Published Thursday, June 26, 2008 reel-conch-with-fish

A kid growing up on the island of Key West might not learn to swim until he is a teenager, but you can be damn well sure he’ll be fishing as soon as he can walk and hold the rod and reel.

Randy Sterling Sr., a pitcher for the New York Mets from 1969-1975, and now director of parks and recreation for the City of Key West, is a sixth-generation Conch and along with his son, Capt. Randy Jr., and childhood friend, Shane Curry, a third-generation Conch, they have been fishing most of their lives.

And to be politically correct in today’s sports world, the crew of the 33-foot Reel Conch has corralled Erica Hughes Sterling so they can participate in the Conch Republic Ladies Dolphin Tournament, where, in 2004, Erica garnered first place for the largest dolphin and in 2005, she placed second in the tournament. The Reel Conch crew will be entered in the July 4th tournament this year, too.

“I’ve fished most of my life and I’ve always been competitive,” Randy Sterling Sr. said over coffee in Key West. “My six years on the Mets were the most competitive. Each year professional sports become more competitive, but the past six years being a team with my son, Shane and Erica, in fishing tournaments, competition has taken on a whole new meaning.” “This year, as a team, we are going to participate in seven to 10 tournaments,” Randy Jr said.

While they have won a few tournaments and finished in the money positions in others, the cost of fuel is threatening many of the competitive teams, they said.

“The Reel Conch has two Yamaha 250 engines,” Randy Sr said. “We burn between 100 – 130 gallons of fuel each day. You do the math, it can be more than $500 in fuel to compete.”

The Reel Dolphin won the Key West Gator Club Dolphin Derby in 2005.

“That derby averages 75 – 80 boats, usually,” Randy Jr said. “With fuel prices rising, I wouldn’t be surprised to see entries drop.”

Randy Sr has been popular in Key West since his high school baseball days; that and his fishing abilities have helped the Reel Conch receive sponsorship from the Hog’s Breath Saloon, Fury Water Adventures, and the DoubleTree Grand Key Resort.

“Randy has been a sports icon, a role model, and youth sports advocate in Key West for as long as I can remember,” said Charlie Bauer, general manager of the Hog’s Breath Saloon. “Anytime we needed help getting fields for any team no matter what sport, he was there for us. It’s also easy to support his fishing team because he is a hell of a fisherman!”

Owner of the Fury Water Adventures, and a Conch himself, Scott Saunders’ memories of Randy Sterling go back to when Scott played baseball for Clayton Sterling, Randy’s dad.

“Playing for him you either played to your best ability or you sat on the bench,” Saunders recalled when asked why his business was a sponsor of the Reel Conch.

“I also went to see Randy pitch a game in New York,” he said. “Richie Garcia, another conch who ended up umpiring in the majors for years, was behind the plate as the umpire that night, and there I was, 10-years old, in the stands watching the game! I’ll never forget that! He pitched an incredible game!”

Saunders said that what it takes to sponsor the Reel Conch is little compared to the memories Randy Sr. gave him as a kid.

“And I agree with Charlie, all four of the team are champion anglers,” Saunders said.

“How important is the sponsorship to us,” Randy Sr. said, as breakfast arrived. “Well, we’d probably have to drop out of half the tournaments, if we didn’t have the sponsorships.”

“Yeah, dad,” Randy Jr. laughed. “Unless we won the first few and put the prize money toward the others.”