Pulley Ridge Light, Dec 4/17. We put a hurtin on them!
Due to the success of my other Pulley Ridge trip last week, there is almost enough fish for our upcoming Christmas eve fish fry. Our campground, the Jolly Roger, was lucky enough to survive Irma, without any show stopping damage, but so many others in the Keys are not so lucky. Price of admission is a suggested cash donation to the local food bank, KAIR. We should have over 100 snowbirds, away from home, enjoying this beautiful gift, the Florida Keys and delicious fish of course.
So trip day arrived, a bit gusty, but looking to calm out at some point through the fishing period and it did. I think there were 15 or 16 fanatics scurrying around the boat as departure time neared, 6 PM. I was sitting near the gangway and Capt Greg boarded, about 5 pm, telling me not to let anyone off, we were going to get outta here, no more details. I didn't see any flashing cop lights in pursuit of the captain and a bit uncertain of my newly appointed authority, I was a bit reluctant when the biggest guy on the boat blew past me, saying he was headed for the hogfish for dinner. I managed to squeek out that Greg might be leaving early and chef Chad saved my butt by promising him food on the way out. He paused in the parking lot as the engines fired up, then reboarded. Whew! I hate pressure!
The mystery deepened when we not only left a half hour early, but when Greg said he hoped to have us fishing by 4 ish AM. I did the math and didn't think this was enough time to get to Pulley Ridge, unless we sped. Hmmm, perhaps he's taking us to Halfway Ledge, or, or, or. What a great mystery to bunk down with to try to get a good nights sleep. LOL.
After three or four hours of real sleep, my spider sense was tingling (and my bladder) and I went topside to see schools of ballyhoo going off in all directions to escape the advancing boat. I quickly deputised a net dumper and found an empty five gallon bucket, assembled my extra strong shrimp net and started scooping. Touching the wave tops and hoping the hoos would leap into the net was working, but really tiring, so I angled the net towards the stern and as I saw a school coming into view, lowered the net to touch the water. Much less energy expended and a stuffed gallon bag of very fresh bait to share with my net minder. This week the hoos worked well for bait, especially for my apprentice.
We started fishing after 5 AM and the bite was on immediately. Didn't know or care where we were, 225 feet deep and the bite was hot. My catch, by noon was almost double last weeks effort, I had 6 muttons and a big red grouper and had given away two almaco jacks. Others were doing well too and the bite continued. I ate breakfast at the rail and took a catnap during a move. Jigs of all sorts and descriptions were pounding the water, some with success, others not so much, but my frozen goggle eyes were working, a bit of frozen king mackerel I brought was like candy for them, slippery **** were working later on and barracuda and the fresh hoos were the go to baits for the stern boys, who seemed to have a constant supply of cuda on hand. Red groupers love jigs! But my guess is that bait caught two thirds of the fish and most of the muttons.
These stern guys were from Michigan and Jeff, their organizer, had contacted me looking for goggs on the way down. He got some from Capt Lee in Tavernier. Gary, one of his party, was not only allergic to eating fish, but couldn't touch fish either. Yet on his first deep sea trip, he still managed to catch 6 muttons and many other species. Hats off.
A group of Capt Gregs' friends from up north were there and brought the infamous Boston Tangler with them. I didn't notice him any more tangled than I was. Maybe it's a northern thing.
JJ was jigging with a variety of gear and spent a long hour with a sea monster dragging him around the boat, mostly back and forth on the starboard side. He was using a buggy whip, with heavy braid and 100 pound leader. Everyone has seen a real buggy whip before. A four foot long, pencil thin whip, used to control horses. Well, add a reel, line and a determined fisherman and you have JJ, the super fisher. And he won the battle using this unlikely combo and brought an 8 foot tiger shark to the surface, close to the boat, on display for all. I never would have believed it if I hadn't put my rod down to go take a look. At the end I'm still not sure who was leading who, but I'm quite sure that JJ did not get his hook back.
I totally lost count of my fish, they bit in solos and in flurries almost continuously and about midnight it seemed to slow, so I crashed for about 3 hours. When I got back up top, there were only a handful of guys at the rail, but the bite was good, so I stayed. Hambone snappers were part of the mix at some point and I ignored a semi hot tuna bite, opting instead for muttons this time. After daybreak, I saw five rods all bent at the same time near me, including mine and there may have been more! Hot Hot Hot!
By noon, the bite slowed in 210 feet of water and knowing we were almost out of ice and room and that we were going to have to leave a bit early for home, things got a bit grindy and very warm and sticky. Capt Greg to the rescue! The wind had dropped and he said we could slip offshore for a bit and try some deep dropping, pulled in the sea anchor and off we went, furiously rigging gear, no electric reels and lots of excitement.
550 feet and drifting deeper, a small queen snapper came up on a jig, then a small snowy at the stern and at least one medium queen snapper. A couple nice blue line tile fish and maybe stuff I missed and it was over, time to go. I made a poor lead choice, hoping to hit bottom, hook up quickly, using one hook and reel up fast, instead of going 2 pounds and staying on bottom longer. Also, I didn't choose stinky bait, or squid, so I missed out on a deep water catch.
I have always made do with several small coolers, up to 100 qt. Last year, my final trip stretched the limits when I crammed 20 muttons into them. Before my trip last week, I bought a used 128 qt, to add to my collection, thinking I might look foolish with only a dozen yellow tail snappers. Back at the dock, I almost ran out of room, filling a 128 and 100. Many others ran out of space. If I had kept the 7 almacos I gave away, it probably would have torn my rear loading tray off my Jeep!
At the cleaning table back home, after pictures of my catch, Randy, Caliborne and I cut and bagged. Some whole fillets, for my long list of friends and local supporters and enough in chunks to feed 60 or more at the fry.
So my own catch was my best mutton catch ever, 21, one more than my best last year. Add four hambone snappers, two big red groupers and a large margate and you have a happy camper!
I hope this was enough detail, Dudley, I know you dearly wanted to be there! LOL
A great big, huge shout out to Capt Greg for taking us to where ever we were, it sure was fishy out there! The mates, Mike, Terry and Garrett were very on the spot and Chad, in the galley is simply amazing at putting tasty, nourishing meals on the plate.
I collected the tips for the mates and am usually disheartened when I see a $20 wrapped around a couple $1, not an appropriate acknowledgement for the effort these guys are putting out for you. Please, for the few who do this, try to give a little more freely, you will feel better for it and probably catch more fish.
My next trip is Halfway Ledge in January, or where ever Greg wants to take us.:hail