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Gulfstar middle grounds

Just got in Sunday night from my second middle grounds trip. Another incredible experience and one that I would highly recommend for any of you avid bottom fishermen to try.
So I took the day off Friday to make the trip down to Tarpon Springs easier and less rushed. Slept in a little and got my stuff together and loaded up, except one important item. More on that later. Head out and take a nice leisurely drive down US 19 and enjoy the ride. Stop in a Home Depot to pick up a drop cord to use with my CPAP machine. As I am in line to pay for my drop cord it dawns on me....I left my CPAP sitting on my dresser. I check the GPS and it's 2 hours back to Gainesville to pick up my machine and then 2.5 hours back to Tarpon Springs. It 2pm and that puts me there at 6:30 and checking in is suppose to be at 6 so I decide to go on and not run back and pick up machine and go with out it. Get there and get checked in and pull the bait out and throw it in my small cooler and salt it heavily. In really really hot conditions, it is hugely important to salt your bait to keep it from turning to mush and the fish seem to really like the extra salt. So the manic time arrives and we start loading up. Little different way to load because you have an assigned fishing position and an assigned bunk. Mates take your cooler (another item I will talk on later) and place it on the boat. They load you rods and tackle for you and basically all you take on board yourself is your personal bag and linens for your bunk. We go down stairs and get our stuff squared away in the berthing area. It is rather tight but it is air conditioned and cool and comfortable. We leave the dock and head out to pull pinfish traps for the live bait well. It still amazes me that pinfish are such a hugely popular bait here. We load the live well and head offshore. We have a quick orientation and then a lite dinner is served and we hit our racks for some rest and to prepare for the ride. We arrive at our first stop around 3:00 am and anchor up and fire down the bait. I am a little apprehensive due to the last trip where I struggle to detect the mangrove bite. Not this trip. The mangroves are just now coming off the spawn on the last full moon and are hungry and eager to bite. It was literally firing a bait down, it hitting the bottom and in a matter of second you either had a fish on or had been picked clean. On the first stop was on fire catching mangos. We sit on the spot for almost 2 hours with non stop action. It's fish after fish. Finally the bite slows down and we make a move. Next stop is almost as good but the sun is starting to rise and the mango bite starts to slow down. But now it's time to shift gears and start grouper fishing. Well the grouper were there.....but.......they were all small and undersized. Fish hard till about 10 or so then the heat starts kicking in and I take a break and go down to the bunk area and get comfortable and grab some much needed sleep. We make a few more stops and nothing much happening due to the heat and middle of the day. Sleep till about 4 or so and get up and try a larger live pinfish on the bottom for grouper. Bait hits the bottom and sits there for a while then it starts to get nervous. Then I feel that thump we all love. I come tight and get the fish up and started off the bottom. Fish feels heavy and I am thinking grouper sandwich and already thinking about all the great eating I am bringing up. I get the fish about 40 feet off the bottom and it's still fighting and diggin hard. This ain't no grouper...turns out to be about a 40 pound AJ. Well dang it....get him up and the mate release him and he swims off.....proceed to go 3 for 3 with the AJs and by this time my arms are toast and I am hot. Take another break and hit the rack and recover a bit. Dinner is served and I grab a bite and get ready for the mango bite that night. It is another incredible night of fishing and I finish out my limit of mangroves and take a break and grab some rest. Get up around 3 to finish out the trip and the mangroves are just crazy on fire as far as feeding goes.
These guys are top notch as far as fish care goes. You bring your own cooler and they place a layer of ice in the bottom. As you catch fish, you place them in a basket and the mates come by very often and place you fish in the cooler. They place a layer of fish, then ice them and then repeat the process. No fish laying on the deck flipping around and getting mushy.
Now for the boat itself. The Gulfstar is a typical built headboat. It could fish up to 60 people but they never do. This was a 'normal' middle grounds trip and only had 19 anglers total onboard. They run a limited load trip that only carried 14 anglers. The mates and cook were outstanding and supremely attentive and helpful. Lots of the boats here could take a lesson from these guys.
I thoroughly enjoyed this trip and will fish with these guys again before my project ends. Will try again in October to see if the grouper fishing picks up. Water temp was almost 90 degrees and there was ZERO current. It was hot during the middle of the day but the nights were nicer and it cooled off very nicely and were comfortable fishing.
So here are some pics of my catch. Once I get more time I will load up some pics from my camera. ae2855babd0ecf9920a5aa683fcbaa32.jpgd06ebfed0ec31efdf0268596d65747f4.jpga01663f62368e2ee14866e5b2fdf5f00.jpgc6e1aa51489054725aec68845637f1b6.jpg

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