My last Yankee Capts trip.
Long ago, my kind and understanding wife made it clear to me that partially thawed bait, thrown haphazardly into our refrigerator freezer, tended to infuse all of the other contents with a bit of a fishy twang. Honestly I didn't know what she was getting at. To me, everything smells a bit fishy. And If I recall correctly, she more than mildly disapproved, when her carefully planned dinner for six, of previously frozen New England style chowder, turned out to be a half block of chum, in a baggie, that she had patiently waited to thaw all day. Now I have an outdoor freezer. No more confusion.
So, Thursday night departure was exactly on time, as usual, with a likelihood of a layup behind the Marquesas Keys for a few hours till the wind let up. Normally this is considered a waste of good fishing time, but several trips back, the same lay up, in only thirty feet of water, had seen a half dozen muttons hit the deck, including one for me that was about 12 pounds.
I actually slept the three hours on the way out, a very rare occurrence and as the engine sound changed, there I was on deck, fresh dip netted ballyhoo bait on a hook, waiting for Capt Greg or Brizo to shut off the motors. Was it possible that there were hungry muttons in that sandy water, only four fishing rod lengths deep? You bet your ***! And I, having the first bait in the water, hooked the hungriest of them all. I was thrilled, but not unprepared for the racing of line off my reel. Finally turning his head and tiring him out, any speculation that this would be a disappointing shark event was put to rest, as a near ten pound mutton came to the surface. First one on the boat! Again! Shallow water muttons fight much more fiercely than their deep water cousins. It's more nerve racking for the angler, but more thrilling too.
Once again, over a half dozen muttons came on board from a very shallow water layup. Other fish were biting and I was pleased to catch a two foot lady fish, a proven bait on a previous trip.
My mantra for this outing was to keep well rested, fish each spot till the bite slowed, then cat nap till arrival at the next fishing hole. It worked well for me and I fished a bit at every spot, on the three day excursion. Caesar was beside me, mid ship on the port side. This is not usually one of the most productive fishing choices, I prefer the bow, or a corner stern spot away from the majority of fishermen. The main issue I've observed with fishing for muttons, is that most people stop fishing for them way too soon and revert to a two hook rig instead, to catch abundant, smaller fish. There is nothing wrong with this, but it severely limits the likelihood you will catch the trophy mutton you went to the Tortugas for.
Simple, easily followed instructions are given by the mates, many times on every trip how to catch a mutton. Muttons are very fussy eaters, they spook easily and often nibble and chew on a bait before finally swallowing and running off with it. Often they will taste it, leave, come back, taste again and again, making sure this is truly the meal they want. This can be frustrating for the fisherman who has waited a whole lifetime to rip the lips or perhaps the entire head from one of these tasty critters. It's no wonder 80% of the fishermen abandon their mutton plan and pepper the bottom with lead, virtually destroying any remaining hope that any muttons will stay near the barrage of projectiles.
Therefore arises a well kept secret. Where is the best place on the boat to fish? Where the fewest fishermen (and chicken rigs) are.
Being carefree and not overly concerned with my total catch, I remained near mid ship, sharing stories with Caesar and enjoying the moderately good weather, ignorant to the fact that almost all the fishermen were not actually trying to catch the prize.
Stop number two, I'm thinking I used lady fish pieces to nail mutton number two and a decent red grouper. As well, I employed my hard earned casting skills, to heave my bait as far away from the boat as possible. From my vantage point, the pulpit and back corner fishermen seemed to be frequently calling on the mates, for help with gaffing a fish. No reason to think I shouldn't be able to hook a few too!
Whenever I have a friend coming on his first Yankee Captains mutton trip, I stress that they go out on the pier at the Jolly Roger Campground and learn how to cast a lead, no hook, just the lead, as far as they can, with the rod they will be fishing on the trip. It is different once you actually get on the boat, casting is a bit harder, but once again, you want your bait to quietly sit on an undisturbed bit of sea bed, away from the rain of 8 ounce lead falling from the sky. Think like a mutton! (another secret to success)
The bite was hot and cold, so when flag yellowtails started to appear, I shifted to a chicken rig with shrimp for bait. Caesar smiled and offered amberjack roe, as he was out catching me three to one. He's been trying to convert me for a few years now, so I think it amazed him when I gave in and started using it. Other baits were working as well, but the roe was like candy. Absolutely no hesitation from the fish at all.
I switched to circle hooks on my chicken rig after losing several flag yellow tails. They wiggle fiercely and the circle seems to hold better. Using a lane snapper piece, I nailed another red grouper through the night and cat napped my way into Saturday. Sometime around mid day, one of the best bites of the trip turned on and even though I had a hundred quart cooler full of every imaginable bait going, I tried lady fish chunks, my freshest bait. Very often, the freshest bait is the bestest bait and four muttons proved me correct. (one was under sized) Casting away was a help here as well. Capt Greg and Capt Brizo were doing their very best to put us on the fish, but I think there would have been a much greater number of muttons landed, if we had only fished them a little harder and longer before opting for the easy catch.
Heck, Capt Greg announced that one spot looked really good and sure enough, three or four huge lane snappers came up immediately. Then the bite died, completely, just as our expectations went into over-drive. What the heck happened? Who knows.
Caesar was up to his usual tricks and was soon showing off two fish he brought up on the same hook! If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't believe it. Yes there is a picture to prove it, if I can get it to post. Later, there was a hot night bite and it seemed the fish were about 150 feet away from the port side. Our baits would get carried in the current toward a coral patch, then predictably get inhaled by hungry muttons. Thrilling.
I thought I felt a bite, then Caesar, next to me had a strong run off and so did I. We soon realized we were both attached to the same shark and working together, started to work the beast toward the boat. We both pumped and reeled at the same time, while the mates cleared the way for us to the stern. We had that puppy beat and were gaining line steadily. When my top shot appeared I knew we were probably going to see an 8 or 9 foot sea monster soon, but alas, we had tangled nearly every line on the way to the back and had a massive spider web trapping both of our lines in the middle. The shark ran, the web tightened and both lines broke. Oh well, that was a cheap thrill!
I got talking to a young fellow nearby with his dad and a friend, fishing the YC for the first time. What a surprise it was to find out that he had stayed at the Jolly Roger about a month before, had seen some guys cleaning a bunch of huge fish and found out about the Yankee Capts from them. As the fog cleared from my memory, I recalled talking to him and now here he was, fishing next to me! Small world.
So there ends the saga of yet another successful season of Yankee Captains adventures. I finished with a hundred quart cooler full, including seven muttons, two grouper and a very healthy batch of yellow tails. I think high hook was at bow or stern with about a dozen muttons, but remember, it isn't always where you fish as much as how you fish. Don't be shy, ask questions till you can catch muttons. You will get hooked on it, I,m sure!
Janice and I are back in Nova Scotia, arriving to 70 degree temperatures last Sunday. Since then we've had snow flurries, monsoon rains and have booked a trip to Mexico. We leave Wednesday AM. She has an appointment with a good book and a lounge chair, I'm meeting with some sail fish and mahis and showing everyone my mutton pictures!