Yankee Capts 12/8-9/12
Just after my last YC adventure I met a great guy at the campground named Randy. I knew he was a great guy because he has lots of fishing rods and a new boat in his yard. I immediately exploded into an enthusiastic verbal assault about the Yankee Captains and Dry Tortugas fishing, complete with photo albums to back up some of what I was saying and within minutes we had him signed up for not one, but two fishing adventures of a lifetime. I missed my calling, I should be selling fishing trips on the beach in Key West!
Anyway, Randy invested in new, heavier gear, reels, rods, sinkers, lead, all in preparation for the weekend, with the guy at the tackle shop promising that his new rod would stand up to anthing Randy would encounter. I agreed with the Fin Nor reel he bought but skeptically eyeballed the new "wonder rod" and mildly suggested he might consider downgrading it to his chicken rig after the trip, if it survived. "But the guy PROMISED" he insisted. And I shut up, not wanting to alienate my new buddy. My more than active imagination, backed up by my automatic sports reel replay memories of past trips to the Tortugas, was feeding me abundant mental flashbacks of spine bending, arm wrenching, neck jolting mutton snapper head shakes and "Grab the rail, I'm going overboard Scotty!" shark encounters to scream at him, "For the sake of all that's holy, GET A BETTER ROD!!!", but I restrained my urge and smiled.
So we hopped on The Grunt Queen, fishing for bait, against Mother Natures wishes, nearly getting thrown overboard in the huge waves, while catching mackerel and other bait and survived to show Randy beautiful downtown Stock Island as we made our final approach to the Yankee Captains. Randy was duly impressed and started into one of his many dramatic ice fishing stories, so I grabbed him by the ears looked him directly in the eyes and said, "Randy we're not in Wyoming, there ain't no ice here but in those gynormous coolers those poor overworked and underpaid mates are dragging onboard." He popped into present time and quickly jumped aside to avoid being flattened under Keiran's new Yeti , super delux, coffin sized ice chest. It takes four people to carry it and I'm sure it was just a clever ploy to smuggle a fishing buddy on board for the weekend. After all, did anyone actually see inside, all the way to the bottom of the icy brine, to confirm that his mother in law wasn't in there???
So all joking aside, we started shallow, then progressively ventured into 140', 160', 190' then 220' of water, landing muttons along the way. Despite all of the coaching and preparation and hemmorhaging credit cards, Randy was having the "First time on the Yankee Captains learning curve" thrown at him but was dealing with it like a pro. Somewhere around mid-day he hooked up and lost a big mutton and we both agreed that his new rod seemed to be living up to the brags of the silver tongued, slick haired bait and tackle vendor. Like magic, the Fish Gods disagreed and sent out one of the BIG BOYS to really give this rod a shake. That fish didn't even have to bite the bait. He grabbed the line in his mouth, wrenched back and forth like a dog shaking water out of his hair and poof, new rod broken at the third eyelet. I looked the other way, waiting for the inevitable "Gee, I guess you were right." Don't worry Randy, we've all been there, that's how we learn!
Finally, I hooked a mutton that made it to the surface and Randy was right on my tail with a head shaker testing a generously loaned rod from Mike, who said "You won't break this one". I believed him. Mike knows his stuff. I was relieved to deck a ten pounder and coached Randy with crossed fingers and toes, till a gaffed and bleeding fifteen and a half pounder was gasping his last mutton breath on the deck. What an impressive first catch!
The trip had, as usual, too many highlights to relate in a short time. A father brought his two young sons, about eight and ten years old for the weekend, complete with fighting belts. They were real troopers, standing at the rail for nearly the entire trip, matching the most intense veterans for stamina. They all caught lots of fish, including a monster goliath grouper the dad wrestled up from the deep, where the protected seventh wonder of the world, mutton inhaling, sacred cow was vented and released. The kids were even trying to get bait to try to catch mangroves when we got back to the dock!
The last three stops were all productive but the highlight of the trip was in the last half hour. Dominic, at the bow, hooked a real fighter and soon had envious onlookers ogling his twenty pound black grouper. Minutes later, I hooked what I was sure was a big mutton and after a careful tussle, landed my surprise black grouper. At twenty three pounds, my biggest to date! Meanwhile, Hilton, a few feet to my left, was hooked to a monster and looking a little desperate and for him, that isn't a common facial expression. He doesn't speak much English, but his face said it all as his fish compelled him to do the Yankee Captains fifty foot dash to the bow. Over and under fishing lines, around gaffs and dip nets he went, finally arriving at open space at the bow and freedom to fight this unseen creature on a level playing field. After all, one more step and he better be holding a Mexican passport. Luckily, we were pointed toward Key West, not Mexico, Hilton stayed onboard, landed the forty pound black grouper, took the prize money for the fishing pool and "Little Monster" is probably still tormenting Jarvis. (I sincerely hope)
So, I asked Randy what he thought about the trip and his answer was short and sweet. "Joe's burgers are to die for and the mates are always there, somehow, when you need them, amazing! And the fishing was almost as good as ice fishing in Wyoming!" And Randy walked home all the way from Cujoe key.
Just one thing that I've been trying to come to grips with this year. Like everyone else in the Yankee Capts community, I was a bit shocked and very much saddened when Capt Matt moved on to different ventures. What can I say, he was an incredible asset. A wonderful guy and family man and had an uncanny ability to pull at least one super hot fishing spot out of the hat on each and every trip. Luckily, in the two previous seasons I've been fishing the YC, I've seen Capt Greg replace a few deck hands and deal with galley staff problems. After getting to know the present crew, Joe, Chad, Lyndon and yes even half beard Josh, on thirteen trips last season, I was holding my breath, hoping they were all still there this season. And they were! Great way to start the new season. More "late night jogging through the graveyard" antics from Chad and Josh and family concerns and interesting stories from Joe and Lyndon. And to boot, Lyndon moved up to the captain's seat, trying to fill some huge empty boots. But I was saddened and distracted from my "Garden of eden in the Dry Tortugas retirement plan" to hear a few rumblings of discontent from the veteran fishermen, mixed in with the mourning of missing Capt Matt.
All I can say is give it a bit of time, this is no doubt a high pressure situation, finding enough big fish to keep the masses happy. Capt Greg has repeatedly shown excellent judgement and under a gruff exterior at times, I know he loves his boat and this whole fishing adventure he has pioneered right in your back yard and is dealing very professionally with Capt Matts sudden departure. I can see that the night fishing is improving a lot, just my observation of the progress during the past three trips. Get to know the crew better, be patient, fish harder, enjoy the mutton love, after all, the crew are our Yankee Capt stewardesses, even though they smell a little fishy at times, er ALL THE TIME!!!