Donkey's on the line!
First weekend in May means opening weekend of Amber Jack season. There was a Buzz on board as people were eager to hook up on what pound per pound is one of the hardest fighting fish in the sea. Even though I’ve hundreds if not thousands of AJ’s I am always giddy about hooking up on one of these “Reef Donkeys” Trolling on the way out was hot from the start with Spanish Mackerel and Kings biting as soon as we cleared the channel. Before we left the dock, I met a young Lady named Sara who was making her first trip on the Florida. She informed me she’d bought a trolling rod and reel but wasn’t sure what type of gear she needed. We visited the tackle shop and she got a Drone Spoon with a #2 plainer. This is the most consistent set up near shore. She also purchased an Xrap for trolling between spots the next day. Sara was eager to learn so I showed her how to rig up and most importantly how to set the drag on her two-speed reel. I find many people don’t know how to properly set the drag on a two-speed reel. Tip: On most two-speeds you must be in free spool to set the drag. Set the drag so that in the “Strike” setting you can barely pull the drag with the clicker on. Ideally your drag should be set so that with the clicker on in strike position no line is being pulled out by the lure but loose enough so when a fish strikes it can take some line. Note: Your reel should be in the low gear position. If everything is set right you should be able to work the fish from the strike setting but if you must push the lever forward (tightening the drag) do so gently as the pull of the drag and the motion of the boat put a tremendous amount of tug on the fish and you risk de-hooking your prize. Keep in mind I am talking about trolling from a Party Boat. Trolling from a smaller boat designed for it is much easier. In any event the good news is Sara hooked up before anyone else and caught multiple fish on the way out. I love it when a plan comes together. Trolling between spots the next day produced several nice Blackfin Tuna. We started out just after Midnight in good conditions. The Mangrove Snapper bite has been sporadic at best but, since I’d caught my limit last trip I was hopeful we had turned the corner. The first stop didn’t see any Mangos but I switched to my trusty “Chicken Rig” and caught some nice Vermilion. Anchor heading was a bit of a challenge for Captain Garett as the wind was constantly changing and the current was running against it. This would prove to be a constant problem which would make it hard to target AJ’s on wrecks. The second stop I started out hot as on the first drop I got slammed by what turned out to be a nice Gag in the 15 LB. range. Note: I ended up catching and releasing three Gags the biggest at least 20 LBS. June can’t get here fast enough. After my Gag I landed two nice Goozers in a row. I then hooked up three more that all came un-buttoned ¾ of the way up. Unfortunately, I never caught another Mango the rest of the trip. I remain concerned but hopeful this is a temporary situation. Day break, time to get on them Donkeys. Captain Garett had a sound plan. He hit a series of wrecks hoping for some AJ action. The first wreck was so covered in American Red Snapper it was hard to get a bait past them to anything else. The second spot we hit saw multiple hook ups but most were slightly under sized. When this happens, I feel for the mates as they have to tell an angler whose arms are cramping the beast they reeled in (that is often the biggest fish they’ve ever caught) is to small and must be thrown back. Keep in mind the minimum length is 34” to the fork of the tail, this means a legal AJ is 25 to 30 LBS. I dropped down a big Pin Fish and got slammed by what turned out to be an AJ around 30 LBS. Most of the day saw the same pattern. Good shows but slow fishing. On a stop late in the day I was soaking a live bait but decided to reel up and switch to a chicken rig as there were some big Vermillion coming up. Just as I started to wind BANG! BIG FISH ON! I knew right away I had at least a keeper size AJ on the line. Try as I may to keep the fish in front of me he turned and went straight down the gunnel. I could feel lines all over me and I was resigned to losing the fish. But with a little luck combined with some cooperation from fellow anglers and Jon the mate they were able to land the fish on the stern while I never left the bow. I ended up limiting out on AJ’s which is a good thing. As I had reached my limit I switched back to Threadfin and caught a decent Scamp Grouper. My buddy Omar seeing what I caught switched over as well and caught two Scamp one of which was at least 8 LBS. Time to head home get a little rest and pray for the return of the Mango’s. See you out there!