Back to back

Sorry for the delay in posting but I just recuperated from back to back 39hr trips on the FL Fisherman II. With that in mind I am going combine the trips into one report. Hope it’s not too long.

The weekend trip started out with deciding to try Ft Desoto for catching bait. If you haven’t been to this park you are missing one of the true jewels in the Bay area. This county park has the widest range of habitat I know of that doesn’t require a boat. There are two piers and many access points for the back waters as well as open beach. Deciding which area I fish first depends on how much bait I’m trying to catch. Since I was only catching for myself and had plenty of time I hit the back waters as not only is that where the bigger baits are but it is very peaceful. After hitting several spots with OK results I went to the picnic area (west end of park) which has a large open water area as well as a large lagoon. Note: for bait purposes it is best to go during high tide. After about three hours I had about 60 baits of a great size mixture. (This is another good reason to go to Desoto)

On my way out of the park I saw a large number of emergency vehicles ahead and my first thought was someone must have hit a cyclist. I was over joyed to see that not only was there no emergency but the commotion was a group of at least 100 Wounded Warriors on bikes. The sight of all those heroes and the obvious sacrifices they’ve made combined with me out there in total freedom brought tears of gratitude as I passed them giving the thumbs up. To all those who have and are serving and their families “Thank you”

Now time to put the beach in the rear view. We had a light load of about 20 stout of heart fishermen as the wind was blowing at least 20 knts. This would be the case most of the trip as the seas averaged 5-8 most of the trip. Fortunately we had a following sea so the ride out wasn’t bad. Trolling on the way out is still slow. All I saw was one Bonita. The Captain told us we were headed to the North end of the Elbow. I love to fish this area as it is noted for BIG Goozers.

We started around midnight in around 200’ with at least 5’ seas. I was glad to be on the catamaran as even in rough weather it provides a stable platform. The big Mangroves bit from beginning to end on this trip. People ask me what the average size is of the Mangrove Snapper offshore. Well I have caught them both recreational and commercially and I’ve concluded it is 3 lbs. On this trip I reached my 20 limit with at least a 5 lb average. I had 3 in the 7 lb range with my jackpot winner coming in at 7.4 lbs. I was catching them on both dead and live bait. As the bigger ones were hitting the livey’s I focused on that. In fact I caught 5 during the day on big Pinners while targeting AJ’s using 100 lb test. The jackpot Goozer I got on the last stop. There were some nice ones coming up so I reached in my bait well and got a hand size live Pin that I would usually only put down for AJ’s or Grouper. Normally Mangos nibble on live baits so you have to feed it to them. My bait was down for less than a minute when it was hogged. Gotta tell you if you are passionate about fishing like me it doesn’t get any better than this.

Even though the night bite was the best the catching was steady throughout the trip. I’m still catching and releasing a number of Gags and ARS. I released 8 Gags (one in the 20 lb range) and at least a dozen ARS, two I caught back to back that were in the 15 lb range. The legal AJ bite is still a bit sporadic with only one keeper caught this trip. (Tip: the one AJ was not in the JP, Always get in the JP as every trip there is at least one person who would have won but wasn’t in the pool) In fairness the Capt. tried to take us to a proven AJ spot but it was 9 miles into an 8’ sea so we stopped after a few minutes. The trolling once we were out there was productive with several Black Fin Tuna landed. I had two big strikes no hook up. Always more to learn. There weren’t that many Porgies or B-Liners but the ones caught were nice size. I saw at least a dozen Triggers and some decent Scamps. Overall it was a solid trip with many people catching the biggest Mango’s they’d ever caught. (My personal best is just over 13 lbs I caught back in the early 90’s)

One day off and now for the Tuesday trip.

My fatigue quickly left me as I began to load the old Chevy for the trip south. It was bit easier as much of what I pack was still on the truck from the previous trip. I planned to start at the Skyway as I was catching for two. My friend (Jig Head Ed) was coming on this trip. My plan almost ended in disaster as the Skyway (Fog) was closed and I almost got caught in the stand still on 275. Luckily I was able to get off on the Ft. Desoto exit. I decided to go straight to the Bay Pier as I was targeting 100 Pins. (Tip: if you are fishing either of the Desoto Piers you need a cart as it is a fair walk from the parking lot.) The pier was more crowded than usual (probably due to Skyway closure) and the bite was slower than normal but I was able to get about 50 decent baits before moving on. I tried a few spots near John’s Pass with mixed results. Fortunately I was able to supplement my catch with a few dozen from Hubbard’s. I’d rather have a dozen more than I need than one short.

With the fantastic weather the boat was almost full. The trolling was still slow on the way out with only one Spanish caught. The water is still a bit chilly and churned up near shore but this should improve daily. Captain Bryon said we would start around midnight just short of the Middle Grounds and work our way in. The first stop usually is fair to middling as the anchor heading is best guess and so this stop is a test. Mangroves usually take 10-15 minutes to fire up but they were chewing from the start. Everyone was catching them. I had eight in about 10 minutes. As the size was average at best I started culling them early. The rest of that night the bite was on fire. The Captain told me the boat had at least 300 Goozers on board before Sun up. I caught around 30 but only strung 12. Got to save some for the future while honing my skills. By the end of the trip anyone who focused on Mangroves had their limit.

During the day the bite was decent. Around 9:00 AM the Capt took us on a 1-1/2 hour ride to a wreck for AJ’s. During that run a group of us trolled. Most were using stretch lures. The bite was great with several Black Fins landed. About 45 mins into the trip I had a massive strike that was singing the drag. Before I could even grab the rod it was off. I am trolling braid with 20’ of mono for shock and I’m thinking I may need to add more. (I would appreciate any input on this) About 10 minutes later the fellow next to me got slammed and eventually landed a 60 lb Wahoo. I am convinced that is what hit me but you never know. 10-15 minutes later I had another strike and this time I got hooked up. Right away I knew I had a big one on. I was hoping it was a Wahoo but it turned out to be a Cudda in the 50 lb class. Not what I wanted but fun none the less.

So far this year the keeper AJ bite has been slow at best, this was about to change. As soon as we got set up on the wreck the bite was on. AJ’s were coming up all over the boat. Most were short but there were quite a few keepers. Jigging was hot but I only saw 2 keepers caught this way. I was still struggling to get a keeper so after about 5 shorts I thought I’d try a dead bait for some Mangos. I’ve caught some of my biggest this way. I quickly got hooked up with a 15 lb Gag. (Overall I released 5 Gags this trip). I then caught three straight ARS one of which was in the 20 lb class. No Goozers. As there were still some AJ’s coming up I switched back to live bait. That is when the sharks moved in. I caught two small ones but there were several large ones hooked including one of the biggest Black Tips I’ve seen. The mate said we needed to move. I decided to try one more time so I reached in my well and picked out a large re-tread Pin as I didn’t want to waste a fresh one. I got nailed before I hit the bottom. Everyone said I had a big shark. Everyone but me that is. I was confident it was a Large AJ after a nice fight (which included steering my line out of the prop) I was rewarded with a 47 lb AJ which held on to when the Jack Pot! Never give up!

The rest of the trip saw a good mix of fish with some nice Red Grouper which included a 17 pounder caught by a lady angler who was not in the JP. Now that day light savings has arrived there is not much of an evening bite. The last stop saw some nice Mangos but they were just beginning to chew when we ran out of time. Back to back trips are a fun challenge and I paid the price but, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. As my favorite trips (over nighters) won’t go again till second week in April I am already “Jonesin” not sure what I’ll do. Any suggestions?

See you out there!


Special shout out to my friends 12 year old Bryan and his Dad! Look forward to fishing with you again.


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