A Bucket List and the Live Wire

A story from the past that's still one of the best we ever posted. If you've never read it, please do.

This story is three years old - but still one of the best ones (by far) that we've ever put here. The lives of all the people talked about here have changed but the smell of the water and the impact of this sport on some very special days cannot be denied. We hope you like it.

Using an iPhone is a lot of fun, and quite useful. When Matthew Chin and I were about 9 feet from the back of Captain Travis Palladeno's bright red truck at 4:50am on Tuesday, the phone broke through Bob Marley to tell us we had arrived for a trip we were really excited about. Although a writing project, it was more than that, as you'll see.

I only live about 10 miles from John's Pass, where the Captain's 45' cigarette-turned-fishing boat sits in the water -- ready to take clients on trips that can only be described as memorable. But many people that have been on his incredibly comfortable and powerful craft (it held the world record once at well over 100mph -- but Travis doesn't run it hard.) don't consider it once-in-a-lifetime. They hire Travis and Mate Super J Boyle as often as they can. I know why.

Sitting in bean bags on the ride -- to 120 miles offshore and not far from the "Fence" established by the feds as the area closed to commercial or sports fishing as a result of the Deep Horizon spill -- make the trip even more comfortable than it would have been on this custom balsa boat that held the world speed record before its second life as Captain Travis' fishing machine. We had just passed the Middle Grounds when I took this shot from the bow

If you follow offshore fishing, you've read about Captain Travis in magazines from Florida Sportsman to an article on our site that was written Captain David Rieumont. Captain Palladeno is the mayor of the city of Madeira Beach since 2010. He is a person whose activism to protect the rights of people around our fisheries -- sports and commercial, locally, regionally, and nationally -- makes him unique, and important to all of us in, around, or relying on fishing in any way. The stories that come from trips on the Live Wire are well worth the read, wherever you can find them. If you and a group of friends want to experience a fishing trip you will not believe until three days after it's over and the reality dawns on you, contact him at Live Wire Charters. He's busy, so plan ahead.

The trip we were on was as unique as the boat and team that ran it. It was a "Bucket List" trip. In case you've never heard the term, it became popular along with 2007 movie of the same title starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The story of two guys who were both told they had a limited time left to live, the two friends wrote a "Bucket List": A list of things they had wanted to do all their lives, and now that they were scheduled to kick the bucket, they went through the list with every ounce of joy, pleasure, laughter, pain, and finality they had left.

Captain Travis' client that Tuesday was on a special offshore trip. There wasn't much chance he would be on Travis' boat again. Not in this pass through, anyway. This trip was on his bucket list, and had been for a while. Time wasn't a thing he has much of left.

"I can't fish anymore; the doctor's given me a year -- maybe 18 months. Bad heart. I love fishing, though, as much as I did as a kid. I can't fish so I watch fishing shows. It's all I do on Saturday's. It's an all day thing." Bob (Redneck Bob, actually, as he introduced himself), was 76. Like many terminal patients I've met doing volunteer work, Bob had an attitude I hope I have if I'm given a schedule. He was OK with himself, his life, and the path he had to take. Comfortable in his skin, you might say. And every bit as excited as Matthew and I. This was the Live Wire. This was Travis Palladeno. This is the guy with the 100lb Grouper and the world's fastest fishing boat, man!

"I was watching a show one Saturday, and saw these guys fishing for grouper. The fish they were catching were unbelievable. They were fishing from a boat called The Live Wire, and I figured if I had a year, I was fishing with this guy. So here I am. My wife said I'm nuts (I agreed, which drew the first of many belly laughs from Bob on that day) but I'm going anyway."

My being on the boat along with Matthew Chin was the result of Captain David Rieumont's suggestion to long-time friend Palladeno. Travis has done a lot of trips since helping his wife graduate from law school and achieve her dream of a career as legal counsel. And in return, Travis has pursued his true love, and spend his life on the water putting people on fish such as few ever catch. But this trip was special even to Travis. That morning, before helping get Bob onto Travis' boat, we all knew (Travis, Matthew, Super J, Matthew and me) like Redneck Bob knew that it was very, very special for all of us.

And like he always does, Travis produced. And like he does, Super J performed in a way that made me write three stories instead of one. In this part of the series, you won't learn about him being half-naked in the water getting a 60lb black grouper out from under the dive platform while a 12 foot bull shark was eyeing those grouper. He (the shark, not Super J) ate half a thirty pounder while I was fighting him, and after Matthew and Super J petted the poor torn animal and told him everything was gonna be OK -- put it back in the water, came back and rolled on that half-grouper like a scene from a reality show version of the movie Jaws.

A few hours after leaving the dock, the thrumming engines got comparatively silent. The water was like glass 120 miles due west from John's pass. Not five minutes later, I heard Super J say "Press the button, Bob! Press the button!!!!" Fish on. Bob leaned back, putting every ounce into the behemoth American red snapper he had hooked on the live squirrel fish hooked under the jaw.

Super J pulled up on the rod to keep it off the hull. When a mate on a sports boat says "Keep the rod up!" you know it ain't speckled trout you're handling. The ARS that came up was near thirty pounds.

American red snapper like this were the first stop. Captain Travis and his mate that day were able to use what they called "Old Numbers" from their commercial experience that put us on fish most of us only dream of catching. Bob's "Bucket List" had begun.

The action never stopped. I had joked the night before, in the middle of me and Matthew giggling like kids on the chance of going out with Travis the next day that using "Electro-Reels" was something neither of us had a lot of need to learn about. So when we got there, I chose a Shimano offshore rig worth about $1,200 (the Shimano reel had two "torque" levels; one 1:1 and one 1:6) with a butterfly jig. One drop? One fish. Another red snapper weighing more than both of my dogs tied together.

Nothing makes catching fish like the American red that Matthew is holding in the image on the right easy; but if anybody's qualified to help, it's Super J, whose constant smile, knowledge, helpfulness and passion for this sport (combined with his commercial experience and involvement) add to Captain Travis' clients' experiences on Live Wire. It took him 30 seconds to decide to get in the water to save a 60lb black grouper that was the biggest grouper (by far) that Bob ever caught. Talk about bucket list?

From red snapper we went to black grouper, back to red snapper again, and to a mix of scamp (if you've never eaten scamp, believe me when I say that if Super J considers them the best eating fish of what he gets to eat, he has good reason for saying it), almaco jack and a few shark that you would not wanna be in the water with while acting like a seal (or a jagged half-grouper, but that's another story, like I said). An almaco jack made me put that jig away, finally, and when I did go to Travis' incredible electric equipment I took one of each species.

Travis loves what he does as much as the people he does it for; you can see it in his smile.

The laughter, the fish, the adventure, the people, the ambiance, it all equalled a day like few I've ever experienced. I fish a lot. A real lot. Spending time "researching" the content we put here helps -- I hope -- make the stories we pick a little better because of our personal experience. But this experience was something else.

The dolphin behind Bob (who was, believe it or not, smiling all day) only rounded out a day to remember. It took more than an hour to help Super J clean the fish (he only let me skin them after teaching me a few new tricks). This unbelievable pile of fresh grouper, snapper, scamp, and almaco jack were only a small part of the dream trip we experienced with Travis and Super J.

Days like we had on the Live Wire are something that Super J and Captain Travis experience all the time. But having Bob there, and being a part of a very special day for a very special old guy -- made the fish only a tiny part of what was happening. A tiny part, except for when Super J was yelling "Press the BUTTON!!!".

The super-mate Super J points at a massive black grouper rising from the depths below. Trust me when I say that electric reels only help so much. You really can't press the button for the pain :)

So did the Bucket List get fulfilled? We all figured it did. Bob's smile grew, although he told me on the way out that the weather, the group that was on the boat, and his experience already was worth the money (we had just crossed the Middle Grounds on our way to Travis' numbers. The Grounds are a fishery normally reached on an overnight trip where you leave at 4pm, eat, sleep, and start fishing when the boat finally gets there at 6am the next day. You go back to sleep and get home the third morning.).

But the smile tells the story. As did -- and does -- the warmth Bob brought to us all that day. Travis is on my bucket list, too. And I get to fish with the guy.

Read Part Two of this article!

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