A Pink Flamingo for Thanksgiving - A True Fishing Story by Chuck Handy



Photo L-R: Ross “Flash” Clark - Chuck Handy – Capt. Ron Hamlin


A lot of strange and wonderful things happen out there on the ocean and this is a true story about an event that occurred when I was working for Captain Ron Hamlin back in the early to mid 1980's...



Let me set the background for this story: 

Ron Hamlin has always been and still is considered one of the top billfishing captains in the world. He has caught over 25,000 billfish in his career and is still setting records to this day in his homeport in Guatemala. Currently he is best known for his work in the conservation of the resource and in developing release methods to let the fish go with as little damage to the fish as possible. (If you are not already familiar with Ronnie's accomplishments I encourage you to do a Google search.) At the time of this story we were fishing out of La Guaira, Venezuela along with another 10-12 American sportfishing rigs that had made the 400 mile trip down from the Virgin Islands for the spectacular autumn fishing on and around the La Guaira Bank. White Marlin and Sailfish were plentiful with individual boats in the fleet catching 15-30 a day. Blue Marlin would also show up in the mix and we would fish for Swordfish at night.



At this time Ron was still in what I call his “Big Fish” phase. While the other boats were racking up the numbers on the bank Ron was more interested in quality over quantity. As far as he was concerned the other boats acted like a bunch of Pelicans going round and round over the bank and picking off the small fish. He had already caught one 1,000 pounder Blue Marlin in this area and he wanted another. We would fish well off the bank using big 130 lb. tackle and Blue Marlin lures whereas the rest of the fleet would go round and round the bank with light tackle and ballyhoo baits. We did succeed in catching the biggest Blue Marlin of the year that season but this story is not about that but about something much more spectacular... catching (and releasing alive and well ) a Pink Flamingo. I s…t you not...



The charter guest that we had on board, a single guy, was also more interested in big fish than small so we wandered away from the bank and the fleet in hopes of finding the Yellowfin Tuna schools which the big Blue Marlin liked to eat off of. It was one of those calm days offshore when it was just nice to be out there. We could have been 40 or 50 miles offshore as I recall being out of sight of the South American mainland. We were having a few strikes on the big lures, a couple of Sailfish, maybe a White Marlin, but nothing especially outstanding. Ronnie decided to go up to the top of the Tuna Tower for a look around leaving me and the First Mate, Ross “Flash” Clark, in the cockpit and our charter relaxing in the air conditioned main salon.



Ronnie shouted down from the top of the tower “Here it comes on the right rigger!” (At this point let me just say that the view from the tower is a much more encompassing view than the view from the deck and from that vantage point one has the ability to see deeply into the dark blue deep ocean waters.) Well the sound of his voice from up on the tower was like the voice of God from above. Flash and I leapt to our feet to get ready for the strike. Our charter guest bolted out from the salon. “Here it comes, here it comes!” Ronnie shouted again. In the cockpit the adrenaline was pumping. Then a huge splash occurred at the lure on the right outrigger. “It's a Pink Flamingo!” he shouted.



A Pink Flamingo had crashed the lure from above!!! It was not trying to eat the lure as Pink Flamingo's don't do that sort of thing. It was an exhausted bird that had been blown far offshore from its flock by a storm and it wanted to land on something to rest! The big Marlin lure was the only thing it saw on that expanse of empty ocean to land on! And this is just the beginning of the story.....



The bird was turned topsy-turvy in the water as it had been snagged by one of the large hooks. It was not severely injured but was definitely disoriented. Ronnie turned in a big circle and slowed down and Flash got out the dip net. The bird was just sitting on the surface like a large pink swan or something and eyeing us suspiciously. Ronnie stopped the boat alongside the bird and Flash scooped it up. “Wring its neck” the Captain yelled down.”Pink Flamingo's are excellent eating if you cook them breast side down so they stay moist.” Flash was being viciously attacked by the beak wielding bird and I reached for its neck. “Chuck, I was just joking! Belay that last order!” Ronnie yelled down with laughter. Flash looked at me with horror (he is a bird lover) and said “You would have done it, wouldn't you? You would have wrung its neck!” “Of course”, I replied, “It's nearly Thanksgiving, after all!”



The 4 foot tall Pink Flamingo took up quarters on our cockpit deck after being released from the dip net. We became accustomed to one another through the rest of the day. Flash and I would move to one side of the cockpit to do something and the big bird would move to the other side. We would cut up bait and crumble crackers and throw it on the teakwood cockpit sole for the bird and it would ignore our offerings of food. But Ronnie didn't ignore it... “If you guys so much as get one stain on that teak deck I will have you scrubbing the whole cockpit with a toothbrush” he yelled down from the fly bridge. He was joking again, I think.



If any of you have been around professional guides or fishermen you know that they remain in radio contact all day long bragging and telling lies to one another to pass the time of day. Captains will report their catches to one another because everyday is like a mini-tournament to them, each one hoping to out fish the other. Ronnie got on the radio and broadcast to the fleet that he had just put one in the boat. Now, if Ronnie said he put “one in the boat” the fleet was very interested indeed because everyone knew that we were fishing for Granders (to the uninitiated that means a fish over one thousand pounds). “No” he said, “It's not a Grander, it's a Pink Flamingo!” The radio went silent for several seconds then another Captain came on and said “Ronnie? Are you all right? You haven't been hitting the rum this early have you” “No. I'm sober and dead serious. We got a Pink Flamingo.” The other Captain's just laughed it off. That Ronnie is such a jokester!



The fact of the matter was that we did have the enormous bird in the boat!!!



All day long we were traveling at 9-10 knots, trolling speed for Blue Marlin using plastic lures. At this speed the deck of the cockpit remains relatively level. At the end of the day we picked up the baits to run home at about 25-30 knots at which speed the boat gets up on a plane and the deck becomes inclined at a pretty good angle with the bow high and the stern low. A big “rooster tail” forms in the boats wake about 10 feet behind the boat and is akin to a beautiful salt water fountain.



The bird had rested now for several hours and it was ready to part-company with us, thank you very much. With a look of determination on its face (it really did look determined) it backed up to the companionway doors. It shuffled its feet a couple of times and then ran downhill towards the transom and flapped its wings. Unfortunately it did not get much lift. It crashed into the back of the boat in a heap. It was not hurt. It gathered itself together and backed up again to the companionway this time more determined than ever to leave us. With a great flapping of wings and accelerating as much as it could in the ten feet of deck it tried again... It gained altitude... It looked as though it might make it... But, no... It's feet caught on the edge of the covering board and it tumbled out of the boat and into the swirling white water of the propellers only to to be thrown up and out of the top of the rooster tail with wings, legs and feathers flailing. The bird got itself together as Ron slowed the boat and circled back for it. This time when Flash dipped it up in the net it did not peck at him at all. It seemed thankful to be back on board.



We opened up the companionway sliding doors and let the bird inside the salon when we approached the marina and closed the doors again



The sportfishing rigs down there that year were a really nice collection of Merrit's, Rybovich's, Hatteras's and the like. Beautiful and very expensive glistening fishing machines with tall tuna towers and gorgeous brightwork. We were all lined up at the dock side by side and stern to. As Ronnie backed into our slip it seemed like all the Captain's, crews and charter guests from all the other boats were there to greet us. I'm sure that they thought that we had all gone crazy out there and more than likely needed psychological assistance. After all, who ever heard of a marlin fisherman catching a Pink Flamingo?



“Hey you guys... What about the Pink Flamingo?” someone shouted as we tied off the boat. Ronnie just smiled his famous smile as Flash casually slid open the companionway door and there, standing and facing the crowd, was the 4 foot tall and very Pink Flamingo looking out at them. Needless to say, everyone was blown away. We really had caught a Pink Flamingo. It was a new world record. No, the story doesn't end here...



We had a driver who picked us up each day to take us to and from the boat. During the day he would take Ronnie and Flash's wife shopping. His name was Omar and he was a very pleasant fellow. Leaving the boat after scrubbing it down Flash, the bird lover, covered the Flamingo with a big towel, tucked it under his arm, (they become pretty small once you fold their legs underneath them) and slid into the front passenger seat next to Omar. “How'd you guys do today?” he asked. “Pretty slow day, Omar, but we did catch a Pink Flamingo.” Omar laughed. “You guys are very funny” he said. At which point Flash lifted the towel off the bird's head and it extended its neck and pecked Omar on the shoulder. Then it was our turn to laugh as Omar shrieked.



Coming back to our rented villa after a hard day of fishing the women always had a nice dinner prepared for us. Flash had entered the back kitchen of the villa and left the bird in there without showing it to the girls. At the dinner table we were asked about the days fishing and Ronnie said that we had had a slow day but that we did catch a Pink Flamingo. Being used to our b.s. the girls just laughed it off and we continued on with dinner. Then Flash's wife walked back to the back kitchen to get something or other . When she opened the door, there looking at her almost face to face was the giant bird. She screamed. We laughed.



The next morning Ronnie was out in the yard very early with the hose making puddles in the lawn for the bird to stick its beak in. The bird seemed appreciative but didn't stay around for long. It flew away that morning and we hope it found its friends and family.



Happy Thanksgiving!