My career has afforded me quite a few encounters with some really special women who are also enthusiastic about the outdoors, and whom I consider friends. However, I don’t think anyone has made me so in awe of their attitude and capabilities as a female charter guide I recently met in Savannah, Georgia.
Her name is Miss Judy and along with her best friend of 30 years, Kathy the mate of the boat, she runs a charter business called Miss Judy Charters. When my producer originally told me who we were fishing with in Savannah, his first comment was “you’re really going to like her”. I took it with a grain of salt, knowing I was going to like her (there are very few fishing guides that I’ve come across that I don’t like), but not thinking it was going to leave a strong impression on me, or that I was going to have one of the best days of my life on the water.
Miss Judy has lived an incredible and unique life. In a nutshell, she was born to her father’s second wife. By the time she was born, her father was in his fifties and had lived an adventurous and mysterious life (he allegedly worked for Al Capone). Judy never knew how he made money and life was full of surprises (he married eight times), but the one thing that was constant was his boat, and the fact that he was always taking family and friends out on the water. When Judy was only five years old, her mother passed away and ever since then, she’d been by her father’s side. As a result of this unusual upbringing, and because fishing runs her in her blood, she’s basically been chartering since she was a pre-teen. Think about that for a minute – most of us are just trying to make sure we make it to school on time or that we finish our homework at that age, meanwhile little Judy was learning how to build relationships with customers and how to man an entire boat from driving it, to setting up fishing gear, all in the unpredictable world of the big vast ocean! I could go on and on about her stories and her life, but needless to say, she’s built a foundation for being a successful charter guide and for living a fulfilling and independent life.
Back to a few days ago, when I met her. Within in five minutes she was calling me baby, honey, doll or darling or sometimes all four things in a row. From the beginning, it was clear she and her best friend and mate Kathy, were vibrant, funny, confident, capable yet relaxed, and simply very positive people, just doing what they love.
My producer asked Judy where we were planning on going, what we were going to do, what we were going to catch and how, but Judy was having none of that pesky stuff we call “planning”. She said she just has to get out on the ocean, do her thing and FEEL it out. Not what a producer wants to hear, but we quickly came to realize to trust her and just go with it. This is how our day went: lines initially went out to target some mackerel so that we could break the ice and get one fish. That was a success so we left the lines in, and caught a barracuda next. Satisfied with both of these fish, we jigged for some bait (I like to call it “bait shopping”), then went far out in the middle of nowhere (about a 2 hour run; not one single boat to be seen all day; only the water and horizon as our view). Not long after our lines were back in, we hook into something big. Initially, as I’m fighting the unknown on the other end of the line, both Judy and Kathy are telling me “oh yeah, it’s BIG”, and I’m like “I don’t know girls, it might not be that big of a deal”, at which point they just make eyes as to say “she has no idea what’s in store for her”. I quickly learn that this fish is strong and powerful and after much sweat, coaching and even laughs, we finally see what’s on the other end – a sandbar shark that is at least my size, if not bigger, and definitely longer than I! We bring it up to the boat, take some photos and release the powerful guy with pure happiness and energy in the air. Cut to our next bite, and after about a half hour fight with me almost going overboard about four times, we can’t believe our eyes, but we’ve caught a SECOND sandbar shark, ALSO at least my size.
In the fishing and travel TV world, this is what you would call a home run: three ladies on a boat, the sun shinning, a mackerel, a barracuda and two very large intimidating but beautiful shark. Despite this home run of an episode, Miss Judy and Kathy felt they could deliver on one more thing, an amberjack. I had never caught an amberjack so I was pretty pumped about this next quest but was not getting my hopes up considering everything we’d seen and caught so far. Lo and behold, not too long after we specifically target our AJ, we land my first one, and a very good size one at that. He (or she) was about 40 pounds of beautiful shiny scales and flesh, and after taking a quick pic, I launched it back into the water and it swam away with speed and power.
The TV crew (Graham, Joe and Michael) and I, glowing from the days’ heat and sun, packed up our gear happy, impressed and exhausted!
Every time I travel, I’m reminded of why it’s so important. I’ve left my little bubble, and I’m pushing myself a little past what is “normal” for me, which almost always results in an even happier and fulfilled version of myself and allows for precious little moments to occur that make up this awesome life. In some ways, Judy and I have lived very similar lives (fishing, dad as role model, man’s world), and in other ways we’ve lived very different lives (whereas Judy has built her life on consistency and in one special place in Savannah, I’ve built my life on the exploration of the unknown and traveling from one special place to another), but in the end we crossed each other’s paths and made a connection, and that’s a beautiful thing – even if just for one day.