Rebirth of a Legend

Capt. Skip Smith rebuilds the world-famous Hooker

Rebirth of a Legend
The Hooker is reborn.Dennis Friel

A few years ago, my wife, Debra Todd, and I headed to Tropic Star Lodge in Piñas Bay, Panama, to go fishing. I heard The Hooker, the 48-foot G&S I helped build and run for quite a few years, was on a mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club in Panama City, so Debra and I decided to see if we could check on it. It had been 25 years since I had last seen the boat. When we got to the yacht club's dock, we were told that nobody was on the boat, so I posed for a photo with The Hooker over my shoulder in the bay.

We headed out to Tropic Star Lodge and had a great trip, catching plenty of marlin and sailfish, never even thinking about that old racehorse back at Balboa.

About a year later, the owner asked me what I thought the boat was worth; they had decided to sell it after 12 years of great times and ownership. The owner, John, told me that I really needed to buy this boat and fish it one more time. Debra and I talked it over and decided that The Hooker would make a really nice charter boat, fishing between Panama and Costa Rica. I told John that I was a little interested, and he replied that he would make me a deal I could not refuse.

The Hooker currently has 87 IGFA world records, since Capt. Trevor Cockle added a lot more after I jumped off the boat in 1990 in Tahiti. Debra and I recently became empty nesters, so why not go back and do a little fishing again?

We made a deal in May 2016, while I was in the Bahamas running my tournaments. The boat sat on that mooring as I looked at my calendar, wondering when I would be able to get back down to Panama. It was sort of like getting married and not being able to see your bride for six weeks, because I would not be able to return until late June.

I got to the boat and started making lists, starting with my needs and wants, and then my wish list. Taking the boat from the mooring to the marina so I could work on it, I found the props had been badly bent and there were no spares except for some old ones that had way too much pitch and were even the wrong shaft size.

I made a quick call to Jimmie Harrison at Frank and Jimmie’s Propeller in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and soon he had a pair on a slow ship to Panama. At the marina, I discovered that the boat had only two dock lines aboard, so we tied up with the two lines and the anchor line stretched in every direction. The surge was really bad, and we had no fenders either. Jumping in a taxi to the local marina supply store, I returned a lot lighter in the wallet but with the dock lines and fenders we needed. Little did I know that I would almost own the marine store before I was finished with all the work.

Since I could not haul out right away, the first thing on my list was to clean the bilges, making sure the float switches and pumps worked and getting all of the debris out. If this boat was to sit for a while with nobody on it, I wanted to make sure the bilge pumps worked and the batteries were good, along with the battery charger.

Then we emptied the boat at the dock to see what we had. It was sort of like that show Storage Wars: There were some of the old rods and reels that Jerry and Deborah Dunaway had used to catch many of their world records, along with old canned goods, tons of hooks, skeins of leader material, way too many lures and even boat parts that had the original pink paint on them from when I ran the boat.

We started at the bow and worked our way back toward the stern. After a week of fixing all the stuff I could, it was time to head home to regroup (and grab some more money!). Next month, we’ll continue the story.