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Invasion of the Michiganders, both current and former… This was more than just a fishing trip…
(Fishing Report and pictures follow, just scroll on down)

The "REEL" adventure began three years ago when my wife’s family vacation landed us in the fertile and pristine waters of Cape San Blas and St. Joe's Bay. We travelled from Michigan by car, with enough tackle to meet the requirements of a Mite Hockey Team. The forgotten coast, as described, is becoming less forgotten and more main-stream as temporary snowbirds, such as my family, come down to fish on the bay and beach as opposed to the not-so frozen ice and tundra. Our most recent rendezvous this past spring consisted of both my family, and her family making separate trips to CSB, a month apart, where I was able to fly the wife and three kids to and from Florida, on the middle two legs, and load up every square inch of our Dodge Caravan, including the stow and go, Yakima roof rack, and Canoe with "my fishing crap" as someone calls it...

Our fishing abilities have graduated from Croakers, Catfish, and Sandbar Sharks, to Pompano, Spotted Trout (C&R), Flounder, Whiting, Redfish, Spinner Sharks (C&R), and Bull Sharks (C&R) on paddled out baits... Under great duress, we gave in to increased pressure from our families to provide higher quality delicacies. In order to meet these perceived expectations, I knew I had the just the place, or the Ace up the sleeve. It all began with a simple description of “The Trip” to end all other fishing trips this past spring with my bro-in-law Char while fishing for Pomps. My wife, who is Char's sister, and his wife Cara have described our relationship as a “bro-mance” consisting of paddling in the surf at Sunset, mid-morning (high tide) paddles in the bay with our kids, and thoughts of campfires and smores while chasing ghost crabs after dusk - with and without the kids. I love you man…

It started with a phone call between Char and my wife, in late September where the “simple” question arose as to when and where we were going to go fishing. At a moment’s notice, I was online at checking on dates in November and we settled on two potential weekends, November 9-11 and November 16-18. The original plan had 5+ guys committed to driving to Stock Island for a fishing weekend, but due to the firearm Deer opener in Michigan, we settled on three. My Uncle Matt (who lives 4 hours North of Metro Detroit), Char, and I were ALL IN and ready to go at 110%.
The itinerary originated with a departure from Metro Detroit at 6:00 am on Wednesday to pick Char up in Tega Cay, S.C. later that evening and we would then drive as far possible, hopefully finishing south of Jacksonville, FL. As text messages and phone calls persisted Tuesday afternoon/evening, which included some heavy badgering, Uncle Matt and I eventually left Royal Oak, Michigan at midnight after watching his son's hockey game.

By 5:30 am we were at the West Virginia Welcome Center on I-77S just over the Ohio River, took a 2 hour cat nap and we were back at it by 7:30 am. We did wake up to a thermometer reading of 18 Deg, and luckily in a running vehicle? A text message was sent to Char shortly after leaving the Welcome Center, stating we would arrive a "bit" early. An additional phone call with a warning at 10:00 am was initiated, so Char could prepare, and the early departure had us arriving at his doorstep by 2:00 pm as opposed to 8:00 pm or later. At 2:03 we parked the car, already gassed up at $3.05 per gallon I might add, and began loading.

The first line up of items came out of the house (and perhaps the closet), including sleeping bags, his pillow, a cooler, and there it was… A black duffel bag, covered with “Captial C’s” all over it in a familiar pattern, similar to my wife’s purse and wallet, which was then placed on the tailgate of the Avalanche. At no point had Char warned us that Cara was in fact travelling with us to the Florida Keys. So, Uncle Matt and I started looking for additional bags, perhaps the kid’s items, but nothing presented itself. A glance down at the bag, back at my Uncle Matt, and then to an emerging Char from the Garage… And without hesitation “Like My Bag?” as Cara also began to harass him and proclaimed how much trouble he would get it if it were to get dirty… Just the thought of going on a fishing trip with a bunch of greasy men, it shouldn’t be a problem right? A couple of suggestions to hide the bag under his purse, or next to the box of Playtex, and we had our fill. We got on the road, and eventually heard the story about an overnight bag he found in his possession from college, which was 14 years ago, that resembled a giant petri dish with mold spores. I honestly would have chosen my wife’s oversized purse as well…

27 hours after our departure from Royal Oak, Mi we had completed 98% of our trip as we arrived at the Homestead, FL WalMart in search of cheaper egg sinkers to fill up the rest of our tackle list. When we stopped in Savannah, GA to fill up the AVET LX 6.0:1 reels with MOMOI 30# BLUE MONO, which they didn’t have, the lead was marked at over $4.20 + tax for a 10 oz lead??? If this was the case, then we were in trouble… A couple of additional stops along the way proved to be even worse, where the lead ranged from 0.45 to 0.50 per ounce. The cheapest we found the lead was at the southernmost stop, Key West Bait and Tackle for 0.30 per ounce. That was surprising to say the least. At least we could drink beer in the shop. How about them apples World Wide Sportsman?

We marched on and arrived at the Hampton Inn in Islamorada on Thursday morning at 4:30 am. Not too shabby… This allowed us to check in early at the Hampton Inn, have a warm breakfast, assemble the rods, and head to Bud N’ Mary’s for an all-day head boat. Fish the “No Fishing” docks out back for blue runners and pinfish, and test out the home made bait-well which I was rather proud of. It runs on 12v batteries which only last 6 hours so I would have to rotate 3 with the ability to recharge on the boat… It wasn’t great for the Yankee Capts, but it will be good enough for an all-day grouper digging trip or simple over nighter, or just for preserving bait once we fish from the beach again. We probably should have slept in as opposed to going on the head boat but it was nice to get some of the rust off of the bones with the “targeted grunts and yellow tail.” They had us into 150’ once but the current was ripping too hard for anyone who didn’t know how to stack lead, which was most of the boat, so we were out of there… I figured if we caught enough fish, we could have a good meal that evening and the balance could go to the lady at the Hampton Inn who checked us in early, and the rest could be iced for bait on the real trip.

Throughout the day Thursday I attempted to make contact with our Ballyhoo source but kept “just missing” him. We went to bed on Thursday night, full of fresh Yellow Tail, and with no bait lined up that I spent hours, countless hours researching and making the initial contacts. Early Friday morning I hit the computer in the lobby hard attempting to locate fresh goggle eyes and ballyhoo last minute. I went through my list of contacts from previous adventures but the cold front had the bait pushed into the Everglades National Park which prevented the guys from getting at them. I found a guy in Miami that I was prepared to backtrack for just to get the fresh bait. Just as I was about to head back to the room with bad news, an unknown caller hit my iPhone and as soon as I heard Dale’s voice from Outlaw Fisheries, we were back in business. I really have to thank Capt. Brad and his employee Dale at Outlaw Fisheries, for following through. Definitely a classy operation… We prepped the Hoo on site and loaded them into the bait coolers. Success!

With the bait issue resolved, and an entire afternoon to spare we decided to hit Duvall St., the boardwalk, and a couple of other places to get our game faces on. A naked dude sitting on a bar stool, and a knocked over planter full of rocks later and we were on our way. It’s a good thing we found the targeted assets that were actually bare, if you know what I mean… One last stop at GFS (a Michigan original) for some taste testers, Ziploc bags, and we were on our way to the boat.


We boarded the boat on Friday evening with the adrenaline piping through our veins. I prepped everyone’s rods for what I thought was the last time. I kept stressing maximize your bottom time. Don’t stand and wait for someone to tag your fish. Flop it on the deck and get back in the zone. We checked in and saw Capt. Greg in his usual spot, as Chad, John (Josh’s sub) and Linden were greeting everyone. The last time I was on the boat was nearly 6 years ago and I felt right at home the moment I stepped on. The Yankee Capts leaves that impression on you, whether it is the mates, Captain Greg, and even the passengers, it’s just an awesome experience. It is a fraternal brotherhood of crazy **** fishermen that will do anything to their bodies for a Mutton Snapper. Captain Greg is to the point which a lot of people see as “rude” or “standoffish” with little or no personality. I couldn’t disagree more. He has personality, he just doesn’t want to deal with your bull_ _ _ _. The only major difference was, Renata. My last trip on the boat was with the three generations. My father, grandfather and I went on this overnighter not knowing what to expect and I learned a lot that first trip. My grandfather at the time was 82 years young, and followed me out on this trip without second guessing me. It was a bit much, and he fished when he had energy, but the man is my hero and I wish to do half of the things he is doing at his age today… He and Renata have that spark, it is hard to explain but it is just a spark in their personality/character that draws all types of people to them. With Renata it is hard to say “had” because she still has that lasting affect... It’s as if they are a positive magnet and everyone else is a negative. A simple law being opposites attract. With each meal we had on the first trip, Renata would serve the old timer first and foremost, with a smile and friendly take care of yourself. He continued to come in, where possible, from chicken rigging it off the stern and managed to catch a fair share of nice Tails, including multiple Flags. We called him as soon as we were in Key West, with his first comment being “I wish I could be there”. Well, you were…

I listened to the regulars, including Nova Scotian Cameron, telling his tales from the Deep and the how to’s and what to’s. Uncle Matt and Char looked like two kids un-wrapping their first X-Mas gift. I had told them on the way down all my lessons learned on how to feed line, how to snell hooks, how to NOT bounce the weight. How to get room if you are overcrowded as there were only 22 souls on the trip... Find what works for you is the most important detail. As Chad, Linden, and John said there are 1,000 ways to snell a hook, just find what works best for you, and do whatever maximized your bottom time.

6 hours in, we had our first stop. Solid Atlantic Sharpnose bites with the occasional biggin’ that began to take all of the line off of the reel until it finally ticked a sharp tooth 200 yards away. It was time to move. Second stop, some nice bump and runs but no hook sets. I was rusty and too excited. For some reason it always seems that being slightly tired, increases your hook up rate because of the reduced reaction time. Uncle Matt and Char were getting hooked up, but rocked. Keep in contact with your weights guys as you feed out the line. If you continue to feed out the line and lose track of the weight, the fish can double back on you and you would have no idea. I started them off with 10 oz. egg, a 7’ Fluoro leader and 7/0 Gamakatsu Octopus Hooks in Black NS. Just to get the feel, and once they got used to the presentation they almost got down to 6 oz.’s of lead. Almost that is… I started practicing what I preached. And then a THUD, 1… 2… 3… 4… line starts to move off of the reel, I dropped the rod tip to the fish, and he caught up with the line 10… 11… 12… CRANK CRANK CRANK, hooked up… Up comes a 6 lb mutton. First for me and first on the boat. Not huge, but still the target species… Another mutton, pushing 10#’s a couple of bites later. That’s how it’s done boys. Still, mine were the only Muttons making an appearance in the totes. A couple of grouper from up front yet nothing else BIG. The current was manageable but strong and I was glad I started with the extra weight. I guess I am different than most in that manner where I choose to overweight, which gets you in the zone, and more under control as opposed to the lighter weight. Different strokes for different folks as they say…

As daylight approached we started to battle the current more and more. I set my Uncle Matt up with my Daiwa Saltist 50S on a stiffer, shorter, Chaos Rod with circle hooks as he performed better when he didn’t swing for the fences. What I tried to explain is if you do set the hook, you need to sweep the rod and crank like a mofo. The gear ratio sets itself in most cases, and when you let that Mutton hook itself in the gut, you have done your job (excluding the circles).

It got tougher thru daybreak and I had to downsize the hooks a bit in the light. Another Mutton Snapper came up for me mid-morning which was # 3. About 8-10#’s. At that time the corner rail spot (Robert and Family) started to have the most success. Fresh Goggle Eyes from Capt. Lee I think ($800+ worth of Goggles) and a long lead, with the baits a mile out. This was when the stern position started to shut down. Cameron came up with 4 muttons from the Starboard bow on long leads but that was it from up front, with some really good fishermen including Caesar who went skunked for the trip… Josh’s sun John made some of the catches better than they could have been. Both Cameron and I can attest to that. The current was ripping from Starboard to Port, perpendicular to the length of the boat for most of the trip. The #8-12 rail spots had the most success that morning and mid-afternoon on the Muttons. About mid-afternoon the bite started to get tough, and the Muttons started to disappear. That was when a lot of the guys started to rest up for the night bite. At points in time, there were only three of us on the stern. I managed two more Muttons in the 12-14# range when everyone else was asleep. My Mutton at roughly 4:00 pm was the last one to be caught on the trip. EVERYONE went to chicken rigging, even Robert at times. You know the hand that is dealt at times by Mother Nature, and you have to roll with it. We didn’t exceed 125’ and that was only a couple of stops. The waves were 4-6’ ers with bigger stuff mixed in and she wasn’t cooperating with us. The only time the wind subsided was Saturday evening at dusk but by the time we headed back in on Sunday, the Captain had to slow down for some big rollers heading directly into us…

I took the pool with a King pushing 30#’s that Linden told me to say on after multiple BIG shark hook ups that went NOWHERE. She came up towards the surface a ways from the boat, and Linden said that ain’t no shark. Stay on her! A run up the Starboard side and he gaffed her at the Bow. I don’t care much for the oversized Kingfish so that baby went home with Caesar and Rob. It took the pool away from Char where he had caught a King earlier in the day. I caught some nice mangroves, a couple of almost flags, a keeper firetruck red grouper on Saturday night and that was it. I actually stopped fishing on Sunday morning at 3:30 am with four hours left to fish. I just didn’t think anything would turn on, and it didn’t.

Another GREAT TRIP was experienced, not only the tough fishing but everything inbetween. I am already planning a trip in March with Uncle Matt and a new crew. Best of Luck to Char and Cara who will be expecting their 3rd child at the end of March. You can catch up on our trip this coming October. Amanda and I are expecting our 4th in May so there is no better time than NOW… Tight Lines and take care… If you have any questions you can email me at

[email protected]


  • NorthernNorthern Posts: 903 Officer
    Nice report... A fun read with good pictures.
  • globalwavetrackerglobalwavetracker Posts: 241 Deckhand
    Maude, you made the best you can in preparation. I would invest in some Gogs/blue runners/king fish as additional insurance. It can help make a trip more successful. After spending all that effort and expenditure for the trip, 2-3 doz will be well spent. Great spirit in the pinky quest and fabulous account of the trip. On our last trip we took 4 doz gogs for 4 fisherman and they produced over a doz muttons.
  • reel_crazyreel_crazy Macomb, MIPosts: 26 Deckhand
    Globalwavetracker - Thanks for the recommendation on the Gogs. It was something I was on the fence on and made some contacts with, including Jerry Schwab, but he hadn't been out lately. I will definitely introduce them on the next trip. With the fresh Ballyhoo, I tied for high hook on the muttons (thanks to some tips by John, and Lyndon), at only 5, but we were getting quality bites. We had enough blue runner, grunts, etc. to backfill the Ballyhoo and those got us the Kingfish, which we probably should have steaked out. Guys had gogs and fresh Speedos all over the boat and still ended up with little to no catch. I think it had to do with the weather front, as much as it had to the with the bait. Caesar offered us some Speedos for 3.00 each which is cheaper than I could have purchased them myself, but I decided not to. Later in the trip, Caesar and Rob gave us some Speedos in exchange for the Kings we gave them. When trying them out, the baits seemed really soft. I know that is a good quality it just seems you could go through hoards and hoards of bait.

    What rods do you recommend and what reels do you use? I have the Avet LX 6.0:1 and Chaos rods in 7' and 8' 30-50 rating but a number of Black Grouper, or soemthing else big, we were able to get a good ways off of the bottom, until they realized they were hooked and went straight down laughing at the Max Strike Drag of 20#'s. I didn't fish my Daiwa Saltist 50S which has better stopping power, but not by much. Even Robert and Co. on the #8 corner couldn't stop stuff on their HXW's with 24#'s of Max Strike Drag.
  • globalwavetrackerglobalwavetracker Posts: 241 Deckhand
    Maude, the bally were thick on the reef, perhaps it was bait of choice. I have had many a trip where we soaked Gogs only to switch to Bally and get hit by multiple muttons right away. Needless to say they were selective. So goes the rest of the bait options. This trip Kings were not the hot bait for muttons but did well for the other species.

    We had the usual hard lightning fast BG hit and lost all of them to scraped up leaders fishing mutton style rods. Landing those would require divine intervention and sitting further back from the reef? We had no problem bringing up big goliaths on the 40lbs mutton rods.

    I used a Seeker BS 8' deckhand 20-40 c/w Saltiga 50 - 60lb topshot /80# braid fill and 50lbs soft floro line leader. Did not lose a single oz of lead even when we had bottom a couple of times, lifting up a 6-8lbs piece of real estate. Did have trouble with snelling on a hook that had a rough edge where eye terminated. The Softer nylon got cut when it came real tight. Floro leader may have prevented that break-off. Also staying with 5 turns ( soft) vs 8 (Hard) is also crucial depending on the hardness of line used. On the softer line, the snell slipped more line before cinching down and with the abrasion over the hook wire tip at the eye popped 2 leaders for me. I am going to file the edges before using those red circles again.

    To truly be able to stop the blacks, perhaps 40-50lbs of drag with bent butt on harness and unlimited big game stick. 50lbs class rod/reels are no match. Easier with a pair of gloves and a YoYo on 200lbs with a big lane on J hooks, pray it's not a big shark hooked in the corner of the mouth. Having weather and tide window sure helps.
  • Yankee CaptsYankee Capts Posts: 1,003 Officer
    Did have trouble with snelling on a hook that had a rough edge where eye terminated. The Softer nylon got cut when it came real tight. Floro leader may have prevented that break-off. Also staying with 5 turns ( soft) vs 8 (Hard) is also crucial depending on the hardness of line used. On the softer line, the snell slipped more line before cinching down and with the abrasion over the hook wire tip at the eye popped 2 leaders for me.

    If that is indeed happening then you are not doing it correctly. Your either doing it backwards or the line is getting hot.

    It is impossible to show you on the internet because it is best learned with someone showing you as you do it.

    I will show you next Thanksgiving.:blowkiss

  • TennesseeDaveTennesseeDave Posts: 335 Deckhand
    Thanks for the report. I enjoy reading about these Keyes trips. I am going to have to get down there sometime and try it out. I do the Middle ground trips from St. Pete fairly often so I enjoy the deep water party boat experience. I know some of our regulars also fish the Yankee Capts. boat and enjoy it. Gotta get me some muttons!
  • globalwavetrackerglobalwavetracker Posts: 241 Deckhand

    This is the method I had used in my snell and believe seen others use this method as well.

    As the line comes up the middle passing thru the eye and rest right over the wire's end, under heavy pressure the line will dig in between the space left by the shank and eye loop. The line tends to singe down even more under 10-15lb pressure during the time you tighten the knot and will drag over the wire end. I suspect it has been nicked by then. Beware!

    I believe this snell without any knot to be very strong.

    Hope this help someone not loose a throphy fish.

    If that is indeed happening then you are not doing it correctly. Your either doing it backwards or the line is getting hot.

    It is impossible to show you on the internet because it is best learned with someone showing you as you do it.

    I will show you next Thanksgiving.:blowkiss

  • the other guythe other guy Posts: 18 Greenhorn
    I've always found that the key to snelling is to pull the two ends as tight as possible. The strength in the knot comes from the wraps being as tight around the shank as possible, thus reducing the amount of sliding up the shank and pushing up against the eye of the hook too much. I usually make it snug, slide the wraps (10 or so) up against the eye and then pull on the ends again tightening the wraps. Never had one fail when doing this!
  • globalwavetrackerglobalwavetracker Posts: 241 Deckhand
    Matt, Agreed this is the better approach where you snell the shank first, lubricate the line & shank, pull both ends as tight as possible first before sliding the snell up against the hook eye. Avoid using the eye as the place to singe down on the snell. The snell method itself was not the issue, the critical step of hand tightening the snell first made the difference. Applying 15lbs and 40lbs changes the dynamics of how the snell works. On the NZ version the pressure starts at the bottom pushing up and your main line never slides over the end of the hook eye as the tip of the line rest right over the end of the eye. Even when that bottom piece get cut under high pressure the snell still holds, amazing.
    On the regular snell the line exits the top and start tighthening from the eye going down, which will still allow some sliding over the end of hook eye under extreme pressure. This is all at the bench, unlikely to be a problem fishing muttons on 10lbs drag unless the line is nicked to begin with. Taking the approach suggested by Matt will solve the problem.
  • Yankee CaptsYankee Capts Posts: 1,003 Officer
    Let me show when your down here.

    I know how your doing it, the way I know is much easier. Sorry I don't have a YouTube Video for tying knots.

  • globalwavetrackerglobalwavetracker Posts: 241 Deckhand
    Thanks, off to Cape May for some RSA Sea Bass and Tiles on Wed & Sat.
    Hope to make it down before Grouper closing.
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