Capt. Bobby Walker puts angler on record setting amberjack
By Fran Thompson
It’s no real surprise that it was Orange Beach native Bobby Walker’s charter boat that carried what turned out to be a state record setting amberjack back to Zeke’s Marina earlier this month.
With 55 years experience fishing local waters, Walker is, at the very least, part of any conversation about who is the best salt water fisherman in the state.
What is remarkable is that the record stood for 38 years, longer than the record setting angler, Brian Andrews, fishing with a group of hardware business pals, has been alive. Andrews’ 132-pound, 12.8-ounce fish topped the previous record for jack by a whopping five pounds.
This is the third 100 plus lb. amberjack that Walker has put onboard the Summer Breeze II. Both of the other jacks weighed 109 lbs. and were caught about 10 years ago on the same day and spot.
“I’ve caught plenty of big amberjacks during my day, but that was crazy,” Walker said.
Marcus Kennedy of Mobile held the state amberjack record for almost four decades for a fish he caught on June 19, 1981. Andrews, a Citronelle resident, broke that record on August 23.
Even though he had a scholarship offer to play football at Livingston University in hand, upon graduating from Foley High School in 1969, Bobby decided to follow a family tradition that dates back to the beginning of the charter fishing industry in Orange Beach.
One of Bobby’s forbearers, Lemuel Walker Sr., settled on Pleasure Island around 1865.
When his son Lemuel Jr. moved here to take care of his aging father in the 1890s, the Walker family’s lineage began to flourish. The Walkers were also instrumental in the delivery of mail in the area.
The Walker and Callaway families, specifically Bobby’s grandfather, Rufus Walker, Sr., his Uncle Roland and Emel Callaway, were pioneers of the charter boat fishing industry on the Alabama Coast.
In the late 1950’s, Bobby’s father, Captain Bob Walker, was active in getting the first Alabama artificial reef program approved. Alabama now has the largest artificial reef zone on the Gulf Coast.
“As a child, I was fortunate to see the first barge of artificial reef materials as it was deployed off the coast of Alabama,’’ Bobby said.
Before he was even old enough to vote, Bobby was leading charters from the helm of The Thelma Ann, a six passenger boat he eventually inherited from his father. This was way before Loran, back when captains used compasses and shore points to navigate.
“Eventually GPS came along and now everybody’s a fisherman,’’ Bobby said.
In 1983, Bobby built the Summer Breeze, one of the first multi-passenger boats to offer overnight off-shore fishing in Orange Beach. Ten years later, he built his current boat, The Summer Breeze II.
Robby, Walker, one of Bobby’s three children (He has six grandchildren.) is also a charter captain.
And his grandson, Chandler, has been getting sea time deckhanding with his dad all summer. Robby expects that his son will be the fifth generation of his family to earn his charter captains’ license this winter.
“Chandler has a lot of choices, and he also loves his surfing and skateboarding,’’ Robby said. “But except for owning a gym on the beach, this is all I ever wanted to do. It’s always been my passion.’’
When Andrews set his hook, he wasn’t even sure there was an amberjack on the other end of the line. He had caught a 70-pounder earlier in his fishing career, and Bobby’s spot has long been productive for the species. But this fish was different.
“I was trying to be positive, but several people were telling me it was a shark,” Andrews told David Rainer. “He was pulling like a shark, but you never know. He made at least three big runs. It took at least 30 minutes to get him in. When he makes a run, all you can do is hold the rod and watch him go. When he starts peeling drag, you just hold on. When he stops peeling drag, you have to start taking some of the line back.”
Bobby was also worried that Andrews was wrestling one of the big bull sharks that were hanging out in the same vicinity.
“We had already caught two or three good jacks off that hole and broke off a couple. I was just hoping we weren’t wasting time reeling up a big shark,’’ he said.
When Andrews finally reeled the big fish to the surface, deckhand Paul Resmondo set the gaff and led the team trying to get the jack onboard. It measured 65 inches from the tip of its snout to the fork of its tail and sported a 40-inch girth.
“When that fish hit the deck, his mouth flopped open, and he looked like he could swallow a basketball,” Bobby said. “His head was huge. I told them I’d lay money that the fish was at least 100 lbs. I didn’t think any more about it.”
Back at Zeke’s Marina, Walker was filing paperwork when he heard a commotion that got his attention.
“People were hollering and raising Cain and I wondered what was going on,” he said. “They had hauled the fish up on the scales. When I saw it, I said, ‘Whoa.’ Tom Ard (captain of Fairwater II Charters) looked at me and said, ‘Bobby, you’ve got a state record.’”
Obviously, when you spend 50 plus years putting customers on top of fish in the Gulf, you are going to bring plenty of lunkers back to the dock.
Walker said amberjack are usually around some kind of structure – wrecks, petroleum rigs or big rocks on natural bottom – and can be anywhere from 50 feet to 300 feet down. He said it’s easy to distinguish between the different snappers and the amberjack. He marks AJs on his bottom machine and tells his anglers how far to drop.
Although a lot of anglers will use big jigs for amberjack, Bobby prefers live bait. “Hardtails (blue runners) are probably the best bait,” he said. “Jigs used to work great, but AJs are just not as plentiful and are harder to catch. We just like to drop a big, live bait down and see what’s down there.
“The secret to catching a big AJ is having the right tackle. You’ve got to go pretty heavy. You can’t catch one like that on light tackle. First, you’ve got to get him away from the wreck or the rocks. You’ve got to have some pretty strong tackle to do that. If you can get him away from the structure, you’ve got a good chance of catching him.”
Walker said amberjack fishing has been a little slow so far, but he knows fishing success is cyclical.
“One year it’s great, and the next year you’re wondering where the AJs went,” he said. “This has started out like one of those years that’s down a little.”
Walker said the demand to catch amberjack doesn’t compare with red snapper. He fished 55 of the 62-day charter boat snapper season.
“People like to catch amberjacks, but it’s nothing like the bookings we get for snapper,” he said. “I’ve got some more 12-hour trips coming up. I’m probably going back to that amberjack hole. I want to see if lightning strikes twice in the same spot.”
Pictured: Brian Andrews and Capt. Bobby Walker celebrate after the AJ was weighed on the certified scales at Zeke’s Marina; Capt.Bobby at the helm.
Editor’s Note: David Rainer from The State of Alabama contributed much to this story