Seven hours, seven long drawn out hours it takes for me to make drive from Tampa to Destin. It’s an annual trip I make to chase the cobia migration. I’ve been doing it ever since I moved away over 20 years ago. When I was much younger I was obsessed with trying to win tournaments and catch records. I wanted to catch a fish so big my friends would tell me stories of it years later. I’d fish the waters from Panama City to Biloxi searching for fish. I would usually take a month off work and fish everyday on the boat if the weather permitted. If the seas were too big, I’d simply spend the day on the pier with the rest of the pier-a-sites. We’d stand long hours on the big rock dock tirelessly scanning the water in hopes of getting a shot at a passing fish. It was there I honed my skills of pinpoint accuracy casting a 3oz jig. The anglers with poor eyes, bad accuracy, or lame jig working ability, usually went home empty handed. The saying, a poor fisherman soon becomes a vegetarian, may have originated by someone fishing on a pier. Although it seems like cut throat fishing, I’ve always enjoyed it. It was easy on the body and I got to spend time with my friends, however nothing was better than hopping on a boat and searching the fish out.
Over the many years the tackle and baits have changed. I grew up fishing with custom built Fenwick 968 or KC 696 rods. Reels were typically the old Mitchell 302s or the Penn 706Z. Line was mono, usually 25 or 30lb test. Baits were some type of fin fish (pinfish, mullet, croaker etc) or a crab. Fast forward to the present and you’ll still see all the old tackle and baits still being used. However now, Van Staals and Zeebaas reels loaded with braid seem to more prevalent. Eels get imported to all the local marinas and tackle stores. They have made many a stubborn fish suddenly develop and appetite that lead to their demise. I like to think of them as cobia crack. Seems legit since each eel goes for about $5.
Now that I’ve gotten older and see more gray in my hair I’ve come to realize what I truly love about the sport. I love the anticipation of what each day brings on the water. I enjoy the time spent with my friends telling stories of our past, sharing our lives. I don’t think I ever get tired of Capt Bill telling me tales of the old south, similar to painting a mental picture that would rival characters in a Fannie Flag novel. Tales of people getting tied to fighting chairs and abandoned, or women who washed away their inhibitions with alcohol. Smuggling stowaways from Cuba or sinking sailboats in the Panama Canal. I love watching someone new to the sport catch their first cobia or even better yet their biggest ever. I love that even after all the fresh fish dinners and faded sunburns I still get to keep the memories of a great time spent with the ones I care about. It is for those reasons I continue to return home each year.
I love this time of year, the days are cool, the bait is plentiful, and the fish feed like pigs. Sometimes I feel like it’s more like catching than actually fishing, and don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. Earlier in the week I checked the weather and decided to make a run offshore on Saturday, the day of the full moon. Almost everyone you talk to in regards to full moon fishing offshore will tell you the bite is better at night and slow during the day. I’ve always disagreed with that theory. I think it doesn’t matter if it is day or night, the full moon brings strong currents and THAT is what triggers the bite. Maybe I’m wrong or maybe I want to believe I’m right, the thing I do know is that I hate sleeping on the boat and my bed so much more comfortable. I guess in my older age I’d better get it done during the daytime or it isn’t going to get done.
It has been over two months since I’ve seen the boat. When I laid my eyes on her yesterday she didn’t look anything like I remembered. She was dirty and covered in bird crap, however she was still a sight for sore eyes. We loaded all the gear and ice, and headed out to about 100 foot depth. We attempted to slow troll some runners on the first spot, but all we could manage were big amberjacks. Although fun on 20lb spinning gear, it wasn’t exactly the kind of thing I wanted to do all day. I watched the crew sweat it out cranking on those reef donkeys and I didn’t want any part of it. Consider me none and done, I learned from their mistakes.
After getting a little quick morning workout in we decided to move a few miles and see if we could find a few grouper. Not to disappoint us they were home and hungry. We also stumbled across some very large and hungry mango snappers. Some of the biggest I’ve seen in years. They didn’t have any trouble eating palm sized pinfish and grunts on 80lb leaders with 10/0 hooks. The bite was solid and fast, not bad for a daytime full moon trip. I’ll leave those overnight trips for the hardcore guys.
Where are we staying,what are we doing, where are we eating? Common questions we faced on a daily basis. For most people who prefer a rigid schedule of planned events, well this trip would not have been for you. We all packed light and were very flexible for whatever sounded fun. Looking back it’s hard to believe we were able to fit as much as we did into a week. A couple of days and nights touring and partying in Old San Juan, followed by a mountain top hike through the El Yunque rain forest. A short drive to Farjardo and a $2 ferry we found ourselves in Vieques. Being friendly to the locals while waiting for the ferry managed to get us a hookup on a taxi, hotel, biolumenscent bay trip, and the infamous scooters. Cruising the island we felt like members of the Hell’s Angels, but in reality we probably looked more like we belonged in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. After two days of exploring and searching out the baby tarpon we decided to head back to Puerto Rico and go zip-lining and tour the Bacardi factory. One last adventure was to go see Arecebo (world’s largest radio telescope).
For me the two best parts of the trip were the new moon trip to Bioluminescent bay. Watching the fish run away from the boat looked like shooting stars under the water. However it was too dark for photos and video, the images I’ll forever hold in my memory. The other was the the scooter rentals. A mere $40 and you kept the thing overnight. We raced, explored, crashed, toured, crashed some more. Even had the police pull us over but those secrets will remain on the island.
Here are a few photos from along the way. I’m sure Sam will complete his “part 2″ for a more detailed description of the trip.
Our plan was simple, go and catch fish…lots of fish. However, someone forgot to tell the fish we were coming and they either left town or ate before we were trying to serve them dinner. We were ready for just about any type of fishing. Deep dropping in 1,500 feet for queen snappers. Trolling the blue water for yellowfins, wahoo, and mahi. Fishing the reef for black groupers and yellowtails. Even sleep deprived middle of the night mutton fishing. It was game on and we were swinging for the fences….and sometimes you strike out.
I guess one of the good things about the target species not wanting to be cooperative was that it allowed me to take some photos of other fish I don’t normally catch on a regular basis. I thought I’d share some of the pics.
I’ll take “Things that not considered epic” Alex, for $100.
I got a call from a friend asking if I wanted to fly over to Bimini and fish a couple of days, then help take the boat back to Fort Lauderdale. The plan seemed simple, a little trolling for wahoo, some deep dropping for queen snappers, and maybe a little chumming for yellowtails. The only thing we couldn’t control was the weather. We knew a front was coming, and the trip may have to be cut short by a day or two, but I didn’t really care. Any reason to spend a little time on the other side of the gulf stream sounded good to me.
We arrived in Bimini about noonish on Friday and decided to drag some high-speed lures for an hour or so. No bites, the only thing that was being put in the boat was a little rain here and there. Without a reason to fight the elements we opted to head for the house and take a little lunch break and get ready for some afternoon yellowtailing. A few hours later we headed out of the channel and quickly noticed the wind had picked up and the seas were a little bigger. The guys on the boat were arguing about the size’ “They look 2-4″, “No, those are 3-5′s”, I just say they were, “hold on to the tower or rail or risk getting thrown out of the boat size”. Needless to say, when your yellowtail jig heads are skipping on the surface, the current is way too strong to fish for snappers. That would be the end of fishing for day 1.
Saturday morning didn’t look much better. The seas were still big and the forecast was calling for 9-11 foot seas in the stream. The wind was going to pick up and blow harder on Sunday and Monday. There would be no taking the boat back so we charted a plane to fly us out in the afternoon. As we sat on the couch looking out over the water we could see the front way off in the distance and the water was nothing but whitecaps. I suggested we go give it one last chance, heck we all had foul weather gear and the fish were already wet, what would they care. Besides, we had three hours before we were going to get on the plane. We grabbed four trolling rods and off we went. It didn’t take long before we had a double hook up. After a short fight we had wahoo in the boat and we headed for the house.
As I sit here and type this it almost feels like I never left my home, like it was all a dream. Maybe it’s due to the lack of sleep or the removal from the daily grind. Whatever it is, it puts a smile on my face. I was able to spend time with old friends and meet some new ones. Had some great food, good laughs, and shot a few photos along the way. That’s what makes life good!
With the 2011 gag grouper season coming to a close I kept checking the weather just hoping for a window of opportunity. Prevailing 15 knot winds and 3′ seas seemed to be the norm for every weekend the last couple of months. My hopes of getting out one last time were fading as fast as the weekend was passing. On Sunday morning I slept in late, rolled out of bed and poured a cup of coffee. Half awake I sipped on my coffee and browsed through the usual weather sites. Could this be right, was I still dreaming? There it was, a window of opportunity in the afternoon. It was a small window, but a window none the less, and I was taking it!
I made a couple of calls and assembled a crew. The plan was simple; meet at the marina around noon, go catch bait, run out and get a limit of gags, and be back home before dark. Sounds simple, but truthfully I was flying blind. I had not taken the boat out since mid September so I didn’t have a clue where the gags would be. I had a good idea where to find them but with the the short afternoon it didn’t lend much in the way for error.
After heading down the Anclote river we stopped near the island to catch bait. An hour later we had just enough bait to fish for a couple of hours. I pointed the boat west and ran to about 60′ and stopped on some hard bottom. Instantly the screen lit up like a Christmas tree, the oh so familiar site of gags suspended off the bottom got my heart racing. In about 30 minutes we had our ten gags on ice and proceeded to play catch and release until the rest of the bait was gone.
I pointed the boat towards home and realized that sometimes it isn’t about what you catch for dinner, sometimes its the things you catch that can’t be ingested. The cool breeze blowing through your shirt. The warm sun tanning your face. The unsolicited smile for a picture. The laughter with friends. The stories of the big one that got away. Those things will stay in your memory longer than any fish dinner will stay in your stomach. That is my type of soul food!
This past weekend I came across something interesting that caught my eye. It appears that Vern Tokarczyk, the founder of Xfishsuf, has been clever enough to create a paddle board geared towards fisherman. I was very impressed with the amount of thought he had put in making the paddle board functional and comfortable. I always liked the idea of being able to stand up while fishing the shallows but several hours of standing and balancing would be murder on the body, thus the incorporation of a seat was a brilliant idea. It also allows 360 degree fishability, unlike a kayak. He also designed a compartment forward of the seat that could be used for storage or even recessed for a cooler. For the fisherman with bad knees or shoulders, or just too lazy to paddle, they have the option to pick a model and have it outfitted with a trolling motor. I also like the way the paddle board sits low in the water, therefore making it easy to grab a rail and climb in without much fear of tipping the entire thing over.
The Xfish company is located in Sarasota so hopefully myself or Sammy can make a trip down there and get one wet and see how middle aged clumsy guys fare on them.
Last week I was able to get a couple of the new G-Loomis microfiber shirts to try out. These are a little different than any other microfiber currently on the market since they have a vented back to help keep you extra cool. They are very comfortable and come in any color you want, as long as you want black or white. I would guess that most fisherman would opt for the white shirts due to the black just being too hot to wear most of the year. No matter what color you decide on, they both look great. Now you can look stylish on the water or around town, without looking like you’re wearing a fishing shirt.
At first, I was worried about the white getting extremely dirty and the stains not coming out in the washing machine. However, after a long day of fishing offshore, and getting covered in blood, I let the shirt sit overnight and washed it the following day. After just one wash the shirt looked just like it did when I got it new. With that being said, look for these shirts to be hitting your local tackle stores soon, but don’t expect them to stay there too long.
I don’t know how it happened but somehow Mother Nature blessed me with a few nice weather days on my days off. Wanting to take full advantage of the situation, the plan was to drop some pinfish traps then make a run out to some deeper water the next day. I got a call from my friend, Capt. Jimmy Bennett, and he suggested we use his flats boat to deploy the traps then go target some snook and tarpon along the beach. Finding the snook was easy, almost too easy, however getting them to bite was the challenge. I have to say it’s a little frustrating seeing probably close to 100 snook and only a handful decide they wanted to chew. The tarpon were just as bad, lock jaw and running for their lives. Maybe they didn’t like the jet skis buzzing around them.
The next day we made a run out to some deeper water to play with the amberjacks, or my “pets” as I like to call them. They were much more cooperative and photogenic. No huge fish, just up to about 30lbs or so and I’m still kicking myself for forgetting to bring the fly rod. Using the live pinfish as chummers brought the jacks right to the boat and they stayed there for hours. The only thing that got them skittish was a big barracuda that decided to crash the party and get any easy meal.
For the past couple of months I had the opportunity to try out a pair of Vibram Five Finger shoes. At first glance, I thought they looked cool, however I wasn’t really sure what made them so much better than the typical boat shoe or flip-flop that many of us wear when on the water. After doing a little research, I discovered the idea behind the design. Quite simply they were supposed to be better for your feet, and reduce lower body injury, when performing physical activity.
With a little intrigue and curiosity, coupled with a slight dose of doubt, I decided try out the KSO model. The KSO (keeps stuff out) was designed for water activities in mind. It quickly has become a favorite for kayakers, fisherman, jet skiers, and surfers.
The first couple of times I wore the shoes it took a little getting used to. First thing I noticed was the lack of cushioning, but I guess that was why they are referred to as “barefoot” shoes. I soon grew to love the lack of cushioning since I could feel just about anything I was walking on but at the same time not exposing myself to the hazards of actually going barefoot; no worries of stepping on broken glass or scalding hot pavement. The KSO was designed with a non-marking water-siped sole to help grip on both wet and dry surfaces. They might just be the perfect shoe for wading or walking on a wet and slippery jetty. The shoes literally fit your feet like a glove and are extremely lightweight. They are quick to dry and easy to clean. In fact you can just pitch them in the washing machine at the end of the day and leave them out to dry.
My overall impression is that these shoes are simply awesome. Find a dealer near you and try on a pair, you won’t regret it.