Hammer Does the Hanky Panky on the YANKEE
Well, Hell must've froze over because I did it. I actually went fishing on a head boat. Something I'd swore I'd never do. Somehow, some way, I got convinced to go on the Yankee Capt. down in Key West. Like many people, I've been following his catches to the famed "Pulley Ridge", a deep water reef some 40 miles past the Dry Tortuga's. Greg, the captain and I have been talking for some time now and my fishing club, Tropical Anglers even had the boat privately chartered but due to weather, we had to cancel.
Accompanying me on this major step into unknown territory for me was none other than John, the retired mail man. He'd been on head boats before but never the Yankee Capt.
The weather forecast was for calm seas and a slight chance of showers so all was a go. I picked John up from his house and we loaded a small arsenal of tackle into the back of my truck. We decided to get an early start just in case traffic got bad. To our surprise traffic was light and we showed up to the dock at 5:30 where we found Greg sitting at a picnic table doing the business side of the trip. He issued us our fish tags and we loaded our gear onto the boat. This is where I learned my lesson that the early bird gets the worm. The first guys to load the boat get their choice of where to put their coolers and tackle boxes. Being my first time, I went below deck to put my sleeping bag on my assigned bunk. All I can tell you is that I'm not exactly cut out for dark places and below deck was just that. Greg hadn't yet turned on the a/c so it was hot down there as well.
After loading all our gear, we walked over to the Hogfish Bar & Grill. Another Yankee patron was waiting to be seated so we invited him to eat with us as well.
I immediately noticed a guy with a "Sea Shephard" shirt on sitting at the bar. I thought of going up to the bar right next to him and ordering a fried whale sandwich or if he knew anyplace I could get a bat to club baby sea lions, just to get his reaction. Why do I like to push people's buttons?
When the waitress arrived, John immediately said "Separate checks please." What is it with old guys that makes them do this? Is it that they feel that they'll have to pay part of someone else's meal… maybe an extra .32? As always, John flirted with our waitress that was barely 1/3 his age…. EARTH TO JOHN, YOU DON'T HAVE A PRAYER WITH HER, (or any other woman that has all her teeth). I suggested that John start his own website www.oldgeezerlookingforlove.com. Oh, I almost forgot. John asked me not to mention his impotence problem so I won't… don't even ask me because I won't tell you. Even water boarding couldn't make me tell you that his noodle is all but useless because he told me that in confidence so it will go to my grave.
I had two margarita's which usually puts me out like a light. I figured that since the boat leaves the dock at 8 pm, I could get settled in and then go to sleep for the long ride to the west. After dinner we went to the boat, it was packed with sweaty, blood thirsty fishermen just like us. Right on schedule we tossed the lines and away we went. I went up to the wheel house to sit with Greg. My preconceived notion about Greg was that he was "just a head boat captain". Well, once again, when you assume, you make a fool of yourself. Greg has a computer science degree and even worked as a mate on the famed "Madam and The Hooker", a mother ship operation that has travelled the world in search of giant marlin and world records. Just to be invited on that boat was an honor and most mates would give their left one to get a job on it because what better way to gain unprecedented experience at wiring 1000 lb marlin?
Greg not only put his fishing experience on the boat but his computer skills as well. He's got a very sophisticated set of electronics that has all the bathymetric charts downloaded into them as well as some 30 years of GPS numbers. To guard all of this, he has a pit bull with aids and a nasty disposition. While this dog looks like a mild mannered labrador, I know a killer when I see one and this dogs name should have been "SATAN" but instead he named her "Brizo".
After over two hours of running… we were just south of the Marqueses. The pain of traveling 8.9 kts was so unbearable that I decided to go to the dungeon and retire for the night. The tequila had kicked in and in no time, I was sleeping.
At around 6 am, I woke up to find about a half dozen guys standing at the transom, their eyes glued to the lines that extended out to their high speed lures. They were wahoo fishing. I'd asked if they'd caught anything and they said "No" but one of them did miss one. I grabbed a cup of coffee and once again went up the wheel house to find out how long until we arrived at our destination. His dog letting me live by wagging it's tail and licking me almost to death. Greg said that we were just about there so I went down and readied my electric reel, battery and bait. There were 20 anglers all scurrying. Nobody said a word but there was excitement in the air. Greg backed the throttles off and made a slight turn and over the loud speaker said "Let's try here first". Within seconds 40 baited hooks were headed toward the ocean floor some 500' below. It didn't take long until the low grrrrrr sound of Daiwa electric reels filled the air. Snowy grouper and some tilefish were brought aboard. Unfortunately, when dropping that many lines, tangles are the norm and I don't care who you were or where on the boat you were located, you were bound to get tangled soon or later. I put a small blue line tile fish in the boat. The mate quickly came over and stapled my no. 24 to it's cheek and threw it in the fish box. Here's where the "guide" in me started to kick in. Most people were fishing with squid. Well, in my experience, squid always seemed to catch small groupers and yellowtail… at least in the area's that I fished it so I'd brought along some "secret" bait. Some that I knew NOBODY else would have….yellowfin tuna belly. I'd also brought along some barracuda, sardines, thread fin herring and some type of mullet. I figured that I'd outsmart these deep water fish and the other fishermen all at the same time. To make a long story short…….I started putting different types of bait on the hooks along with squid, and the squid out caught every single type of bait that I brought, just as Greg said it would do. So much for me outsmarting these creatures that have a brain the size of a BB.
Whenever someone would catch a nice fish, you'd hear about it. Snapping pics isn't so easy when you're using an electric reel on an 8' rod but I managed to get a few pics.
We'd make long drifts, falling off a sloping drop off. You'd hear laughing coming from the other side of the boat every time a good fish was landed. I'd find myself secretly wishing for the guys around me to get tangled so they'd be preoccupied with the mess, allowing me to have a better chance to hook up without a tangle. The best time to drop your bait would be when the people around you were just landing their fish, that way you knew you were in the clear. Every once in a while someone would hook a shark and the mess of tangled lines would be indescribable. If you have no patience, this is not the trip for you. The mates just took it in stride. The carnage went on all day. Tote after tote was put into the big coolers. By far the majority of the fish were tile fish. A small rain storm came and took away some of our misery from the heat. There was one gentleman that had everyone on the boat in awe. His name was Scott and he was 85 years young. If I make it to that age, I hope I can hang like he did. By the day's end, one of the large fish boxes was full.
Greg said that we were going to make a move on top of the bank and once again a mirage of lures came out. A 30 lb kingfish was boated and then one of the rods really started screaming.
One of the nicest guys on the boat was all smiles when the 50 lb wahoo hit the gaff.
The captain set us up to drift for snappers and groupers in 210' of water. There was hardly any breeze whatsoever and the more experienced fishermen landed some muttons and red groupers. The muttons are noticeably smaller than they are back towards the Tortuga's. The red groupers were very orange in color whereas in the shallower waters they are more brown.
One of the guys on the bow was fighting what looked to be a nice mutton, only to be surprised by the fish being a good sized dog snapper. Another guy caught a plump red grouper.
A 16" baby sailfish swam by the boat along with countless squid and flying fish. I tried to get my camera out and get a shot of it but it disappeared under the boat before I could memorialize it. One guy that was new to fishing caught a black fin tuna. He was as happy as could be. It's cool seeing people that get that excited over catching a fish. I decided that I could use the sleep so I went back down to the gallows to get some rest. All the guys that stayed up were rewarded with some good quality fish. I'm just not that mad at those groupers to stay up all night. I guess that's what age will do to you.
Around 6am I heard the big diesels jump to attention. This caused me to get up and get dressed as we had one more day to help deplete the overpopulation of fish out there. Just like the day before, the fish were biting and we took full advantage of it. My bait hadn't hit the bottom 5 seconds before the rod tip started to bounce. Fishing this way is about as easy as it gets. I caught a double of snowy grouper and blue line tile fish. Everyone around me was doing just about the same thing. There wasn't a person on the boat that was not catching fish. I hooked a fish that was pulling some serious drag when I could feel the presence of someone else's fishing line. If you continue to reel, you will either cut that persons line or your own so I waited for the mates to detangle my line. Unfortunately, the fish got free. Right after that, another angler caught one of the largest queen snappers that I've ever seen. It weighed right at 25 lbs. It measured from the tip of my birdie finger on my right hand to the furthest point of my left shoulder. What a beast of a fish. Then, another was caught.
The guy fishing next to me's rod was bending over pretty good so I could tell he had a better quality fish on and sure enough, he landed a nice sized snowy and followed it up with a beautiful golden tile.
The mates would periodically bring back plastic vats filled with fish caught from the bow of the boat and dump them in the large cooler and then ice them down. If you're a mate on the Yankee, you're kept busy.
At 6 pm Greg called it and the final layer of ice was laid on top of the fish. Everyone readied their gear for the long trip home. All the electric reels were put up top and the deep drop rigs put away.A few guys put out their lures in hope of a last minute wahoo. Since it was late in the day, John decided to take a salt water shower and then rinse off with the 200 degree fresh water shower. Wouldn't you know it but his line got hit right as he was changing. Leave it to John to come out and fight a fish in his underwear. I couldn't make this up.
The seas were flat calm and a large group of us sat up top and talked about the trip. There were black guys, latin guys, white guys and even an asian guy on this trip and everyone got along like we were college drinking buddies. The only smack talking that occurred was when Brian, the tattoo ladened co captain walked out with a Boston Celtics shirt on, I had to rag on him. I told him that Larry Bird and Kevin McKale were gay lovers… that always seems to get those Celtic fans going. I felt it only fit that I show him no mercy because he was also a NY Jets fan and I rank them one step below the Patriots.
We arrived back at the dock at 5:30 am, the mates had all the fish put into totes and iced down. There were 21 totes in all. A successful trip by anyone's standard.
We'd caught 23 species that I counted:
Horse eye jack
Yellow edge grouper
Grey tilefish (blue lines)
Black fin snapper
Black fin tuna
Black belly rose fish
Long finned sea bass
Would I go back and do it again? In a New York Yankee Capt. minute!
Till Next Time,
Hammer aka "The Reef Bandit"