Fishing Reports.........The Search for Big Earle continues..........every month I try to pick a few days to give you an idea of what's going on offshore

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Emmaline and Georgie from recent trips!

HEY...I like to think of myself as a man's man and love dude trips....but when you have the chance to take some nice kids fishing, it just re-kindles your hope for the future of not just fishing, but for society in general. Today's children are not that different than I was at that age, they are just exposed to more earlier and have tons of technology to deal's a couple of great examples!

Images from 2011, it was a very good year!

July 22

Repeat customers Tim, Vernice, Kevin and Mike have been trying to get way offshore for the past month or so ut the weather kept getting int he way. With Tropical Storm Bonnie crusing up the Caribbean, we took advantage of the calm before the storm to work our way out to the northern fringe. The tide was honking all day making accurate anchoring a challenge, the first couple of spots produced 4 nice red grouper and four snappers. We left to play around one of the wrecks that dot the sea floor out there and immediately hooked a giant barracuda that easily bit through the light leader. Determined to teach him a lesson, I fired a live bait with a wire leader right back and hooked a muscular fish....species undetermined but cuda was the crew's bet. After 10 minutes Tim passed the light rod to Mike who was not pleased to be spending so much time reeling in a large cuda. I encouraged patience, I have seen many desirable fish hooked only to turn out the be a barracuda at the boat and suspected the reverse was true this time. A few minutes later mike passed the rod to Kevin....who promptly reeled in a 35lb AJ on 15lb test line.

Later on another spot we hooked a nice fish only to be denied by something toothy. A second pass produced a smallish jack he was about 20 feet from the boat, a 12 foot hammerhead came out of the water trying to inhale the fish. Luckily we got the jack in and threw it back only to see the hammerhead hit it immediately. Tim got excited and wanted to hook the shark. I got a 50lb class outfit out, put on a marlin rig, pinned on a large bait and tossed it overboard. After 30 seconds, the reel started screaming and Tim was fast to a big fish. I went into the cabin to get a harness for what was sure to be a long fight...when the crew called out that the fish was coming to the boat. A 30lb kingfish is no match for 80lb test with a 600lb leader! How he escaped the shark is anyone's guess but we did not see that fish again.

For years I've had the numbers to an old wreck way offshore and the weather was perfect to try and find it. We spent some time looking without luck but did locate a promising piece of bottom. A short while later the grouper and snapper limits were filled and we started the long ride back to the hill. Beautiful weather, some good fishermen and a great catch completed a fine day offshore!

July 10

One of the joys of guiding is taking a group of folks who enjoy each other's company. Today's crew was Mark and Diane with visiting daughter Amy and husband Hugo. The affection was obvious all day between these experienced anglers and they made me feel like a part of the family. The weather did it's best to drive us crazy, breezy and fair in the morning giving way to overcast skies and a fresh wind from the west. It took longer than usual get out to the northern fringe in the 2-3ft headsea, we trolled the final 30 miles at 20 knots. I've been trying this off and on for a couple of years without result but the catch of a 58lb wahoo in 60ft confirms the suspicion that these sleek speedsters patrol our waters more frequently than they are given credit for.

The first drop appeared to be grunt city, their activity often tempts the larger predators to get involved....but not on this rock. The second was better...with a 15 and 13lb red grouper hitting the ice along with several red snapper to 9lbs. We found some new spots during the afternoon, and anchoring was problematic for most of the day. A few more snapper joined the party and we decided to troll to another spot....the west wind is now 15-20....thunderstorms on the doppler radar to our north and headed south....the sound of a screaming reel diverts my attention away from the electronics. Mark is a smooth angler and takes the rod. We are surprised to find a nice AJ on the hook. We put out the set again and try the same spot....the rods folds over and Diane grabs it as line just melts off the reel. Diane received a large amount of coaching in good humor over the next 15 minutes and was rewarded with a beautiful 30lb kingfish.

The ride in with a 4-5ft following sea was nice if a little slow. The tachometer lead for the autopilot got disconnected and put out an alarming beep every 20 seconds for the whole trip...but it can drive better than I can...and that is now a soldered connection:) You don't always get to take nice folks fishing as a guide...they don't come any nicer than these guys!

June 26

Today I took Florida's premier wiring company and some customers offshore in search of Big Earle. The plan was to run 70 miles out and start looking for the kind of bottom that holds large fishes. Ordinarily I would not be optimistic about fishing on a full moon, but the bite has been hot all month and shows no sign of slowing down. We had twos and threes on the way out from the SW, water temp varied between 88 and 91 degrees on the surface. The forecast easterly swing in the winds coupled with the pervasive afternoon seabreeze set up for a perfect day, weatherwise.

The crew, Monty, Eric, Eric and Guy were experienced offshore fishermen. It didn't take long at the first spot, Monty started catching fish like a wildman. He was using of of Coach's Custom rods, designed to make a grunt fun but with enough backbone to lift a large fish away from the rocks below. We released several legal red snapper in search of something a little larger...

The next spot was a mile away but after traveling a scant 1500 feet, we ran across a nice show on the bottom machine. With the sophistication of today's electronics, the fish don't stand a chance. The gents dropped their bait and in a recurring theme for the day, large red grouper kept the red snapper at bay. A small scamp was released unharmed and a beautiful lane snapper hit the ice. Smaller fish don't seem to have as difficult a time being released in these depths, larger fish need to be vented to survive the ordeal.

Around 11 we decided to try some trolling, 20 minutes of high speed produced nada, we stopped at an old wreck and played with the AJs for a while but the crevalle and cudas made life difficult. Trolling again, we had a couple of knockdowns before a nice king hit a surface plug. As it neared boatside, a big shark hit the middle of the king and we reeled in a six pound sliver of the fish's head. Changing tactics, we lightened the drag to enable the fish to escape the sharks and immediately backed down a la my blue marlin days. Eric was rewarded with the fat 27 pounder in the photo!

With playtime over, we needed two red grouper and three snapper to finish off our limit. A short run to another area produced the two grouper and two more snapper. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking for that elusive eigthth snapper, Guy caught the big grouper of the day, a red well over 15lbs....vented and released to fight another day.

Total for the day: 150pounds of fine-eating fishes caught by a great group of guys! Hope to see these boys again soon.

We saw and smelled none of the oil that is smothering the northern Gulf, hopefully it will not spread this far but unless BP is successful stopping the leak soon, it's over for my generation.

June 20

The fifth Way Offshore adventure of the season was a Fathers day special, Eric and Ian and Billy and Dolan. We were treated to one of my fav sights...a beautiful sunrise from 20 miles offshore. The first honey hole produced some nice red grouper and a few smallish red snapper. We moved to a wreck and tossed a live pinfish behind the boat. The bait was immediately accepted by a large brown shape, Ian took over and battled the bruiser for 10 minutes before looking for some assistance. As the rod was being passed, something with some serious teeth hit the silver crimp and the line went slack.

Father and son got this double header of 15 pounders to the boat while offering each other advice during the fight, strange day in that the red grouper kept the red snapper at bay. In any event, I would be hard pressed to think of a better day on the water with some very nice folks....even better when you finish with some fine fish!


June 13

The third Way Offshore acventure of the season started early on a Sunday morning with rain showers scattered offshore. Pat, Chico, Mark and Brody from Iowa by way of Nebraska were onboard for some snapper fishing. Our cruise slowed was slowed to 25 knots by a snotty little chop left over from the rain activity. The water temps had risen three degrees in three days to reach 90 in the channel and 88 well offshore.

The first stop had nothing but lizards and sand perch. The next spot gave up six red snappers relatively quickly and a couple of grouper. We tried a couple of wrecks for cobia and/or large kingfish but were rewarded with even harder fighting AJs.

We ran across some interesting looking stuff while scouting around and finished off the snapper limit and added a big red grouper to the mix. On the long ride in, Brody from nebraska proved to be one of the top five in music trivia ever to play the game onboard the TUNER.These gents are welcome back most any time!

June 10

This was a full crew for the Way Offshore adventure, Rob, Ryan, Billy, Billy Jr, Duke and Todd. We left the Sea Hag at 6:30am with special sandwiches and enough hydration to slow the cruise speed by a knot or so. The weather was agreeable, a short chop from the shorebreeze and a few clouds marred an otherwise picture perfect sunrise. First stop was 70 miles out, Rob and Ryan had never fished or been on a boat before so they were going to the top right off the bat.

The water remained a dirty green color all the way out. No oil was seen or smelled, by my calculations we were still over 100 miles from the closest reported sighting.... We had action immediately with a couple of small red snapper and then Billy hooked something with some shoulders. After some huffing, this nice 15lb red grouper came aboard.

While running to another fishing hole, a pretty piece of bottom revealed itself on the Furuno sounder. Since this was Ryan's first fishing trip, I had him set up with a custom built, lightweight rod from Coach's Custom Rods in Dalton, GA and a small reel. Ryan hooked something large and the groaning one point we asked if he needed to borrow some feminine sanitary product since the fish was giving him such a hard time. As beginner's luck would have it, Ryan's 16lb red snapper is the largest caught on the Tuner from the port of Steinhatchee.

The middle of the day was hot and muggy, each of the intrepid anglers got shots at some bruiser reef donkeys. Bottlenose dolphins are sociable creatures and occasionally put on spectacular displays of leaping ability but nothing turns off the fishing faster than a pack of these animals. You never can tell what you will see this far from shore, on this day the rare dirty porpoise showed up and fishing ground to a halt for a while.

Toward the end of the day, we rounded out a limit of red snapper and added a couple of nice groupers to the string. One of the benefits of west coast fishing is the sun is behind you on the way out in the morning and the way in in the evening. Another is fishing out of the Sea Hag...Shane waited for us to get in to help with cleaning the fish and any time the fish cleaning bill exceed $100, you've had a good day. This same crew went with me to the Atlantic a couple of years ago, we had one 20lb mahi to show for a full day of fishing. I'm glad they gave me another shot, maybe they won't wait so long until the next trip:)

June 1......Opening Day!

Opening day of red snapper season saw an unusual crew on board the TUNER: Darren, a telecom exec from Orlando; Mike, a Regional Director for the Coastal Conservation Association; John, a trust fund baby/commercial fisherman from Crystal River; and Ed, a retired insurance magnate and current member of the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Council. We left early into a gentle swell from the West, the remnants of the previous evening's thunderstorms still flashing in the distance.

We were armed with live bait and chum, intending to turn the water behind the boat red with live snappers. This is an extraordinary method for catching and releasing deep water fish unharmed....if you find the right spots. Our first few tries produced a surprising number of sharks...and very little else. A couple of old wrecks were holding large AJs and a 30lb class kingfish made several spectacular skyrockets on a noisy plug, managing to miss the hooks each time. At one point, a school of huge jack crevalle swam under the one was man enough to challenge one of these speedsters on light tackle from an anchored boat. At another spot, we had schoolie mahi around the boat, too small to keep and definitley too mealy to eat even if legal. Luckily a new spot produced a limit of nice red snapper to 11lbs in about 10 minutes. Great day with some good doods....

looking back at last June 15th......

We are looking back at last year and peering into the future simultaneously in this report. Red snapper have made a strong comeback following some severe limits and seasonal closures on recreational fishermen. In reality, the primary cause of the comeback lies with 1) the four hurricanes in 2004 that wreaked havoc on the shrimping fleet, 2) the increased cost of fuel and 3) the low price of imported, farm raised shrimp that has flooded the market resulted in several years of highly reduced bycatch (read juvenile snappers).

So now that the juvenile snapper are being allowed to mature and reproduce instead of being shoveled over the side of a shrimper, there are a LOT of fish out there. It should come as no surprise to those of you who follow the herky-jerky management style of federal fisheries personnel to learn that in an astounding moment of clarity, NMFS has decided to shorten the recreational season yet again in 2010 lest we catch too many fish since they are so abundant. If only they were as careful with our tax dollars. Now under the "catch share" entitlement program, commercial interests are given a quota of snapper without cost from our government that they may lease or sell like a speculative commodity trader. They are allowed to fish all year long without a closed season while recreational fishing, a mainstay of Florida's economy worth an order of magnitude in GDP above the commercial catch, is reduced a joke of a season. NMFS is part of NOAA, a division of the Department of Commerce. It would appear they do not understand the commerce value of the recreational sector.

A more cynical viewer would say Obama's appointment of an environmental wacko with a personal agenda to head NMFS is a sure sign of things to come.

So all of the above logic and five bucks will get you a latte, but like it or not the shortened snapper season is looming. My buddy Jim Thackrey caught a bunch of snapper last year and every now and then something that can really stretch your string wanders along and wants to play. This 30lb kingfish was a handful on 12lb test while we were anchored up, he hit a big live bait and took his time coming to the boat. With a 53 day season this year, plan on getting out often....there may be so many fish next year that Federal logic requires no fishing at all!

April 2nd

The second day of grouper season began with a beautiful sunrise over the stern on the way offshore. I'd ordered a flatcalm day for fishing and the Gulf obliged with chamber of commerce weather. One of the crew had brought some serious jigging equipment and was anxious to try it out. At the first stop, the jigs produced a legal grouper and several AJs. The second stop was better, Mike pulled this 18.xlb red grouper up on light tackle and a white jig.

Occasionally a few hours just seem to fall from heaven and land squarely on the Tuner. Good weather, enjoyable companions and willing fish conspire to fashion the times you daydream about at the office. The jigs continued to produce the rest of the day, we finished with 140lbs of fish and were back at the dock by 3pm.

December 31st

SEC football, a persistent weekend wind and some lingering boat issues have conspired to keep me off the water since early September. The boat issues have been cured and the wind relented for about 15 hours at the end of the year....just enough for an offshore run. The crew for the initial run was a couple of Bahamas fishing buddies and the Volvo factory rep, Mike, Mike and Jason. They brought their teen age sons along, also named Mike, Mike and Jason....remembering names was no problem for the Captain on this day.

After some last minute tweaks, we left the dock at the Sea Hag...air temp 38 degrees, river water temp 51 degrees and a fresh breeze from the East at 14 knots. Air and water temps in that range require the proper clothing to ensure you stay comfortable. I told the crew to dress for a polar expedition so they were well equipped. First stop was one of the many small holes in 40 feet of water. Most everything protruding above the sea bottom has been found so years ago I started looking for cracks, crevices, springs etc. that are harder to spot on a bottom machine and usually more productive in terms of holding fish. I haven't hit this spot in a couple of years, there was a nice show of fish off the bottom. Since the persistent easterly breeze had pushed far too much seagrass offshore to try trolling, we put down some cut bait and were rewarded with a large triggerfish and a bunch of outofseason red snapper.

The wind diminished and the sun burned off the low morning clouds. We headed farther offshore in search of red and gag grouper. Next stop was immediately productive with a nice 15lb red doing its best to pull this Mike out of the boat. Three more legal fish joined it in the cooler and a couple of dozen shorts were returned unharmed to the water. The highly endangered red snapper were once again prevalent in size and numbers.

By 1pm we had nine legal groupers, four over 12lbs with Trey's(one of the Mikes) red going 15lbs. The sun is shining brightly from its near winter solstice angle. the east wind has left us for more westerly locales. The water has gone from whitecapped three footers to six inch wavelets. With almost 100lbs of fish on board, we went exploring for new spots and something a little larger to stretch our string. An old wreck held some small winter AJs, tremendous sport on light tackle.

After an hour of playing, we headed toward the hill under cloudless skies and mirror smooth water. The cold air was so clear we spotted the water tower at 17 miles out and had to check the radar to make sure we were not seeing a mirage. It felt good to be back on the water, good to catch some nice fish and good to see some young men enjoy a day away from video games to do the real thing.

The Tuner's upgrades include swapping out the problematic electronic engine controls for old fashinoned manual cables, a larger GPS with instant weather reports, a 72 mile color radar and a commercial bottom machine with some neat features that look like they will really help in locating the above mentioned negative relief on the seafloor. There is an asociated learning curve with this new stuff but the results from this trip look promising.

July 12th

Just another day on the red snapper grounds, everyone got two drops and limit of fine fish was on board. An idiot in a Grady White boat anchored on top of where I was fishing without so much as a word...I don't own the ocean but neither do you, thus the slogan....Eat Me. The rest of the day was spent pulling in red groupers, kingfish and big AJs....mangrove and lane snapper were plentiful as well.

June 20th

If you've read any of my fishing stories, you will recognize the name Gatewood. Crisp, Alan Swan and I shared many adventures during the early phases of our saltwater careers. This Saturday I got to go fishing with Gatewood on his new 31' Cape Horn and the Gatewood/Swan clan. This is not a early rising crew, we left the dock at 10am. Powered by twin 300hp Suzukis, the boat is both fast and pretty efficient. We got to 90 feet in a little over an hour and started looking for fish. At the fist show of fish, Layton dropped down and pulled in a fat 12lb red snapper. We anchored and drifted back to the spot, hooking more nice fish along the way.

Alan and Crisp hooked into two thirds of a red slam

The bite only lasted 30 minutes but it was non-stop action with a wad of big lane snappers. We headed to a nearby wreck to put some first timers on some freight train AJs. Light tackle makes these bruisers excellent sport and fresh AJ on the grill is still one of my favorites. Ginger caught the largest, using the lightest tackle...

I've known these folks forever but rarely get to fish with them. We always have a great time whether we catch fish or not, this day was no exception. The kids have grown into adults their parents can be proud of. With some close personal supervision from Uncle Wiley, they might become pretty good anglers too:) We went looking for big fish and found a few...the boat ran great and fished well...hard to stop grinning after a day like today...

June 6th

After releasing what seemed like an endless number of red snapper limits most trips, the season finally arrived. My first two trips got cancelled by weather but the third time was charmed. The crew was Beau, Troy, JT and son Charlie, with regionally renowned writer/photographer Tommy T along to document the adventure for the Florida Sportsman. We had rain in the morning on the way to Steinhatchee, so we hung around inshore waiting for a break in the weather. As the morning progressed, things got better and better. We caught a couple of fish in the 50-60 feet before making the 20 mile run to the snapper grounds.

John's first drop was a nice snapper, so we anchored up and gave the captain a chance to fish.

We spent a couple of hours on this spot, occasionally letting out a little more anchor line.

Our snapper limit was filled pretty quickly along with six nice groupers, lane snappers and a basket full of Florida snapper. We left for a nearby wreck to finish off the day playing with some monster AJS. I hope these guys have a chance to come back soon.

April 25th

I'm a big believer in customer service. One of the North Florida's premier trucking companies wanted to take some customers fishing...a couple had been offshore and a couple had not. No one had caught a big fish before...

Stanley caught the first good fish, a nice 18lb King pictured here...he said it pulled a little better than a bream. The grouper trolling has been slow so we mostly anchored during the day and caught tons of shorts as well as several limits of red snapper...can't wait for the June 1st opening of snapper season. We finished the day with grouper, large Florida snappers, sea bass and several large AJs. Hopefully one of the guys will send a group photo for me to post.

April 18th

The Langston family from Atlanta spent Friday fishing inshore and wanted to try for some offshore action on Saturday. The East wind was a constant 20 knots....we spent a couple of hours trolling for Spanish and catching slab sheepshead waiting to see if it would lay down, which it did.

By noon we were offshore looking for a small spot when we ran across a fishy looking rock. We worked hard all day to catch three legal groupers, including two nice reds. The rest of the day was spent looking for fish to fill out a limit.... before we found of curious AJs. Nice folks to spend time with, come back soon!

April 4th

I got a deposit back in November for the first Saturday in April and watched the weather all week to see if planning that far in advance has any chance of working. When the wind blows 20 knots from the west for three days and then switches to the east....the result is those neat little square waves, four feet tall and four feet apart.

We left the dock at the Gulfstream Marina at 6:45am with the flags standing at attention. The crew was John, his son Bob, his brother Bob and family friend Jim. We stopped at Marker 1 where the waves were already over a foot but the guys were grouper virgins and ready for some stop about 30 miles ahead.

I slowed to troll near the first spot, the water looked just a little too rough for bottom fishing. Trolling produced nothing other than clumps of sargassum. The wind is still cooking but we need to catch something. My intended destination was over 8 miles ahead, so we anchored up on a piece of live bottom to see if the predicted calm afternoon would occur.

John and company are all scientists and paid close attention to instruction on working with the tackle and circle hooks. First bite was a 30 inch kingfish, the circle hook protecting the thin mono leader. We spent 90 minutes honing their skills on big grunts, sea bass and sub limit groupers.

A little before 11, the wind indeed slowed enough to feel good about venturing farther offshore. We ran 7 miles and slowed to check out the bottom. A blip on the sonar caught my attention, we anchored on it and started catching legal gags immediately. We caught fish to 34 inches in the first 20 minutes along with releasing a ton of shorts and several limits of legal red snapper....I pulled the anchor one short of our limit. The bite stopped right at the tide change so we ate some lunch and tried another spot. The red snapper were again in abundance. It took a couple more stops to catch the last gag, a fine 32 inch fish that won Jim the high hook award for the day.

At 3pm, the Gulf was beginning to resemble a big, flat table top. On the quick ride back in, I realized this is the first charter ever to not lose one hook or sinker, no one got hung in the bottom and they rarely failed to hook up on a bite. These guys got it without much coaching and caught a limit of fish on their first trip offshore. I hope John sends some photos to share soon. They are welcome back any day.

Sept 28th

Today's trip was a group of UF grads, they drove down from Atlanta Friday morning, played the University golf course in the afternoon, tailgated with me prior to the Gator/Ole Miss game on Saturday and had enough energy to go fishing on Sunday. These guys booked the trip 45 days in advance...hard to get Chamber of Commerce weather on when you plan that far ahead...but we did not see a cloud or a ripple over six inches all day.

Our first stop was a little spot that usually holds some legal AJs, a species capable of stretching the string pretty good and getting the anglers ready for a Big Earle moment. Keith, Garrett, Roger and Patrick took turns with the butterfly jig until all were breathing heavily. The water was dingy all day with millions of jellyfish, pulsating slaves to the rythym of the Gulf were hanging at every stop. The first legal gag came while trolling plugs between bottom fishing spots.

Keith took his time reeling the fish in, a storyline that would repeat several times during the day. At the next stop, Keith hooked a nice fish. The prediction was a big grouper but the fish morphed into a 12lbs red snapper just as it got to the boat...unfortuantely, the National Marine Fisheries Service has shortened the snapper season to two months and this nice fish was released unharmed. My new friends were agreeable to a game of musical trivia while we trolled. As a group, they were hard to stump. We pulled the plugs and headed for the hill at 4pm with groupers, kingfish, AJ and assorted panfish. The weather cooperated in a big way during a slow time for fishing and we caught enough to make a great day. Y'all come back soon!

Ju1y 19th

Today was kind of special to me, I had a few old fishing buddies join me for a busman's holiday. Although we frequently see each other on the water, its been over twelve years since we fished on the Tuner together. The weatherman did his usual excellent job of forecasting wind speed and wave heights, only forgetting to tell us "times two" in the morning. The plan was to head out to 90+ feet while snapper season is still open. I ran 35 miles into three footers and decided to take a fishing break. Mikey was testing out a new Shimano jigging outfit and I told him it was killer on grouper. It would have been if there had been any present....he immediately hooked up, "Surely you know better than to put me on a freaking AJ" he hissed. At least that's what it sounded like in between his groans and the strain on his new equipment. A short while later he pulled a surprising 12lb red snapper over the gunwale.

While we were screwing around in 60 feet, the wind died, the whitecaps disappeared and the real possibility of covering some ground in a hurry persuaded us to plot a course for the hard bottom area in 95 feet...about another 25 miles. Roger hooked up first, swinging this nice 13lber onto the ice. In less than 30 minutes we had our limit of red snapper. I called another boat in and put them on the fish while we headed to a nearby telemetry tower to play with some larger animals. AJs can stretch your string as good as anything...unless a friendly sea monster is willing to pull 100lb test off a locked down drag as long you can hold the rod. Luckily there were some rocks nearby or Eddie might be in a full body cast.

We covered a lot of water to catch a limit of fine fish. The weather got better, the company was excellent, the beer was crackyourteeth cold. It may get better but it would only be a matter of degree....thanks for your time boys:)

June 14th

This day of fishing deserves it's own story, please click on the link to go to it:

Beer and Loathing at the 13th Annual Liars R Us Offshore Fishing Tournament

May 23

trolling: \'trol-ing\intransitive verb, DEF: hours of boredom punctuated by moments of pandemonium... Today we had the chance to enjoy a picture perfect day on the east coast off St. Augustine....slightly overcast and nothing more than wavelets all day. In my experience, flat calm days are not always the most productive but they sure make up for some of the storm tossed experiences from yesteryear. The morning started with the buzz of excited boys....few things are more rewarding to me than taking well mannered kids fishing. Their relentless and wonderful why and how questions often force me re-evaluate how I look at things.

In any event, we hadn't been fishing long when this nice 24lb cow crashed the shotgun line and burst into advanced dolphin acrobatics. Billy Jr. grabbed the rod and did a fine job of fighting the fish, Todd did a professional job of planting the gaff right behind the gills and the makings of a memorable Memorial Day dinner hit the ice.

After that we went deep, we played all sorts of music but forgot disco...ARRRRRRGH, we cruised the ledge, we went inshore looking for some more fish without success on a flat, featureless ocean. The red snapper sink, a free jumping sailfish and a refreshing rain-rinse on the ride in were the most excitement for the rest of the day. I'm betting Duke, Billy, Todd, Mikey, Brian and Billy Jr. have enough to eat Sunday evening....sorry I won't be there. Y'all come back now, I want to put these boys on a bunch of fish!

April 25

As previously mentioned, I don't write about every fishing trip...but this one is worth a report. The crew started off with a long time customer, the venerable custom rod builder from unstoppable fishing force that is Coach Paul Bagby. Coach brought with him another old friend and cinematographer, Cefus to pay for everything and the ringleader, Clint....a mild mannered gentleman on land who wears a cape and flies when offshore.

When Clint called to set everything up, I realized I needed a mate to keep an eye on the fishermen while I tried to find some fish to keep them occupied. Darren agreed to go even though he has been out with the Coach and Cefus before and knew what to expect:)

I try to vary the first stop each trip based on experience and gut instinct. This day's first drop was in 58 feet. I made sure to have a rod baited up prior to getting to the spot....Cefus and Coach relaxed on the way out and took several minutes rigging their rods once the spot was reached. My bait was a large pinfish that was immediately inhaled by a 10lb gag. No one else got a bite on this stop.

We set up a trolling pattern out to 65 ft. A couple of gags made half-hearted attempts to pull some string and were quickly placed in the fish box. Three more attempts to bottom fish were met with zero bites. I'm convinced my life has a soundtrack, but the fish were not interested in country, rock, jazz or rap. While screwing around with the Ipod, a disco tune came on....and we got a double strike of nice fish. With every strike, Clint went into a frenzy barking orders at whoever was on the rod. More disco resulted in more fish, with several doubles and the largest lizardfish ever seen on the Tuner. Clint and disco make for some high-energy fishing.

Sometime in the morning a cattle egret spotted the boat and landed on the bow. The previous day's strong easterly wind had blown the bird 40 miles offshore. He was plenty tired and proud to make some new friends. For most of the day he rode on the bow. By 2pm, we had 16 nice fish and headed toward the hill. Our bird buddy took off and, not seeing any cows....came in for a 30 knot, full flaps landing on the transom that would make a carrier pilot blush with envy. After a minute or so, he hopped into the cockpit totally ignoring Cefus but keeping a sharp eye on the Coach.

We were well up the river before he squawked at us and headed toward a shady spot on the bank. Tally for the day was 16 fish, 150lbs total, 15 caught on the troll while listening to KC, Donna Summer, the BeeGees, Kool and the Gang....I'm downloading some more disco tonight!

April 18

Today I finally got to take Steve and his 16 year old son, Andrew out for a day of grouper digging. The weather was fine, but the moon was full which is not always a receipe for success...the fish tend to feed all night and avoid a bite during the day. Such was the case for this day, we had to work hard to catch our fish.

The day was brightened by Andrew, who at 16, is already accomplished at most everything and required very little advice on his first grouper trip. Luckily for us, he shared some of his wisdom and we were all better men for it:)

As perviously mentioned, the bite was slow all day. We tried a variety of dead and live baits toa catch 7 grouper to 14 lbs. A cobia briefly chased a jig and live pinfish before disappearing into the blue. Toward the end of the day, a suicide grouper hit a plug we were dragging in 50 ft to end the day at 8 fish....the only strike all day on the troll.

Some days at like that but it was sure fun to have these guys on the boat at last. I'm hoping the bite will be a little faster on the next trip. I'm already looking forward to learning more about fishing from Andrew!

March 27

The crew this day were Caleb and his wife, Jessica, Woodrow and Kevin...four young people who were out for their first offshore adventure. As part of a larger group that chartered four boats from the Sea Hag Marina, there was a bet for the largest fish on the day so the pressure was on from the getgo. It was a little bumpy in the morning so we began by trolling up some fine groupers.

At the first bottom spot, Jessica scored a fat red using a butterfly jig.

As usual, the weather improved throughout the morning. The catching was steady with quality fish coming over the gunwales. Jessica caught three more fish over ten pounds using the jigging rod.

We were still looking for Big Earle when Caleb's rod folded over double. To his credit, Caleb accepted some coaching earlier in the day and put the lessons to good use, easily handling a 17.5lb gag....our big fish for the day...would it be enough to win the bet?

We headed for the hill a little before 4, making the dock at Sea Hag by 5:15. There were some nice fish caught on all the boats, Caleb's fish barely took the bet and Miss Neelie was busy cleaning fish well into the evening.

After spending a few days at home with the flu, it was great to be back on the water. The company was exceptional, I hope y'all come back soon!

February 8

I had the opportunity to take some employees from what I thought was one of the area's premier HVAC companies this week. There was a bet between the group for the biggest grouper.

The four guys with me had never been offshore before so big fish would be a challenge. First stop was at a spot small AJs hang test how the guys would handle a fish with some grunt. There was some huffing and puffing but they got the technique down quicky.

Trolling was very productive last week but we could not buy a bite today. After an hour and a half of nothing, we stopped and dropped. The first spot produced some keepers and two beautiful legal scamps...the filet mignon of fishes. Next spot gave up more fish including two nice reds at 13 and 17lbs....could it be enough to win the bet? Several more stops produced big Florida snapper and huge black sea bass in full mating regalia. I've since learned that the owner of this company is not one of my favorite folks. I would not waste water on him were he ablaze. No more trips for this company!

February 2

Anyone who has read my stories knows that Mirage builds one hell of a boat to be able to take some of the stuff I put her through.

Today I had the pleasure of taking the family that owns the business sans Dad who was at the shop finishing a beautiful little 21 footer they are introducing at the Miami Boat Show next week.

It was 30 degrees with a stiff wind from the North when I got to the dock at Sea Hag...but the forecast was for the wind to fall off in the afternoon. The ride out was the small roller coaster a following sea produces and still very cold when we reached the first stop. Seas were running in square waves, four feet tall and four feet apart. It was a touch rough for bottom fishing so we put out a trolling spread and hooked up immediately with a nice gag. A return trip over the spot got us another good sized fish so we started looking for new spots while trolling.

We picked up several more fish as the morning went along....the seas started to flatten after 11am am making some bottom fishing possible...and bent rods are a Captain's favorite sight. Gorgeous day on the water with some very nice folks.

December 14-15th
The fog was thick Friday morning when I left the Sea Hag with Billy and least it appeared to be thick in the pre dawn darkness. As sky started to lighten, we could see maybe 100 feet in front of the boat making it tough to dodge the stone crab markers on the way out. I'd spotted something unusual on the sonar last Saturday and needed to check it out. I put two Stretch plugs in the water at 7:40 about 1000 feet from the destination and at 7:43 both rods folded over.....

The bigger of the two fish weighed 23lbs...not Big Earle but getting closer...The bottom bite was very slow without live bait, the warm fall is having an effect on baitfish migration patterns and there are still plenty out there. We trolled until 11am, finishing with 8 fish, total weight 107lbs. I was back at the house at 2pm, with just enough time to wash the boat and rods and pack a small bag before a buddy picked me up on his way to Sailfish Marina in Palm Beach.

December 8th

I've spent a lot more time fishing than writing about it for the past few months but since the hot grouper action is upon us, it's time to let folks know what' happening. We left the dock early Saturday morning using the radar and spotlight to ease out the channel at Steinhatchee. Mr. Gore's inconvenient truth made only a long sleeve shirt necessary to be comfortable. Beau, Doug, Shane and Todd settled in for the ride to grouper grounds. The persistent Easterly wind that had pushed hugh rafts of turtle grass offshore for much of the fall has subsided and trolling conditions were excellent.

At the first spot, the bottom machine showed grouper stacked up over a small ledge. Both plugs got nailed with one fish hitting 18lbs. The fish were unusually active and showed up well on the sonar at each location we tried. Bottom fishing was little slow but the trolling was hot. Since the GOFC allyoucaneat Stone Crab banquet was later that evening, we finshed off an early day and were back at the Sea Hag with 15 fish by 2:45. I only took a couple of photos but here they are:

June 9

After spending a day last week with the editors from Sport Fishing magazine...and some none too memorable catching, I decided to do some scouting in deeper waters on Saturday. We stopped in 60feet just to make sure the bite had not picked up and caught one fish for our efforts. We headed south to 80 feet and failed to locate anything promising. A dependable spot produced some nice AJs at the next stop. A little north did the trick....the first spot produced a limit of red snapper and red grouper in less than 10 minutes. Every little piece of bottom was loaded with fish, but we could not buy another gag. Thanks to Billy, Alan and Crisp for being such an able crew....someone needs to remember the camera:-)

May 5

This Saturday's crew was Darren, Kevin and Ralph from AT&T...and they wanted a shot at striking fish. We agreed to meet at the Vilano ramp in St. Augustine at 5:30am on Saturday morning, destination: the famous "ledge" 60 miles offshore. The ride out took a little time as we slowed to 20 knots to be comfortable in the rolling sea conditions. The farther offshore, the flatter the ocean got. We threw the baits over at 58 miles in startlingly beautiful trolling conditions. The plan was to find a good area and work it. The first fish was a gaffer dolphin in 350 feet. Second fish was another gaffer who brought a friend with her....Darren hooked the friend on a spinning outfit and fought it briefly before it spit the hook. We worked the area out and in, North and South for the rest of the day.

This was Kevin's first trip, he made it memorable by catching a 20+ bull dolphin. We hooked a big bull around 1pm that spent more time above the water than in it. The fish was close to 40....and spit the hook during a jump at the boat...with Darren on the rod...again. Highlight of the day was watching a giant manta ray doing feeding swoops as we trolled by 15 feet away. The ride in was smooth, another great day on the water.

April 29

I've gotten pretty fed up with watching the wind blow for the last month. Saturday looked to be a good day on the East Coast. The fishing reports have been great with bunches of mahi, wahoos of size and a scattering of billfish. I towed the Tuner to Daytona Friday afternoon and spent the evening aboard at Adventure Yacht Harbor. Old fishing buddies John and Phil showed up late the next morning, we cleared the inlet around 7am and found a stiff 15 knot breeze at our backs for the ride out.

Forty-two miles later, we tossed the 'hoos out in some cool blue water just short of the roll down and didn't have wait long for a nice bull dolphin in the 20-25lb range. We continued offshore across a color change in 240ft, the water temp went up two degrees and we caught an identical bull in an upwelling around one of the steeples. John and Phil took turns demonstrating why gaffing is a skill they need practice with. The water changed back to a deep blue at the edge of the Gulf Stream, the temp shot up another two degrees. There were plenty of surface features, temp breaks, etc. and we worked out to 450 feet without another strike.

The wind diminished over the course of the morning making for excellent trolling conditions. As we zigged among the Steeples, I put out a large diving plug hoping Mr. Wahoo was around...and he didn't disappoint. I never cease to be amazed at the first sizzling run of these powerful fish as well as their uncanny ability to charge the boat in an effort to free themselves of the hook. This time John struck the fish nicely and brought it on board with a grunt.

We fished for a while longer without another strike, kinda hard to complain with over 100lbs on just three fish. We took advantage of the flat seas to make for the hill at 36mph, at 50+ the wahoo took the bet at the dock and I made it home in time for a late supper with the bride. Hope to see you on the water soon.

March 24

Two charters got blown out on the eagerly awaited re-opening of grouper season in Federal waters last weekend. I spent a nervious week watching the weather but the forecast for Saturday was very nice. On this weeks trip, I was accompanied by the crew from Boatmaster trailers: Kevin, Joe, Josh and Derrick along with Chris from the Crom Corp. We left the dock a little before 7am and eased off toward the grouper grounds. The slight easterly breeze gave us a following sea on the way out....the sunrise offshore Steinhatchee is still a favorite sight.

After a forty-five day layoff, I expected the groupers to be very willing and was surprised trolling over a couple of dependable spots produced nothing. The fish were a little more willing to hit baits dropped to the bottom...Josh started the day by catching a six and twelve pound grouper on a new rod Coach designed for just such use. We spent the day alternating between bottom fishing and trolling with mixed results, the highlight being a couple of double headers trolling....Josh also caught a legal mutton snapper, a rare species for our waters. We finished with nine grouper to 12 pounds. Back at the dock, most folks came in empty handed so the fishing was unusually slow. This was a bad day to forget the camera, hopefully the boys will email some of their shots so I can post them...

February 9-10

The last weekend before the grouper closure...Coach, Brian and Darren booked a return trip to hunt for big fish. Friday morning was cold but clear and bright. A leisurely swell from the SW was the only feature on the Gulf. I know there are decent fish in shallower water but can't keep myself from heading toward the horizon, visions of severely bent rods and over- taxed reels shimmying across my mind. Coach is plum out of grouper, Darren aka Puddy Tat has been chastized by his bride about being tired of frozen fish and Brian has four fishing puts meat on the table. The pressure to produce is enormous.

After trying to bottom fish several spots with little to show for our efforts, I set up a trolling pattern using some modified Mann's Stretch 30 plugs. Some days are like that, cut and live bait won't work but the fish will hit plugs because they aggravate them. I'll need to make some additional mods, the split rings supplied with these plugs are woefully inadequate for any fish over 15lbs. We had big fish straighten the split rings prior to escaping in the morning. The afternoon was relatively warm and calm. With commitments for Friday evening, we made the most of a short day finishing with 12 grouper to 15lbs.

Saturday was a little different kind of day. Dr. Rick, Capt Tommy and first mate Doris accompanied Coach in his qwest for big grouper. The picture of ambition, we left the dock at the crack of 8am. NOAA called for 10-15 knot winds from the North and 2-3 foot seas, subsiding in the afternoon. In reality, the wind was a solid 15 knots of bone chilling Canada air with higher gusts. The sea conditions were a short, stiff 3 foot chop with some 4 and 5 footers coming in too regularly to feel good about it. The conditions combined with some whining from the crew kept us inshore of my prime fishing areas. We found a couple of old numbers with fish at home and put 3 chunky fish in the box in about 45 minutes. Someone mentioned the fried shrimp at Roy's would be a nice alternative to contemplating if their toes would freeze before they hurled....being the customer oriented Captain I am, we made it back to the dock in a little over an hour. The big fish weighed 14+ pounds and the shrimp were indeed, delicious.

January 14th

After the holiday celebrations and a week or so of strong wind, I got to go fishing with some friends from Georgia ....these folks like to have a good time in the evening so we left the dock at the crack of 10am:) The weather was cool with a gentle morning swell out in the Gulf. We combined trolling and bottom fishing with great success finishing the day with 15+ groupers and a mess of Florida snappers. We only saw one boat on a flat and windless afternoon, it actually got hot enough to take off the shirts and get some winter sun. The most unusual sight was a fully grown alligator...maybe 12-14 feet in lenght...floating belly up around 35 miles out. It had been in the water for a while and been chewed on so the cause of death was not readily apparent. The wonderful weather conditions coupled with the willing fish are what makes winter fishing such a treat!

December 18th

Today I had the pleasure of fishing with rod builder Coach Paul Bagby for the second time in as many weeks. During the last trip, Coach hooked a fish he was unable to turn. He was determined not to allow that to happen again and came equipped with a combination fishing rod/pry bar. Darren and Brian completed the crew.

The forecast of one foot or less did not do justice to the conditions, there was a light breeze and nearly flat conditions on a bright, cloudless day. As with Sunday's trip, the bite on the bottom was slow in the morning. We started in 62 feet and switched to trolling after an hour of trying different baits and different spots on the bottom. The action was slow but steady... only a couple of shorts and one double that produced two fish over ten pounds.

By late in the day, we were in 74 feet looking for an old number and happened across two small rocks in the middle of a salty, sandy desert.....three legal scamp and two gags later, we left to try one last spot. After a few minutes, Coach started grunting and huffing and puffing. There was barely a bend in the pry bar. The veins were standing out in his neck as he strained against the unseen fish....

The trip in was made shorter by the previously mentioned flat water, Coach's grouper weighed twenty two pounds on the fish cleaning lady's scales....not quite Big Earle but an outstanding fish nonetheless. It was dark when we arrived at the Sea Hag that morning and dark by the time the fish were cleaned and the boat was loaded for the trip home.


There's a lot of work involved back at the house...the rods have to be washed and rinsed, the motor flushed, all the salt and grime washed off the boat, fishbox cleaned...etc but there's not much better than a late supper of fresh caught grouper, pan seared in olive oil and rosemary, accompanied by a fresh salad and homemade wasabi dressing. Big Earle is still out there and I'll be back looking for him before long.