Fish America: Fishing With the Big Man


Clarence Clemons doesn't at all fit the expectations you might have of a rock star. This guy is as down-to-earth of a fisherman as you'll meet. His passion for the sport is evident the way he talks about striper fishing in New Jersey. You had to remind yourself, when discussing northern New Jersey surf fishing with him, that this guy plays saxophone in one of the most successful and legendary rock and roll bands in the history of music.

This past week in Islamorada I got the chance to fish with E-Street Band saxophone player Clarence Clemons. I've been accused of E-Street band fanaticism, so fishing with Clarence "Big Man" Clemons was not something I took lightly. The big man is as good at fishing as he is playing the saxophone, and the opportunity was a privilege I won't soon forget.
The trip included Clarence's brother Billy, here considering taking a bite out of a blue runner before changing his mind and throwing it back. Billy is an ex-marine and music teacher, and although he doesn't have Clarence's fishing background, he hit the water running in his first visit to the Keys.
We were aboard the Island, and the goal for the day was to find some yellowtail snapper and bring home dinner.
Kris Bacen, one of Islamorada's better bonefishing guides, was along for the trip.
The captain was Chris Miller, a staple of the Islamorada fishing community, who knows every inch of the flats and reefs around this island from the decades that he's spent fishing here. Chris has been fishing with Clarence for five years.
The first object was to get ourselves some bait for the day, so we peppered the water with some chum, hoping to attract some ballyhoo.
Before long, with a cast net we'd filled the livewell with ballyhoo, a good bait for larger yellowtail.
Clarence and Chris both agree that combined, they have terrible fishing-weather luck. They told me going in that something always went wrong, and this trip was no exception. Heavy rains found us early in the day and limited visibility resulted. Severe lightning wasn't far behind.
When the storm got close enough, we waited it out in the cabin. We swore we could hear the outriggers humming as the electric storm hovered over. There were some tense moments where everyone avoided the metal on the boat.
But the weather wouldn't last, and before long we were back into fish. Drifting back a shrimp body threaded on a hook, into the chum slick, generated hookups like this one. Kris Bacen battles a yellowtail on light tackle.
Clarence held his own, putting some fish in the box and soaking up the Keys sun when it made it through the clouds.
Billy Clemons put a few yellowtails in the box as well. For someone relatively new to the sport, he put on an impressive show.
The weather wasn't the only abnormal aspect of the day. There were a few unusual occurrences. This houndfish was one of three caught on the day. Hook-ups weren't just happening in the water though.
This sea gull nabbed a piece of shrimp and managed to hook itself. It might be less than comfortable here, as Chris attempts to get the hook out of it's beak, but it flew away healthy after a successful removal.
And of course, we did find some of the target species. We filled the cooler with enough yellowtail snapper, like this one, to make a meal even fit for the Big Man.
Even ducking in and out of the weather, we spent enough time on the water to bring home a healthy meal's worth of yellowtail snapper. Here, Chris Miller goes to work turning fish into fillets.
I've seen the E-Street Band in concert more times than I care to admit to, and their music has meant a lot to me. To get a chance to fish with a guy who was on the cover of Born To Run, and who played the saxophone on so many of Rock's greatest songs was one of those days on the water that's hard to describe and impossible to forget. It's also good to know that even some rock stars are passionate fishermen.