin Moak hung up the catch.
“I got the big grouper on the left,” Peyton said.
“I caught the one with the big belly,” Jennifer chimed in.
As for the swordfish hanging in the middle of the rack, Devin caught the first one, and then Mason and Kaleigh teamed up to pull in the second one.
“I started it and then she got it after 150 feet,” Mason said.
“I actually got it up to the boat the first time and then it went back and swam further away,” Kaleigh said. “I had to use my body weight to not fall off the boat.”
The third swordfish was caught by Piper, who said, “It was a really fighting fish.”
Capt. Eller was surprised at the grit of the group and before it was over he had nicknames for the most them.
“I called her Gidget,” he said of the youngest.
He then pointed to another who he said was wearing a red shirt the first day.
“I called her Red Rover … Red Rover, Red Rover, drag that fish right over,” Eller said. “And that’s what she was doing all day long.”
Eller even had a name for Sonny’s daughter, Jennifer.
“I called her Ms. Grouper Grabber. Every down, it was grouper, grouper, grouper,” he said.
Not only did no one get sea sick on the three-day trip, but they pretty much loved sleeping on the boat.
“It was some of the best sleep she’s ever had,” Jennifer said looking at Piper.
“It just rocks you to sleep,” Preslee said.
In addition to hauling in the fish, they also got to jump in the water and do a little swimming near some dolphin.
“The water was crystal clear, you could see 40 feet down,” Preslee said. “You could see the fish under the water.”
Kaleigh told how she watched a dolphin swirl up and eat an injured red snapper and then dive back down.
“That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. It was so cool,” she said.
On their last night aboard the Lady Em, some of the girls stayed up to watch the sunrise and get some photos.
All it all it was a successful family outing.
“I think it was nice for (Sonny) to have his grandchildren all in one place … and nobody was Facebooking and nobody was Instagraming … they all just fished really hard,” Eller said.
Would the grandchildren be up for another fishing trip with grandpa?
The answer was a resounding “yes” from everyone.
“Yep, I’m ready Papa, I’m ready, take me,” Kaleigh said.