I got a call from a friend of my good buddy CL up in North Carolina. Carlton, his dad Carl, and his sister Sarah, wanted to come down and give our fishing a go. Our buddy CL told them to hook up with Devon and I on The BEAST. We were scheduled for this past Saturday. The weatherman called for winds and rain. They flew in from NC just for the weekend and were leaving early Monday afternoon. They came just to fish with us so we met at the dock on Saturday morning at 7 AM anyway. It wasn’t raining, it was pouring with thunder cells, lightning everywhere, and the winds were cranking at about 25 knots out of the East. This was not pretty and we never even loaded the boat. The rain and wind we can deal with but I don’t play around with lightning. Sunday was supposed to be less rain (no lightning), but stronger winds out of the SW. I was available on Sunday and the 3 of them were avid offshore fisherman so we decided to give it a try in the morning.
We met at the dock at 7 AM again on Sunday. The sky was clear and the winds were light out of the SSW. As we entered the Bay the winds began blowing a bit more and as we got out to the offshore bait patches, the wind was up to 20+ knots. By the time we caught our bait for the day the winds were blowing 25-30 knots and the reefs had 3-4’ water. We made the short run out to the edge. The seas were coming in from the SSE and the wind was howling now at 30+ knots out of the SW. Water was standing about 3-5’ and kind of sloppy but it was fishable on The BEAST. Devon set out our standard 4 top / 1 down spread.
We were on standby as we waited for our first scaly customer to bite. Quick rain showers passed to our south and the down draft coming out of the passing rain was gusting 35 knots or better. 15 minutes passed by and BOOM… the down rod starts singing. Sarah grabbed the rod and was into a good battle. She fought the mystery fish for 15 minutes and then the hook pulled. Hey, it happens! We reset the down rod and within 15 minutes it was in play once again. This time Carl grabbed the rod and fought the fish to submission. In the area we were fishing this should‘ve been a Kingfish but it turned out to be a Caribbean Spotted Mackerel (Barracuda)! Devon reset our lines and we plugged away at it a bit more until the seas fell more inline with the winds. I couldn’t work this exposed area as I like to, so I told Devon to pull lines and we headed north to another area. I was hoping we could get a little windbreak from the keys and make working that area a bit easier.
The ride north was by no means a dry one. Any water kicked up above the gunwale was pushed onto us by the wind. We arrived in the area to find green water and the seas weren’t even remotely smaller. As it turned out, there wasn’t much windbreak there either. We put the spread out again and gave it a try. Shortly after setting the lines, we got the nod on the down rod again. Carlton got after it and brought the fish to boat side. DANG! Another Toothy Torpedo, a.k.a Barracuda. There was a blue water line forming out deeper so I sidled out to get into it hoping to see some Dolphin (Mahi). I made it out to around 250’ but nothing was happening except building seas solidly in the 5-6’ range. Enough already! Devon pulled the lines and I pointed The BEAST northward again.
As we covered half the distance we began to get some slack in the seas. As we arrived at the next area, the wind was still blowin’ hard but it had shifted due West. We got the break I was looking for with the water at a comfortable 2-4 feet. We put out new baits, yet again. Finally! I was able to work this area over with considerably more control of the spread lines. The crew was in the pit with Devon and I whirled around by the sound of a popping rigger clip. (Yeah… I can’t hear my wife talking to me, but I can hear a rigger clip pop off in 30+ knot winds. Selective hearing I guess.) FISH ON!!!! The crew scrambled as I came tight on the hook and handed Sarah the rod. “Good one!” I yelled to her. In seconds a beautiful Sailfish heads skyward. This is her first Sailfish, Carl tells me. The fish made 4-5 jumps and flips while taking off half a spool of line. I turned the bow and slowly allowed Sarah to gain her line back. This fish never sounded to fight her down and dirty. It was an acrobat! The Sail made another 10-12 jumps through the course of the 20-minute battle on the 20# spinning rod. Devon reached out and grabbed the leader to make her first Sailfish catch legal but the fish wasn’t done yet. It made me maneuver the boat for another 5 minutes while it did 3-4 more jumps before Devon could grab the leader and ultimately bill this fish. Devon hoisted the fish for a quick picture before he released it. We watched this beautiful fish swim away! As the self-appointed head judge of the BEAST acrobatic committee, I gave him a 9.85 overall on technique and routine.
As the high fives/congratulations were given all around the boat, Devon was busy setting out the spread once again. I worked the area over, shallower, deeper, North and South. Devon dropped the down rod to just off the bottom. On one pass into the shallower depths the down rod goes off. Carlton gets this go round and we began contemplating what it was. He is working against a strong, steady pull with some good tail beats. About 5 minutes pass and Devon sees color, dark color. NICE! Devon reaches over the side and brings aboard a beautiful 18# Black Grouper. Oh Snap! Devon and I look at each in a pregnant pause. Without any words to each other, we knew we had to tell the crew that grouper season doesn’t re-open for another 8 days. We took some pictures and Devon vented this beauty to send her down from where she came. Instead of smiles and high fives on this one, the frowns were rampant. Even though the devil was screaming “KEEP IT!“ in our ears, we obey all fishery laws on The BEAST. I must admit… Releasing that one really hurt! It was the test of all tests!
We set out the baits again as the day was drawing to a close. Nothing else doing even when we dumped a lot of the live baits for chum. We worked hard in these crappy conditions and still managed to hook up 5 fish and catch 4. We all decided to call it a day. With everything stowed away and all gear secured, I pointed the nose of The BEAST into the howling winds and headed west to the barn. We had only seen 2 other boats out there. One was making way back in as we were headed out and the other came out, turned around, and went right back in. The ride home was uneventful, soft and dry. I heard several comments about being glad they were out there in a big WorldCat. I was too! It was unanimous that at no time during the day, did anyone feel that they weren’t safe and secure. The BEAST looked Mother Nature dead in the eye and kicked her azz… The BEAST - 4 / Mother Nature - 0.