Since becoming a regular starter in 2010, Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez has thrown around 200 innings each season while enduring the monotonous grind of a lengthy daily routine involving cold baths, runs, and endless throwing. It's no wonder he relishes the off-season, when he gets out of the therapeutic tub and onto the water. Gonzalez spends the winter months fishing off Haulover Beach Park, a spot he calls "the backdoor to Miami."
The 28-year-old lefty grew up nearby in Hialeah and stumbled into this love affair. He estimates that he was six when he and his brother strolled into a Kmart, became interested in a display of fishing rods and demanded the store's owner teach them how they work. They bought the sticks and got a lesson gratis.
"My brother and I were thinking, We're going to go to the canal; we might catch a whale," he recalls, chuckling at their ambitions. Equipped with fake worms and a spray intended to attract fish, the boys cast into the shallow water. "All of a sudden out of nowhere this largemouth bass just takes it: boom! And we're here screaming at the top of our lungs. We reel it in and it's this nice, big-size largemouth bass. It was probably like four pounds or something." And no, they didn't toss it back.
Ever since, Gonzalez, his brother, his father, and family friends have spent the winter trolling lazily off Haulover. "We enjoy the view, it's so beautiful. . . . . There’s a little beach area where you can swim." He remembers strapping on goggles and finding $6 on the ocean floor. "For me, that’s when it landed: This is the coolest place on Earth."
Though Gonzalez likes the rush of the line snagging and the mystery of what he may pull up, he does not take strategy too seriously. He’ll borrow a $1,500 rod from a friend if he's doing deep-sea fishing, but otherwise he fishes for snapper, yellowtail, and grunts using shrimp or squid as bait and an Ugly Stik, a brand of rod found at most sporting good stores for between $30 and $80.
When he comes up empty – not all that often – Gonzalez walks over to Flanigan's Seafood Bar & Grill. The fish there are more reliable, albeit deceased.
A 21-game winner back in 2012, Gonzalez is still vying for bigger accomplishments, like a World Series title and a Cy Young award, but he also has his sights set on a big prize out on the ocean.
"Something I've always dreamt of catching is one of those marlins," he says with palpable excitement. "I don't think I want to mount it on the wall or anything, but to me, I just want that catch and release, you know – good fight, put 'em back."
Considering the value of his left arm, he may want to wait until retirement to pick that fight.
More information: Haulover Beach Park sits off Collins Avenue south of Miami's city center and across an inlet from Oleta River State Park.