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"All good things"

All good things must end and thus Gag season comes to a close. Coming off the last two back to back trips of the season I am combining them into one report.

November and December have been the best two months of Gag fishing I’ve seen in years so I was excited these last two trips were added. Like every trip it all begins with bait. On the weekend trip I teamed with my friend Larry. We started on the Skyway and finished catching big Pins on the Inter-Coastal. I repeated this pattern on the Tuesday trip with my buddy and part time roommate Omar.

Both trips saw little action trolling on the way out and not much action between spots once in deeper water. This surprised me as the Kingfish action on the all-day boats has been hot. It could be due to the unseasonably warm weather leading to the fish being a bit confused.

We started the weekend around 12:30 in near perfect conditions in about 120’ of water. The Mangrove Snapper bite was slow at best. I did mange to catch 8 decent ones before sunrise. There was also a steady bite of better than average Vermilion Snapper. The night Gag bite was slow but there were a few landed and I managed to catch one in the 12 LB range.

Sunrise saw a slowing of the Mango bite to the point I didn’t catch any during most of the day. For the next several hours I focused on live baits and did manage to catch three more Gags the largest of which was near 15 LBS. On one spot I dropped down a hand sized Pin and as soon as I hit bottom and tightened the line I was hung in the bottom. I tried to bounce it out but couldn’t. As I was reaching for my rag so I could pull on my 100 LB. line something slammed my bait so hard it not only pulled it free but almost yanked the rod out of my hand. Big fish ON! I never even got close to turning the fish and it quickly cut me off.

Captain Bryon decided to make a major move and get into an area that he hoped would be more productive. After a ride of about two hours we set up on some new grounds. I dropped down a large “Pig” fish. After a couple minute soak my bait got nervous so I got ready and BANG! Big Fish ON! I cranked as hard as I could but the fish was able to get me in the rocks. Using my banjo method and a bit of patience the fish came out and I managed to get him over the rail and was happy to see he was in the 20 LB. class.

The night Mango bite in this new area was much better as over the next two hours I caught 11 and the size was much better as well. The highlight of the trip for me was in a sense rekindling an old friendship as I met the current Captain of the Sea Leg Fleet Captain Ralph who’s father I fished with back in the 1990’s. Back then they ran a Bahama trip that was legendary. I was not surprised the son was a great fisherman and he ended up winning both Jackpots. I look forward to fishing with him and hopefully his Dad again. Time to head in and get ready for the fair well Gag trip.

We started around 1:00 in an area Captain Garret said was “Interesting” Although the Mangrove Snapper didn’t seem to interested in my bait I did mange to catch a few. There was a decent bite of African Pompano but I didn’t have any luck. On the next spot I dropped down a large Threadfin and got Slammed by a big fish instantly. I managed to get the fish turned but he came unbutton shortly afterwards. A couple of minutes later an angler just down from me landed a Gag that ended up being the largest of the trip weighing in just under 22 LBS.

The night bite was very slow and the weather was too nice. We had no wind and thus no anchor heading. We literally floated on the anchor. Usually I love night fishing but I couldn’t wait for day break and the chance at a Gag bite.

As the sun came up we were anchoring on a fresh spot. I dropped down a big bait and before I could get my line tight I got slammed and cut off. Re-rigging as fast as I could I dropped down again and BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG! I caught 4 in a row Gags two of which were in the 18 LB. range. I also got broke off two more times after that. What a spot. ( FYI I gave several fish away on both trips making Christmas come early for some)

Over the next few hours and stops the pattern was much the same. Gags around the boat, major break offs, lots of American Red Snapper and a scattering of Mangroves. As this was a New Moon the current was an issue. With only 30 anglers on board I was able to move from side to side and go with the flow. On one such stop I had changed to a 12-oz. sinker. I cast with the current using the largest Pin Fish I had left. After a few minutes I felt a slight bump. Tightening my line, a bit when BANG Big Slam! I cranked as hard and fast as I could as the fish was quite some ways out from the boat. I thought I had the fish turned but I soon realized the fish was swimming back at me. I kept cranking and there was a moment when the fish was even with the boat. I could feel the weight and strength of the fish, just when I thought I had a chance the fish went into beast mode and raced straight to a rock. I managed to get him out but he quickly went right back in. After a few more tries he finally came out and I started moving him my way. He made one last lunge and my leader gave way. No way to tell for sure but I’m convinced he was one of the biggest I had on all season. Lord willing, we will meet again.

Captain Garret decided to make a move to a wreck in the hopes of turning a slow snapper bite around. We got set up just after Sun down and instantly there were hook ups. The turned out to be Amber Jacks so I decided to switch over to dead bait. I managed a few good hook ups but most turned out to be ARS. My friend Cliff landed back to back Gags on live bait so I switched back. AJ’s were still coming up so I was concerned as I cast. My line only dropped ten feet or so when it got slammed. I had a runner on! I managed to weave in and out of people who had Jacks on. Those around me thought I had a Jack on as well but I knew better. With a mixture of luck and skill I reeled in a Blackfin Tuna that weighed in at 23 LBS. Nice way to cap off a trip.

At this writing it is Christmas Eve, my wife is cooking and my Grand Daughter is trying to convince me to let her open just one gift. I am reflecting on how great a year it’s been. Met some new friends and enjoyed some old ones as well. All in all, it’s been a fantastic year and for me certainly a blessed one. I’ve enjoyed fishing with and conversing with you all. A few things stand out. First, I am grateful for the special chance I’ve been given by the Hubbard family I’m especially grateful for the staff I work with both on the boat and at the dock. It’s been a joy to fish with people from all over. Two especially left a mark on me. One was a young man whose father had committed suicide. His uncle brought him on a trip and I got to fish next him. He caught some impressive fish and had such a smile on his face which I was told he hadn’t done in a while. The second was making the last trip with my friend Ian who died over the summer shortly after his 90th birthday. He knew it would likely be his last trip but he had no regrets. What an inspiration.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a very Happy New Year to you all. Rest up and get ready as we have many fish yet to catch.

See you out there!

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