Florida Keys captain grants Georgia boy’s wish to catch big fish

Cole Blakey from Leesburg, Ga., and A First Choice Charters mate Kieran Ferrer hold a black grouper Cole caught April 23.
Cole Blakey from Leesburg, Ga., and A First Choice Charters mate Kieran Ferrer hold a black grouper Cole caught April 23.

Catching a 35-plus-pound black grouper would be a thrill for just about anybody, especially those living in parts of the world absent such awesome sea life. But when Cole Blakey landed his last weekend aboard the First Choice Charters boat off Islamorada, it was a dream come true.

“Catching the black grouper was awesome. I've never caught anything nearly that big before,” Cole said. “I knew it weighed a lot because of the way it pulled my line. I was very excited when I got it close enough that I could see it in the water. It was huge.”

Cole, a 13-year-old boy from Leesburg, Ga., has a rare heart condition called tricuspid atresia, in which the tricuspid heart valve is missing or abnormally developed.

He’s been through a lot, including multiple surgeries for the condition, as well as having to contend with other potentially life-threatening ailments, but he doesn’t let that stop him from doing what he enjoys. Cole likes what other kids like. According to the Kids Wish Network, Cole enjoys watching James Bond movies and playing video games. He enjoys University of Georgia Bulldogs football and particularly likes watching mascot Uga hype up the crowd.

But his favorite hobby is fishing, and his wish was to go “deep-sea fishing and see what mysterious fish are out there just waiting for him to catch.,” according to the Kids Wish Network, who arranged Cole’s trip.

Larry Wren, captain of the First Choice, said he didn’t think twice when he heard Cole’s wish.

“Kat, the marina manager, asked me to do the trip,” Wren said. “The request was to catch a big fish.”

The First Choice is docked at the Post Card Inn Beach Resort and Marina at mile marker 84 in Islamorada.

Before hooking the fish, Wren reports Cole “reeled in snapper after snapper until mate Kerrin Ferrer dropped the grouper bait.” Wren remains impressed with Cole’s determination to land the fish.

“The rod bent over to the water and Cole began to reel with all his strength,” Wren said. “The fish came up slowly and anticipation grew. We saw Cole strain, but he kept reeling. As the fish surfaced, Cole had the largest smile as he watched the large black grouper being brought to the boat.”

The fish was released back to the water because grouper season does not begin until May 1.

“There’s something about landing a large grouper that special, as the grouper wins so much of the time,” Wren said.

Cole’s diagnosis came one week after he was born. He’s since endured two surgeries to rearrange his heart valves, but his health troubles didn’t end there. In second grade, he was sick with what his parents thought was a virus he picked up in school. But several tests later, including an MRI, showed he had an abscess on his brain, which required surgery.

Years later, Cole began coughing up blood. His body was producing extra blood vessels in his lungs that were bursting. Doctors put him in a 10-day medically-induced coma a month after they operated on his lungs. Doctors had to perform the surgery more than once.

Since then, Cole has shown signs of improvement, but his medical history requires close monitoring.

For more information, go to www.kidswishnetwork.org.