MARATHON, Florida Keys - For a group of New York buddies, a late January Florida Keys fishing trip will be remembered for the celebration of a victory over cancer, the bonds of friendship and an 82.7-pound wahoo catch.
For eight years, Long Island natives Timi Lober, his father Greg Lober Sr. and Pat Holbrook, with Manhattanite Matt Dalton, have culled both bait and Keys fishing tips from Captain Hook's Marina & Dive Center in Marathon.
"We started coming to the Keys because of my dad," Timi Lober said. "Years ago, he dreamed of catching a sailfish, and that's what we did. We catch more fish here than anywhere, and come back every January."
Recently another Long Island buddy, Frank Cowden, joined the entourage in the Keys for the first time.
They weren't expecting big fish - just some fun enjoying each other's company and a day on the water, using a boat that came with their Marathon vacation rental. No one could predict that the group would land the big wahoo, or that it would be in less than 60 feet of water.
As the afternoon waned, with satisfactory catches of yellowtail snapper and the occasional barracuda, the group made a final trolling pass when Timi Lober's Shimano reel started singing.
"I thought whatever was on there was going to spool us," Timi Lober said. "Within seconds there was nearly no line on the reel."
Timi Lober and Cowden took turns at the reel as the others kept the line out of the motor before successfully boating the fish.
"Thank God, we found a gaff on the boat," said Lober.
As happy as they were to land the wahoo, the catch was even more meaningful because Cowden nearly didn't make the Keys trip at all. In early 2010, Cowden was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor behind his eye and given six months to live. However, aggressive chemotherapy triumphed over the disease.
"I wanted 'Uncle Frank' to reel in those last feet of line," said Timi Lober.