Yankee Capts Valentines Trip... This One's a Humm Dinger!
We got rained on in Key West before leaving port and the wind came up stronger than I expected to see, but when Capt Greg announced we may have to anchor at the Marquesas for a few hours, my heart did a bit of a flip. A second approaching cold front promised to shorten the trip by a day and my new nickname "Black Cat" was haunting me. This would be my fourth trip in a row shortened by weather and mates Josh and Chad were waiting to pounce, teasing and taunting, making my aging mind try to find a witty response in the ongoing battle I play with the mates. Lyndon just smiled, waiting his turn.
One AM came and we motored on without interruption, with no anchor chain rattling it's unwanted message of extended sleep time. Capt Derek cruised us to the Tortugas and dropped the hook in 160 feet of water, right into the middle of mutton mayhem! Six hours later, the bite slowed down, but in the meantime we got to forget about sleeping and eating and flexed our fishing muscles over and over. Twenty anglers called for help and the mates ran, keeping the catch flowing to the six huge totes destined for the ice box. The muttons weren't huge, but they were feisty. Trying out a new brand of thinner, softer leader proved to be a disaster. Two shark cutoffs, a big fish lost to a tangle and two to parted leader at the hook, kept my total to five fish, still a huge catch for one stop, but others had more. Randy and Tom, my fishing buddies from the Jolly Roger had capitalized on muttons and porgies and were leaving me in their dust. I heard Art at the stern had nine or ten and was smiling a merry tune when I saw him in the cabin.
Things got back to normal for the remainder of the day, yellow tails, muttons, king mackerel, Capt Greg kept us mostly in water over 160 feet and the waves calmed as darkness fell. I mostly fish muttons, but if the bite is off, I'll switch to a chicken rig, lead weight at the bottom, two hooks above, spaced about a foot apart and hopefully get in on the bait chomping feeding frenzy of the smaller fish. A few flag yellow tails, twenty plus inches long, were coming over the rail, but no muttons, so I switched gear and within an hour really cleaned up. A dozen flags, a margate, two decent porgies, a mutton and several unwanted bait robbers answered the call and on the next move, I had to drag my heavy stringer to the stern where the fish tubs are. Not to be denied, sharks, kings or goliath groupers had snagged some of the bigger fish from my line when I was a little slow retreiving my catch. On the move I repaired the mangled gear on three rods. It pays to have a backup pole or two to keep you in the game if trouble hits. Fun, fun fun!
Things slowed a bit around midnight so I grabbed a couple hours sleep and awoke preparing for the pre-dawn bite. Capt Derek announced 160 feet. And the muttons were hungry ... We mauled the mutton species, filling totes, avoiding sharks, picking off kings and other predators, netting flying fish and adding them to the buffet below. Baits of choice at the bow ranged from goggle eyes to speedos, mackerel and flyers. We garnished our offering with amberjack roe and had good success. After dawn I hooked up a mid sized mutton on a steak of speedo. The fish floated at the surface and to my horror, the hook and bait disgorged in one lump when his air bladder pushed his stomach out his mouth. This happens in deeper water as the air bladder swells, bloating the fish when it's pulled up, the equivalent of a diver getting 'the bends". I yelled for Josh that we had a floater, he grabbed a gaff and blindly tried to hook a fish he couldn't see, it was drifting under the bow with the current. Tom yelled he could see it on the port side. Josh slammed the gaff into it's holder and moving faster than I've ever seen him move, grabbed another twelve foot gaff, leaned far over the rail, spotted the floated and nailed it first time. It doesn't always end like that.
Daylight came and went and for the first time, maybe ever, I took a break from a hot bite and had breakfast. Twenty five seconds later I was back fishing.
The bite slowed, but not before Capt Derrick had landed a bunch of muttons of his own, I think he said five and another five lost to predators, good catching Capt! With Greg at the helm we headed west into a bit shallower water as the front approached. Dropping in 120 feet, my first bait met a frenzied attack by a lane snapper. I had caught a few small barracuda a week ago and chunked one into small steaks, skewered it and lofted it into pure water on the port side. One nibble, a lunging run and the hook was set in a large mutton. Fighting an enraged mutton in shallow water is akin to riding a bucking bronco, they are totally peeved off, unpredictable and you better have the drag set right, or somethings going to give. This one lunged about seventy feet toward the anchor and as the wind was picking up along with the wave size, it was a relief to see it on deck, still flapping. Twelve pounds of fish-fry heaven!
Someone from the stern was hooked up on a huge king mackerel and joined me on the pulpit with Josh patiently waiting with the gaff. I had my back to the action only three feet behind me, holding on for dear life in the heaving seas, quite comfortable and serene... until Josh made his move with the gaff. I turned to see him raise a twenty five or thirty pound king over the rail and try to sidestep the anchor line to keep his balance, both hands on the gaff. With only three feet separating my upper body from a gaping mouth full of razor sharp teeth, capable of slicing a fish in two with medical precision and vengefull eyes focused on the only target in front of it, me, I hoped Josh would keep control of his balance, as I had nowhere to go but in the direction of the closest hospital. Thankfully he decked the fish, leaving a heavy layer of slime on the no skid rubber mats, and none of my blood. King fish slime must be the most slippery substance known to man, one has no preparation time once you set foot on it, you are instantly transported to somewhere you didn't intend to be. Well Josh stepped on the slime and what followed looked like a Tom and Gerry cartoon. He had one hand on the rail and the other on the anchor tie off, his feet were spinning but there was no friction to give him traction. He ran about a mile and didn't go anywhere, too funny! We laughed and he quickly dispersed the slime, danger gone.
Wave action was causing me a bit of concern that I might be partially immersed unexpectely on my lonely perch on the pulpit, but I was still trying to ignore that the trip was nearing it's end when Greg announced it was the last stop. I first heaved a squid, ballyhoo combo to the voracious hoard below and had it, then another, slurped professionally off my hook. Another of the same and mutton on! By this time, I had one hand almost constantly holding on to the rail, while I fished with the other, but if you read a couple paragraphs ago about the bucking broncho effect, two hands on the fishin pole were required. Stooping a bit and locking my armpit over the rail solved the problem and soon my fourteen pound thoroughbred was thrashing at the surface. I yelled MATE! and Josh, all the way back at the stern, heard me plainly and appeared to save the day from a hundred feet away. Josh was The Man this trip!
The wind was howling when we arrived home and one glance at the waterside fish cleaning table told us there was no fish hacking tonight. At six-thirty next morning, I took a peek, still gale force winds were pummeling the sea wall, this was not going to be fun. Eight AM was our photo op and group dissecting therapy, and Mother Nature was in a very bad mood. Charlie and I took a small tarp and carefully manouvered it into place, a bit at a time and with the wind holding it in place against the back of the cleaning station, shelter was accomplished and an assembly line fish cleaning event occurred.
Sixteen totes total, I think, probably Art with high hook, including a twenty pounder, Tom Randy and I each with about the same total at seventeen muttons and numerous other delicacies, best trip of the season, a real humm dinger! Can't wait for this weekend! I hear they have loads of room.
Next year we have enough fishermen at the Jolly Roger to book a charter, oh boy, twenty fishing fools all in one place at the same time. Look out Capt Greg and crew!!! I'll try not to bang my lead off the wheel house ever again and screw you Chad and Josh for telling Greg it was my rod,,,, again. SORRYEE!!
All for now