Steve on the Linda D IV found me walking along the dock in 2004. He asked if I was the kid looking for a job. I mentioned the boats that I had worked on before to give him an idea of what sort of experience I had. Steve gave me the job. The Linda D IV is a 40 foot #1 hull with a pair of twin Detroit engines. It ran 22 to 23 knots top end, except most of the time we would cruise at 17 or 18 knots. Steve liked to fish the bluewater. In most cases we worked two rigger baits, two flats, a bridge rod, and one deep troll. We ran mono on the flats, wire albrights in the riggers, and also a wire albright on the bridge rod, and wire on the deep troll. Our rigs were tipped with pink squids. We ran a pink seawitch on the deep troll since it is a good wahoo color. Whenever we fished the reef we just ran two wire albright rigs in the outriggers, the clark spoon on the flat, plus the deep troll. For the most part the reef was all baracudas or ceros. Out in the bluewater we caught our dolphin, and wahoo. The sailfish were tough that season. We might have raised one sail a week. Steve spent the fall, winter, and spring in Florida, then went up to Maine for the bluefin tuna season. Out of all of the boats at Charterboat Row, the Linda D IV had the longest range. We fished from Pelican Shoal up to the east going out to the Marquesas to the west. Our boss Bill Wickers let us go where the fish were. Fuel was never a problem.
In March the king mackeral were stacked up at the outer edge of Western Dry Rocks for two weeks. We managed to catch threadfins, so we anchored. On one of our charters we caught a limit of big kings, plus three 20 lb. Black grouper. We worked that area for those two weeks until the fishing slowed down. We limited out several times. The rigs are #2 treble hooks on 4 wire albrighted to the 50 lb. test leader.
When April came around we did most of our fishing in the bluewater. We did some live bait fishing for sails that month. We were a little salo on sails though. There were free jumpers all over the place out in 300 feet except those fish were not responding to dead bait trolling. We caught two sailfish offshore of Middle Sambo on threadfins on one trip. The first fish was about average weighing 50 lbs.. The second fish was big. It was a real dinosaur. It took us about 20 minutes to get the leader, then it went deep again and again as we backed up on it, taking another 20 minutes to land. That fish was over 70 lbs..
For several weeks in the spring of 2005 the waters off of the Marquesas were the place to be. At first there were big numbers of kings in the Gulf north of the Marquesas. Live threadfins on the surface had the kings at our will to some extent. We were casting two livies on spinning rods at a time getting the fish right up in plain sight on the take. We had a great time watching the threadfins get nervous as the kings came up to the surface. We got to see the bite. Later on trolling on the Atlantic side was intense.
The Reef Runner is one of the older boats at Charterboat Row. It is a 40 foot Defender. Captain Soldano did his own custom fiberglass work on his deck. The boat has a long cockpit, making the cabin smaller. The bridge is up forward almost on the bow. It kind of lags through the water. It goes ten knots. A single engine boat. Single engine boats are common at the old Marina.
On the Reef Runner we fished all wire. The rigs 8 feet of wire, to regular mustads, using a 200 pound barrel swivel. We trolled two riggers, two flats, plus the deep troll. In December of 2003 the kings were thick as theives. Eastern was the most productive. One morning we put ten big kings in the box, all around 20 pounds. The fish were getting airborne on the hook ups. Trolling up kingfish is awesome when it gets like that. When dead bait trolling for those fish the speed of the boat makes for a quick hook up. All of the sudden one is up on the right rigger, then the left goes, then a third fish on the flat. The surface bite turns on, then just stops like it never even happened. Under normal conditions, whenever dead bait trolling, far more kingfish are caught on the deep troll than on the surface. Kingfish hold at mid depths most of the time.
The cero mackeral were abundant that December also. The birds were found working on the inshore perimeter of the reef. When targeting them, we trolled clark spoons on the flats, and pink squid in the riggers. Expect fast action. Sometimes there are spanish mackeral mixed in with the ceros. One morning we took two dozen fish.
The Lighthouse at Sand Key makes it the centerpoint of the reefline offshore of Key West. The Light is in shallow water on the highpoint of the reef. Adjacent to it is a sandbar. There is a NOAA weather beacon there also. On the outer perimeter of the high rocks is a 30 to 40 foot area.
It is a good place to catch cero mackeral. The 30 to 40 foot zone made up of sea fans, sponges, or coral holds grouper and mutton snapper. The depth goes to 90 feet then rises back up to 40 or 50 feet. The bar is an outcropping of the reef. Past the bar is another dropoff. The bluewater offshore of there is great. The current rip there is in about 300 feet.
The 40 foot zone to the west of the Light is a great yellowtail spot. Scot ran out there with me one morning in his 18 foot Edgewater. Using glassminnows as scatter chum and silversides on #1 hooks we caught 30 keepers.
The seagulls are sometimes found working over cero mackeral or spanish mackeral on the inshore side of the reef as well as on the outside or deeper offshore side of the reef.
Western Sambo is one of the coolest sections of the reef in south Florida. There is a steep dropoff on the outer edge of the reef there. In April of 2005 Scot took the Edgewater out there with me one evening. I got in the water to take a look around. When it is clear there are all sorts of caverns, and outcroppings of dead coral visible from the surface. There are gorges between the rock formations there. There are several spots where I was 20 feet deep in the middle of two cliffs that are no more than three feet below the surface. The yellowtails are scattered all throughout the gorges. On the dropoff on the outer edge there were cero mackeral. The tropical fish are abundant at Western Sambo. I found rock beauties were hiding on sponges or in small caverns. One of the motivating reasons for going there was to look for lobster, or to find grouper in the caves near the bottom. For some reason neither the grouper nor the lobster were in the area on that dive. On the inshore side of the reef I had an encounter with an 8 foot bull shark.
Before seeing the shark small cero mackeral went racing past me. The shark looked right at me then turned off into the darker water out of sight. The bull shark came up to me as I surfaced after diving on the deep edge on that side of the reef. The top of the reef is shallow. I froze, then turned backwards looking back to where the shark was until I got to the shallow high rocks.
In October of 2003 I got a job at the commercial fishing dock on Stock Island. Ed Blasce had a cargo container on site for fiberglass supplies. The Charterboat Row captains brought boats to Ed for offseason overhauls. There were two 40 foot #1 hulls being worked on plus two 34 foot Crusaders. The Captain Conch was one of the #1 hulls. It is an open cabin boat that was being rebuilt. We put in new engine hatches, tackle cabinets, a new deck, along with a new fish box. I spent three weeks working there before Ed told me to hit the docks.
Ritchie Gomez gave me a job that November on his 34 foot Crusader the Conch Too. I got a new look at trolling. Ritchie gave me the first look at dead bait trolling for sails. I had to strike out to learn. This was a new challenge for me. Ritchie had me trolling spinning rods on the flat lines. We had a Penn 50 International on the downrigger, Penn 30 conventionals in the riggers, plus a bridge rod. We also pulled a squid chain teaser out of the right rigger. That first fish on the troll was one of the most exciting hookups I ever had. The fish was up on the teaser then Ritchie took the squid chain from the fish, it turned on the right flat that I dragged past its chin. I gave it a quick five seconds on the dropback. The fish came jumping on the first run it made. We cleared our lines then worked our fish. We got the touch on the leader, then let the fish tire itself out. I billed it, we got a quick picture then we dragged the fish a little to revive it.
The End of the Bar is where the blackfins are most of the time. We were catching blackfins in 150 to 300 feet all over the reefline. One afternoon on the Captain Conch we caught eight big blackfins on the troll. It was going off. The frigate birds were out in 300 feet on the fish. The fleet worked the fish for about a week.
rabbit out of his hat
On one old commercial fishing boat converted into a charterboat we fished four rods all out of the gunwhales. The old slow boat did about 10 knots, except it got us to the fishing grounds.
Whenever fishing for baracuda or cero mackeral we trolled two bare baits in the outriggers on wire, a clark spoon on the flat, and a rigged hoo with a black and red feather on the downrigger. The baracuda action was so good we were hooking up triple headers on a regular basis. We were getting multiple triple headers in a single trip. The cero mackeral were elusive that fall. We caught all sorts of ceros except their pattern followed the king mackeral that never showed up until winter was almost over.
The idea of trolling for sailfish is to cover more water. The sails will sometimes shadow a bait, thrashing at it with their bill before charging in on the feed. Most of the fish do not hook themselves. The fish require a little coaxing to initiate the dropback. In December the fleet did most of its trolling outside the Main Ship Channel. The sails were thick as theives. Mitch Nowak pulled a rabbit out of his hat one afternoon when he got shallower than the rest of the fleet gettting right up on top of the reef. There were small sails in there feeding. We raised five fish in the short time we were there landing two. The first fish came up on the left rigger. I gave it a short dropback then hooked it up. As that was going on another fish snagged itself on the downrigger as a third fish charged in on the right flat. Ignoring the fish on the right flat I set the hook on the one that took the downrigger although the fish managed to get off. We shrugged our shoulders as we backed up on our sail. This little sail never got far, it might have weighed 20 lbs. Once we released that fish we got our baits right back in the water. We raised another pair of fish on our rigger baits. We got the one on the left rigger. That fish came back on the bait three times before I got the hook into it. This one did not require much backing down either. It weighed about 15 lbs.
The run to the Tortugas took us through the lakes first. At the end of the lakes is a cut past Boca Grande. The shoreline of that island is a pristine natural sand bank. After clearing the shallow waters of the lakes we took the offshore pass past the Marquesas. From there it is another 50 miles due west. Our first stop was on the 30 foot patch reefs where the red grouper are. The rods we used were 30 lb. class. The old Penn Senators were spooled with 40 lb. test. The rigs consisted of a 2 ounce lead in front of a barrel swivel to 5 feet of 50 lb. mono to a 7/0 short shank mustad. John Potter had eight of those on the boat. On those patch reefs, all we did was grouper fish. Each rig got a medium hoo, and a whole squid. The grouper bite was almost instantaneous. Whenever it slowed down we would move about 150 to 200 feet from where we were last. As the sun started setting we decided to run to Fort Jefferson. That afternoon we put about 30 keeper red grouper in the box. The Fort is something else. It is a civil war era Fort built in the mid 1800’s. In the center of the Fort is a field. There are scattered trees, there is an old cactus, it is a unique place. There is a rustic lighthouse that served as a watchtower. The Fort itself is built out of red brick. It is two levels high. On the perimeter is a brick wall that creates a moat. There are mangrove snapper inside the wall. There is some live rock within the perimeter also. The island forms an outcropping that creates the sheltered harbor. That night we anchored in the harbor. Captain Potter worked on his grouper chowded, as I cooked shrimp and lobster on the skillet. Our guests were elated to escape to such a remote location. We went on a 50 foot sportfisherman called the Cha Cha. The cabin was set up for overnight trips. It served as our seafood bar. The ship was in an uproar that night. Being so close to Cuba is was nice having Cuban cigars from back at port. I smoked one on the bridge late that night. Capt. Potter put a shark rod out with the clicker on. It woke us up at about 2 o’clock. It was a 120 lb. hammerhead.
The next morning the wind picked up, it got rough. We met up with a shrimp boat in a seven foot sea to barter for several burlap sacs full of crabs, shrimp, and moharas. We traded them several cases of beer. We backed up stern to stern in that sea, it was hectic. The fleet of shrimpers look like ghost ships out there. It is a tight nit group of some of the most rugged individuals in the commercial fishing business. The boats go out for weeks at a time, roughing it in the harshest of weather. We went back to the patch reefs. We managed to catch another 40 legal red grouper. We also landed two jewfish. One was 200 lbs., the other was about 150 or so. The crabs, and the moharas were our scatter chum.
That night we went back to the harbor for shelter, although we did not go ahore. We landed a 150 lb. bull shark in the dark. Once the sun came up we started back to port. Rather than just run back, we went offshore, then trolled back. It was rough offshore, about an eight foot sea. We caught dolphin as we trolled back in 500 feet.
Being introduced to offshore permit was one of the coolest experiences I have had as a charterboat mate. Shallow water permit so often spook on the flats never allowing a chance to get a bait to them. The deeper water seems to give the fish more confidence. There is a wreck up to the east of Alligator Light in Islamorada. In the springtime permit move offshore to wrecks or rock piles on the reef. Sometimes 40 or 50 fish would be visible on the surface. I’d go up on the bow with a live crab to get the best casts at the fish. Sometimes the permit would ignore the crab, but persistence paid off all of the time. The permit would gather up in groups. Casting a crab into the middle of 25 fish is fine most of the time, except sometimes the fish require a little coaxing. In that case, finding the lead fish is critical. If there are 40 permit there then there must be several lead fish since the fish a broken up in packs. Sometimes we would hook up on the first cast. Other times it could take multiple casts until I would hit one on the head. Some fish go right up to the surface, right up on top to take a crab. Other fish would pick it up while it was sinking.
Dirrk Reich brought me on his 43′ Hatteras at Whale Harbor Marina in Upper Matecumbe Florida in the spring of 2005. Being springtime our focus was on dorado. Our routine consisted of anchoring in the dark on the bait patch, throwing the castnet on cigar minnows or goggle eyes, racing offshore in search of birds, setting out our spread, then we run and gun after fish pitching live baits. Our success allowed us to fool around on the wreck in the afternoon. The wind is unpredictable, that spring the east winds were late. In the recent past the east winds arived at the end of March. The weather pattern was two months late. The fish migration followed the weather pattern. At the beginning of the season fish were scattered in groups of eight or ten schoolie size fish. The beginning of June was our most productive part of the season. We wandered around looking for the fish feeding into the current, those are the aggressive bigger fish, the slammers as we call them. The birds on those fish are moving southwest in the gulfstream. Captain Dirrk Riech or Dirrko is an ace at spotting fish from the tower. Once we were able to get to the fish we would either troll past the fish or pitch a live bait. Sometimes we would hook our first fish on the troll, then pitch baits to the rest of the pack. Slammers travel is pairs or in packs of 3 or 5 in most cases. The size range of these fish is 15 lbs. to over 50 lbs.. The larger bull dolphin is in most cases the lead fish. One of our better catches of the season consisted of 4 cows weighing 17 to 23 lbs. and two bulls, one weighing 18 lbs. with the other weighing 21 lbs.. Our largest bull dolphin of the season weighed 54 lbs.. As the schoolies began to run through our catches consisted of 40 to 50 small fish per trip. Some of our slammers showed up while we were catching schoolies. One morning we caught five bulls averaging 20 lbs. each. We were working a weedline on a current break 25 miles out. The first set of gulls we found meandering southwest came through. We hooked up one fish trolling plus made a cast to the fish that was to some extent a shadow to the first fish. Right after we were able to land those fish then organize our trolling rods quick we found another set of birs working. The next set produced a triple. The first fish charged in on the squid chain on the right flat. We fought that fish then landed it keeping our focus on a frigate bird that was right on the water. On our next move we idled to the war bird. After casting over to it, a bull came charging in, our angler hooked up. To our good fortune there was a second bull racing around. What a blast we had fighting those big dolphin. It was business as usual.