Yankee Capts 4 Day Pulley Ridge Charter
Sometimes, when you least expect it and everything that can go wrong does go wrong, you catch a big break. Well, that just happened. Years and years ago I read a little truism that has stuck with me. It's very simple. "Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity." On the surface it looks overly simple to have much value, but if you actually apply it in life and are always prepared, it can have amazing results when opportunity presents itself. Last week's four day charter on the Yankee Captains is a perfect example of this and paid huge, happy rewards for a small group of fishermen including myself, Captain Greg and the crew. And yes, there are pictures!
It goes something like this.....
Dave, from the Reel Seat, up in the winter battered New Jersey area, charters the Yankee Captains each year for a winter fishing adventure with a group of fishing buddies. They are deep drop fishing specialists and Dave, owner of the Reel Seat actually supplies deep drop tackle and expertise that has been instrumental in the success of all prior YC Pulley Ridge trips.
This year's Reel seat charter was short a few fishermen, so when Capt Greg mentioned there were a few openings on face book, I was already prepared and quickly committed to go, with only two days rest between trips. The weather pattern of wind, wind and more wind finally broke and Captain Greg jumped on the opportunity to steam about 100 miles off shore and fish the Pulley Ridge area in the winter, an almost unheard of treat.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, deep drop simply means fishing in very deep water, often 400 to 1000 or more feet. It is very hard work and requires special gear, but for those who dare to drop a heavy lead and baited hooks into the abyss and crank it back up, they can expect to catch various species most people will only see in pictures.
We set out just before noon on Monday and partway to the Tortugas Capt Greg drifted us in deep water, planning to make the long haul to our real destination over night. Even this close to Key West, we were rewarded with numerous species, in fact every time I cranked my gear up from bottom, I had one and sometimes two fish, but not the size of what I knew was waiting for us tomorrow. Dawn greeted us in near calm seas, well rested, grooved in to the fishing routine and soon we were hauling snowy groupers, yellow edge groupers, tile fish and many other species aboard. Only one other person shared the bow with me and soon my new best friend, Joe, was learning how to tune out and ignore my endless chatter about everything and anything I can think of that will remain unimportant and meaningless to nearly everybody else on the planet. Between telling my stories, jokes and nonsense, I noticed that Joe was catching more fish than me and quickly saw he had less bait on his hooks than I did and was setting the hook with a more gentle upward sweep of the rod than me. Even with 1000 feet of line out, braided line does not stretch and the circle hooks I was using were pulling out without setting. My fish catch improved immediately.
Fishing in shallower water, 200 to 300 feet, at night, drifting, some guys at the stern were using jigs to catch black fin tuna in great numbers and groupers. Others were nailing a few muttons. I had brought two dip nets to catch flying fish and caught a dozen quickly while in deep water before the move. Capt Greg asked us to be Guinea pigs and try fishing as we drifted over the edge into the deep. Suddenly sharks, which were not seen at all on the trip I was on last summer, were schooling at the surface, milling about, wondering what this big floating ball of light was, with all the potential food standing at the rail with sticks. There were a dozen or more, some big, some small, but all very toothy and dangerous.
By this time, I had a flashing strobe light attached to my gear intended to attract fishy attention at the bottom. As it neared the surface it instead drew the attention of a five foot shark, which caused me to reel furiously, narrowly racing my bait out of the water ahead of him. His head came out about a foot, his mouth snapped shut on open air where my bait used to be and I put my rod away for awhile.
Ah yes, shallow water... I dropped a mutton bait, a half a flying fish, to soak and was reeling in to check on it and something fast and strong inhaled it on the way in. A furious fight and good gaffing yielded me a black fin tuna of about twenty-five pounds. There are much better fishermen on board than myself, and I haven't yet caught on to catching muttons while drifting, or jigging, so I went to bed, knowing I would need ALL of my energy for the final day of deep water. The huge white fish box was full, and a quarter of the blue box, so the dozen guys along the port side and stern were busy lads. Big black fins were splashing, leaping out like lake trout for flies, I'm guessing at flying fish. Oh, I tried a simple, four ounce, buck tail jig, with bright plastic feathers on it, just before dawn and caught a fifteen pound-ish red mutton. I had to add a sliding sinker above it to get it to bottom, but with a whole squid on the hook, it was not on bottom more than a few seconds before getting inhaled. I only dropped it three times and had two good hits and a home run. I know what to bring next time.
Our final day of drifting was on flat seas with very little current, so Capt Greg motored us to a canyon with current. Golden tile fish, barrel fish and numerous other fishies appeared, then the highlight, Queen snappers! I was lucky and nailed on of the largest of these beauties, almost as big as the one I caught last summer. What a climax to the trip! About eight or ten were landed, including one that came unhooked and was floating away. Greg got us to reel in and went on a recovery mission. You don't abandon a beauty like that!
An eight foot manta ray lolled about at the surface, impressing us. Fish sandwiches for lunch, steak dinner and a good night's sleep saw us at the dock before daylight. Twenty eight totes of fish were tossed into our coolers and the true volume of our catch became apparent. A tired but happy group sat, amazed at the variety and size of the catch, the pool winner a huge grouper, no contest.
Now we have another campground fish fry on the calendar and an exotic meal it will be!