Back in Action

The famed charter boat The Hooker is now better than ever

dennis friel illustration charter boat
"I really looked forward to the seamount trips, and I was not disappointed." —Capt. Skip SmithDennis Friel

With our guests staying at Tropic Star Lodge in Piñas Bay, Panama, it made our first fishing trip on The Hooker even better — the food was terrific, and so were the stories we shared. It was great to be back fishing again. On the next adventure in Panama, my three friends just wanted to catch some blue marlin on 30-pound tackle. We averaged two blue marlin a day, and the three days of fishing went fast.

The last trip of the season was with my wife, Debra, and a friend, and the marlin were still biting. On the third day, a turbo failed and we had to limp back to Panama City on one engine. The boat was not quite ready yet, and it was time to go back to work and finish getting the engine room really tuned in. We installed a couple of new turbos and added a custom brace to take some of the weight off the way it was mounted on the back of the motor.

Along the way, I had met a young Costa Rican mate named Keller. He was on a boat that was headed back to Texas through the Panama Canal, and he was looking for a job to replace the one he had for the past three years on a boat that was going back to the States. After quite an interview by phone, I invited Keller to fly back in a few weeks to join me for his fishing tryout. I planned on fishing the Hannibal Bank and Montosa on the way to Costa Rica; I had fished these areas back in 1982, and it was awesome back then.

We then departed for Costa Rica. My plan was to make The Hooker a local charter boat based out of Marina Pez Vela in Quepos. The marina there has a great boatyard, and the last thing on my list was to go over the boat's bottom with a fine-toothed comb. While conducting a survey of The Hooker, we noticed a few fiberglass patches, and

I wanted to be sure they had been done correctly. The crew at the boatyard was awesome. They stripped the bottom and did a great job re-glassing the patches. Geiner Guzman and his team even filled in the chines a little to soften the entry of this old boat before Raul and his guys painted the hull. A truly first-class operation.

Now The Hooker was as close to being 100 percent as you could get an old boat to be, and just how I remembered it. We fished through the spring season and caught a few sailfish and marlin. I really looked forward to the seamount trips, and I was not disappointed. Guy Harvey and his team deployed six satellite tags on blue marlin so they could study and track their migrations. Then, on the next trip to the seamounts, we managed to catch 21 blue marlin and a striped marlin in one day. I was hooked, big time.

After giving The Hooker a face lift and a ton of other work, it is as good as new. Thank you, G&S, for building a boat that has fished all over the world — the hull is still as strong as ever. We have caught granders in Australia; Capt. Trevor Cockle caught a 1,337-pound blue marlin in Ascension Island, which is the second- or third-largest marlin in the Atlantic Ocean; and we had quite a few more double-extra-large blue marlin in Madeira and the Azores. It might be a good thing this old boat can't talk — the stories it could tell.