A Calm Between Two Storms

After watching the Florida Keys wind reports for the past month, I felt no great urgency to leave Nova Scotia any earlier than planned. But our timing was perfect and after a 2500 mile, four and a half day drive, we arrived at the Jolly Roger Travel Park in Marathon, on Monday, Nov 7, to a forecast of calm weather. We quickly unpacked, picked up the Grunt Queen early on Tuesday, complete with new plugs, good compression and a new lower unit and the assembly and re-organizing of all things holy to a reef trip addict began.
On my final outing of our last winter's Florida stay, way back in April, I had trouble locating fish and when my motor sounded like there was a bicycle chain wrapped up in the prop, I calmly and wisely puttered the 15 miles home, loaded the Grunt Queen for summer storage at Shelter Bay Marina and puttered another 10 miles to safety. All at the blistering speed of about 3 knots, just enough to overcome the gentle current at Vaca Cut, meanwhile, tapping a drum beat on the steering wheel to match the tempo of the tortured and complaining lower unit.
So Wednesday, my shrimping buddy, Claiborne, and I caught live ballyhoo and pin fish and headed to the Promised Land. I didn't start the fish-finding off any better than It ended off in the spring, stopping several times with no bite, until the swells took their toll on my fishing buddy and we headed home fish-less and him empty of breakfast.
Thursday, bright and early, I headed out solo and anchored near one of the hundred spots, where I once caught a fish or two, hoping there was someone home. After patiently waiting, I decided to move and reeled in my chicken rig, with 8 ounces of lead at the bottom and three intact baits on shiny new number 5 hooks, still waiting to be tasted. I left my mutton rig on the bottom as I prepared to depart, number 8 circle hook, complete with my day old, half a ballyhoo. Just as I reached to reel it in, something ran off with the bait and really objected to my attempts to bring it to the surface. I knew the feel and really held my breath, watching for some color down deep in the water. The something turned out to be a beautiful 25 inch mutton snapper, probably 8-9 pounds and I quickly aborted moving. Next drop, a 21 inch mutton met the same fate. I felt like the king of the world!
My chicken rig was producing small yellowtails and a decent 18 inch, tasty, speckled grouper, a "strawberry" grouper. A more urgent pull yielded a double header of 16 inch muttons, to complete the catching for the day. I belted out my rendition of "We are the champions" all the way home, trying to out sing my motor, as happy as it gets.
Friday, solo, skunked.
Saturday, solo, spotty fishing, two muttons, 18" and 16", two mangroves, 18" and 16", two hog fish, 12" and 13". Hog fish for supper, yummy! Oh yes, I had mackerel jumping right behind the boat, reached for a rod in the cuddy and four were tangled together. A piece of 1x4 and a 2" plumbing pipe and no more tangles!
Sunday was calm, but I took a day off, intentionally. Getting old and needed to make sure I hadn't blown a gasket or something and didn't realize it.
Monday, another buddy, Randy, and I ventured out, after some mild objection from him about leaving his new pass time he laughingly calls "Go sit on the couch", (inside joke) we were vowing to ninja blast anything swimming and instead, were met with looming defeat after three or four fish less stops. I called my old standby spot into action and it was marking fish! A quick drift over yielded three vermilion snappers in the cooler, so we excitedly employed my less than perfect anchoring skills in 120 feet of water, with the current and wind opposing each other, which left us 60 feet away from the small target, but still on a few fish. About a dozen lane snappers, up to 14" got ninja'd, along with a couple legal mangroves and a couple 14" hog fish to round it up.
Tuesday, yesterday, I was on the reef, solo, by 8 AM , in a bit bumpier water than I expected, still waiting for a fish after three different spots. Finally, my mutton rig screamed at me, but it was tangled in the bottom and cut me off. The gnarly bottom robbed a couple more nice, unidentified fish from the cooler. Another 14" hog fish surrendered to the cooler and I headed home, knowing the wind would be returning tomorrow and hanging around for a while. What a great week!
Halfway to Long Key bridge, with huge, black, rain clouds peeing down water, which seemed to be coming my way, the prop stopped spinning and the engine roared. I anchored, chummed and caught little blue runners, cleaned the boat and waited for a free cab ride from Tow Boat US. A two and a half hour ride to Shelter Bay gave me lots of time to re-rig all the damaged gear. Quick diagnosis says it's a broken vertical drive shaft, under warranty.
My only regret? I should have trolled on the way, behind the tow boat.
I'm a happy camper!
Cameron

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