The trip started out well enough with my friend Omar and me catching over 100 Pin Fish all big enough to get a Gags attention. I am privileged to get my bait and gear on early so I can assist others when it’s time for general loading of the boat. Normally this works out well but this time disaster struck. During the cleaning of the boat after the half day trip bleach got into the live well and as a consequence half my bait was killed. Tough way to start. I made the decision not to use any live bait until day light thus making sure I had a chance at some Gags. I needed to break my slump as I haven’t caught a keeper Gag on the last three trips.
We started out with a full boat in steamy but nice conditions. It always amazes me how the Gulf can have 20’ waves one day and be almost flat calm a couple of days later. Trolling on the way out has been a bit slow of late and this trip was the slowest I’ve seen as even the legend “Jig Head Ed” only caught one Spanish Mackerel. I attribute this to warming water and the recent high surf. Trolling once out in deep water has been steady but this trip saw no action.
We started fishing around 1:30 as Captain Bryon wanted to hit an area we don’t often fish. When I commercial fished I used to fish this area often. It is known for “Big Fish and Big Bottom”. The Mangrove Snapper bite was pretty good throughout the night. Conditions were steamy with no wind so getting an anchor heading was a challenge most of the trip. This made fishing on the bow extremely challenging as we were constantly battling the anchor rope. The boat was literally floating around the anchor. (Note if you get caught in the rope let the mates know so they don’t get a nasty surprise when they haul the anchor in.) In spite of conditions I managed to catch around 10 nice Goozers before sunrise. One of which was in the 8 LB. range. Still no Gags for me although several nice ones were landed. I did manage to land a nice King in the 15 LB. range.
Day break time to break out the big rod and some hand sized Pins. Big Gags here I come. From the start fishing live bait proved a challenge as the bottom is so craggy in this area I was constantly hooked on bottom. I went through at least five sinkers in the first couple of stops. It was so bad I would put down two times on every stop and if (when) I lost my rig I’d switch to dead bait. The result was positive as I caught a couple of nice Mangos on almost every stop during the day. I also caught a decent Red Grouper in the 12 LB. range. I still got hung up but with dead bait I can usually bounce it out. On one stop I was bouncing out when it came free and Bang! Big fish ON! When this happens it often doesn’t end well. First your leader is likely damaged and you know you’re in sticky bottom. The fish instantly rocked me up. I went to the banjo method for getting him out and after several tries it worked but the fish had plenty of energy left and broke me off. I reeled in and not only was my leader cut but my main line was frayed 30’ feet above the sinker.
Captain Bryon told me divers he’d spoken to said they’d seen big Black Grouper in this area and though I didn’t land one I’m convinced I had several on. On one stop I put down one of the biggest “Liveys” I had and got slammed. I knew this was a “Big One” as it was stripping the drag on my heavy reel with 100 LB line. When you have a fish of this size on the bottom the challenge is how much pressure to put on him. You don’t want to break your tackle but if you stay on the bottom you are likely to get cut off. I had no choice but to let it run and trust my tackle. Just when I thought I had things were going my way I lost him. I figured my leader was cut but upon reeling up I was surprised to see my 9/0 hook was complexly straightened out. This was the start of a very frustrating day. On almost every stop while others were landing decent Gags in the 15 -20 LB. range I was hooking “Monsters” Over the course of the day I had epic battles. I lost a total of seven huge fish in a variety of ways. Most broke me off but one I had up got tangled with fishermen on the other side of the boat including one using braid the result was that in spite of me hollering slack off and don’t pull I got cut off. This actually happened twice to the point I lost so much line I had to retire that reel.
The last stop summed up my whole trip. I let down a big live bait got instantly slammed had an epic but losing battle which ended in being broke off on the bottom. Undeterred I re-rigged fired down another and caught a nice Red Snapper in the 8 LB range. (Note this was the only ARS I kept as we didn’t get as many as we have been) I fired down another and got broken off again. Re-rigged and caught nice Gag. Slump broken? Not so fast as he measured in at 23 ¾. You have got to be kidding me. Running out of rigs and time I decided to switch to dead bait with the hope of landing another ARS. I barely hit the bottom when Bang! Big Fish ON! I only had 60 LB leader so I was concerned about being able to turn the fish, I turned him and had him coming up. Well off the bottom now I turned to the first mate “Will I’m going to need a Ga” didn’t even get the word gaffe out and the fish was gone. Reeled up and the bottom hook of my two hook rig was straightened out a bit. I had to ask those around me to forgive my language. Man, fishing can be the most exhilarating and frustrated experience on earth.
After he pulled the anchor my friend John gave me a great compliment saying no matter what you still have that childlike enthusiasm for fishing. That is true and at 56 I hope I always will. One thing is for sure “Lord willing I’ll be back Tuesday ready to fight again.
See you out there!