Short Trip, Great Catch, Yankee Capts Halfway Ledge, Jan 22/18
Once again, Mother Nature gave us a small window to get out past the Tortugas to try to get the fishing job done. We got off the dock exactly 12.5 minutes late, as we were missing what turned out to be a vital piece of fishing equipment. The missing piece was more a who than a what and the who was Brian Dietz and his vast successful knowledge of jigging. Oh, and he brought lots and lots of bling, in the form of jigs, rods and lots of enthusiasm.
Chef Chad nourished us on the way out, as an eager crowd of big kids listened raptly, as Brian laid the goods out on the salon tables, much like a Caribbean resort beach vendor, complete with the very latest, unavailable in the USA, Japanese jigs, buggy whips, super strong braid and pictures of the catches recently wrestled from the depths. I was still somewhat aloof as I picked my way with my dinner plate, through the jewellery adorning most of the tables and not chummy at all, with a new comber who had not only made us a minute or two late, but now was being mobbed like some kind of rock star. Humph! These kids today. Humbug!
Well, Brian shared some gear and knowledge and Sergio was the lucky recipient of a couple jigs that looked more like holographic, titanium art, in the shape of a small goggle eye, beautiful enough to be the pendant on any successful fishing stud. But would they work?
Nourished, I stood guard at the rail, with my dip net, hoping to bag a few ballyhoo while we cruised. Small schools were appearing and I bagged a dozen, but worked too hard while netting them. Brian took interest in the netting and my frosty attitude melted toward him, just as the motherlode school of dink hoos came into view. It looked like giant sparkling rain drops on the flat sea, as far as the dark conditions would allow, dozens went into my cooler and became responsible for the capture of my first three muttons in the morning. Brian manned the net as the ballyhoos were petering out and added a dozen or two to his array of heavy metal. He later tipped his jigs with the small hoos with some success.
First drift was good for most, with big red groupers, (totally legal and in season, in the federal waters of the gulf) muttons, Alex caught a big scamp and a massive commotion was moving down the rail on the starboard side, as Rene fought the pool winning trophy, that turned out to be a giant wahoo. Guess the weight, cause I don't know. But I do know it was lip hooked on a bottom rig and I heard it was head wrapped a couple time in Rene's line. Another unfortunate wahoo was landed on a bottom rig, only after several of us got looped up in his run to the other side, complete with aerial acrobatics, a lot of untangling and a long fight with a fish on the opposite side of the boat. Part of that wahoo became dinner on the ride home. Delicious! First time I've had it!
Mid day, the wind, current and bite died.
Coming up to sunset, Greg drifted with no sea anchor and Brian gave instruction to Sergio. (using his new bling jig) They were casting ahead of the boat and inspiration in the form of firetruck red groupers overcame me and I ran and grabbed my jigging rod, as time after time, Sergio nailed big groupers. Each time after the gaffing, he stood there in disbelief, shaking the cramps out of his arm, while I waited for him to complain, any complaint at all, about being sore and I had a long list of retorts and degrades to hurl at him. LOL.
The fervor spread along the rail as Sergio landed grouper after grouper, with Brian adding his catch as well and the mates gaffed and lugged the trophies to the stern boxes. More and more jigs hit the water as Brian, like a cheerleader instructor, shouted advice as the sun sank, to a school of raptly attentive adult sized kids, until an incredible number of seven rods were all bent double at the same time, under the weight of struggling fish. Ironically, I don't think either Brian or myself caught a fish during the melee. Convinced that jigging was not my forte, I fished bait into the night and landed a couple more muttons and a sweet surprise. Normally I can catnap my way through these trips and stay functional, but tonight I was barely able to tie a hook on a line and was fishing, sitting on the bench and dropping my gear as I sat. Well, in 225 feet of water a suspected tuna nailed my goggle eye and stood me up, fast. There were several black fins already landed, but this didn't feel right and I started to think amberjack. Master mate Mikey took guard at my elbow, as it raced up and down through the water column, then urgently tore the gaff from it's holder as a 22 pound black fin raced straight toward the boat, looking like it was going to torpedo us.
It didn't just slap the deck like smaller tuna do, it POUNDED it's body on the aluminium, sending shock waves that threatened to awake the sleeping beauties above and below. Mikey jumped on it's back, de-hooker in hand and dug his heels in, yipping and waving his tool in the air, like a rodeo competitor and causing us to almost lose our bladder contents as the tuna bounced him. He got the hook out and went aft with a chorus of onlookers chanting "Bleed it! Bleed it! Bleed it!" Oh what fun.
The weather deteriorated and we made a long run to get out of open water and drifted before sunrise in 150 feet, with not much success, till Capt Greg made a wise call to head home before the wind really picked up. He promised a partial credit on a future trip, which, given the success of our limited efforts, was very generous. Thanks Greg!
At the dock, there were, I think 13 totes, topped off by a monster wahoo. Great production for the amount of actual time fishing.
The day before the trip, I sold my boat, after 10 years of bobbing about in the Keys. Capt Greg has generously offered to take me on the Yankee Capts, for as long as he can put up with me. He now has a tattoo of my credit card number on his forearm. No peeking!