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Hammers First Trip back to the Tortugas Part 2 of 2


We call the other boat on the radio to see how they're doing. I mean, the fish are jumping in the boat. Mark asks his buddy "You guys crushing em too?" They respond with "we caught a couple of bonito". Now these guys are basically following us around like a lost puppy. How could they not be catching? We motor over to them to see what they're using and sure enough I could see by the angle of their lines that they're not even close to the bottom. I say "How could you not be catching fish, look at your depth finder right now". With that I grabbed a jig and dropped it over the side. I jigged it one time and the rod bent over. We were so close to the other boat that I turned the rod around backward and handed the rod to one of the guys and said "Here, reel it in". The guy takes the rod and I could quickly see why they weren't catching anything. Have you ever seen the Jerry Lewis Telethon and wonder what happens to the kids when they grow up? Well here was one of them. The fish ended up being a kingfish. After being missed with the gaff 3 times the captain finally makes a perfect shot in the middle of the meat of the fish but hey, it was in the boat. They handed me back my rod and we all decided to go back to the fort to set up camp.

We arrive at the fort and I notice that they've now installed some more docks for people to use. We've been asking for this for years and it's always fallen on deaf ears but sure enough, there they were. We unload the camping supplies. This consists of 4 carts full. Coolers, air beds, tents, cooking stuff, lanterns, you name it. Coleman's stock price was on the rise. These guys bring so much food it's ridiculous. Robert carved a couple of muttons and a scamp grouper that a barracuda decided to take half of. We got the grill going and started to set up the tents. The chance of it raining wasn't good but we put them up anyways. Mark had just purchased a tent that would rival the best of them. It had 3 rooms, literally. Ronnie, the jolly drunk monster had to have his own tent as he snored like a grizzly with a head cold. His tent was put up WAY away from ours. We all cleaned up and poured ourselves a beverage if you know what I mean. Ronnie had been celebrating the good fishing all day and he was nothing but smiles. Dinner consisted of rib eyes, sausage, baked potatoes and fried fish, enough fish for all the tourists on the island. It gets to the point where you say enough is enough. Needless to say, we didn't go to bed hungry.

The next morning we get up and Robert is already cooking breakfast. Now for those of you that have been fishing w me before breakfast consists of a box of donuts and a swig of orange juice. Oh no, not with Robert on the boat. Rachel Ray herself couldn't have outdone him. He made french toast. He even had coffee! I could get use to this. Sleeping beauty gets up and she's already got her pink foul weather boots on. I kid you not. Anyways, we all jump in the boat and off we go for day two.

We run to the south but this time we stop at a wreck that Mark's had real good luck at before. Hoafer and Loafer up in the bow with their meat rods fire down two live pinfish. Robert misses his first hit but Kevin doesn't. The broomstick is bent over and he's cranking for all he's worth. If you don't, they'll run you in the wreck. Unfortunately it was yet another rubber lip monster...aka amberjack. We kept a couple of these for smoking. We made our way out to the ledge and proceeded to put a hurting on them again. Robert catches a nice black about 25 lbs which ended up being the largest grouper of the trip.

Ronnie was acting like Howard Cosell challenging the front of the boat vs. the back of the boat. It was actually pretty comical because we'd all rag on each other if we missed a fish. About 11:00 we see an F-14 fighter jet out to the North of us. We watch it screaming across the sky, then we see him dip down low and head right at us probably 100' off the water. This thing comes by us at some ungodly speed. There was no way we had time to grab a camera but it would have been a great shot. Then we notice the guy banks up and starts to turn....he's coming back for another pass. Markell gets her video out and the guy comes screaming by us in a full left turn showing us the top of his jet. He then pulls back and shoots straight up hitting the afterburners. I don't care who you are, you would be impressed. This guy probably just spent 50k in jet fuel to give us a show and we were jumping around like Mexicans that just hit the US border. I've never had a jet do that down there in 20 years. If the pilot of that plane ever reads this, thanks for the memories.

We get back to fishing and once again the red snappers were a pain. We had to keep moving because they so plentiful that we couldn't even get away from them. We did catch some real big yellow eyed snappers but compared to the muttons we were catching they didn't compare.

It's like eating a Fuddruckers hamburger and trying to compare it to filet mignon. We're catching fish on every drift. Scamp grouper, Red grouper, but mainly muttons.
We're catching them on everything from pinfish to bonito strips to jigs. All of a sudden a school of 12 to 15 lb dolphin comes up to the boat. As expected a Chinese fire drill breaks out and we have all rods bent over with fish jumping over each other. This is extremely frustrating and everyones yelling "Go over, Go under, around this, around that" and some words that I can't write. Needless to say we caught 3 of the 5 fish we hooked adding to our smorgasbord.

I drop down and hook a nice fish and say "Here Markell", at this point she trusts me as far as she can throw me and she says "No way, you've got another amberjack"...now would I lie? Either way she wasn't about to touch the rod as she was sore from the other 6 AJ's she'd already caught. Shortly thereafter a 17 lb mutton hits the surface.

Since we already had our campsite set up we fished right till the edge of dark. As we neared the fort we could see a helicopter landing. Come to find out that someone on one of the dive boats got bent and they had to fly him back to Key West. When we arrived it was dark and we were greeted by two lady rangers that were as pleasant as a hemorrhoid. They read us the riot act that we were only allowed to be at the dock for two hours blah blah blah. I think to be a ranger down there they take the people that have no personality, no happiness and no life and send them to the ranger academy. I actually wanted them to check our catch but they were too busy making sure we paid our camping fee. The one told us that she'd be there at 7:00 am sharp in the morning to "check us in" even though we were "checking out". Whatever, sure enough the next morning she was there in her freshly pressed green uniform. Rosie O'donnell and her would be a good couple.

Once again we drank and ate like champions. The only difference was that we were better rested. Two women from the Netherlands came over to our campsite and started chatting with us. Ronnie being all liquored up asked them "Do you people really wear wooden shoes?". God she must think Americans are stupid...thanks Ronnie if we ever need a foreign ambassador I'll make sure they take your resume. I asked Kevin what he did for a living and he said "I move cars". I'm thinking this guy is a parking lot attendee or a valet parker...uh not quite. He has 6000 employees that move cars around the US for Avis Rent a Car. I had no idea how complicated it was but he's got it down to a science. Unfortunately he's one of those guys that works 8 days a week and it's hard to get him away from his work. He's a great guy to have on the boat and like Robert, he's definitely a worker ant.

The final morning we pack up and start loading the boat with all the junk. It's hard to believe the boat would even get up on a plane with all that stuff. I actually felt sorry for the twin 275's. We had already at our limit of groupers and we only needed a few more snappers to fill our limit so we decided to go yellowtail fishing. We ran out about 10 miles and anchored on some hard bottom. In short time we had our limit and decided to head on back to Key West. We ran East in 200' of water looking for more dolphin but we didn't find any. We were back by noon where we loaded the boat on the trailer and started our trek back to the real world.

When fishing the Tortugas you always catch fish. There are trips when you catch more than others, but you always catch fish. My homecoming was a good one. The following is a list of the fish we caught.

Red Snappers (all released)
Mutton Snapper
Yellow Eyed Snapper
Yellow Tails
Black Grouper
Red Grouper
Scamp Grouper
Black Fin Tuna


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