At lobster walk the dock looked like an aquaculture farm as a result of Dave Curls who became a commercial diver collecting tropical fish. There were lookdowns, lobsters, sea urchins, hermit crabs, angelfish, rock beauties, clownfish, mangrove snapper, small lemon sharks, bonnetheads and so on…
One evening using ultra light rods and bright micro jigs we filled our live wells full of lookdowns for the outdoor tanks.
Dave is as skilled as an amphibian in the water. Sometimes we went with Hawaiian slings. One of our best adventures was to a series of rock caverns on the ocean floor in the Gulf where we ended up scoring big on lobsters.
One evening I went out to one of the mangrove islands in Matecumbe Harbor with Cain and Victor in a small Carolina skiff. We crushed the mangrove snapper. There were pilchards all over.
Most of the diving we did for lobster was legit. One evening Vic told me and Cain to raid a trap line on the outside edge of Long Key Bight. We broke open 20 traps filling the skiff full of large lobster.
One time in a cut in a flat where redfish were mudding in chaos I landed two reds, one about eight lbs. another one about four or so, releasing the fish. I just kept jigging. I had a millies bucktail tipped with a live shrimp.
At Oyster Bank on the edge of the Gulf we saw two small tarpon tailing along. I made a cast then hooked up. The permit took off like a bullet. It made a big first run. After I got line back on the fish it made another run. We went after it with the engine running. Again the fish ran. It was a 20 lb. permit. At the time there were Oceanic White Tips as well as medium sized Tiger Sharks fining on the bank. We landed an eight foot Tiger Shark that we estimated at 250 lbs in the same area on another trip.
There is a hidden lake adjacent to Madeira Bay. There is a narrow cut that leads to it. When we discovered it I began casting a buck tail tipped with a chartreuse split tail grub. I got snagged on a mangrove root, to our disbelief a snook came out of the cut to take the jig off of the mangrove root. We landed the fish, then released it, the fish was 30 some odd inches. One time poling the eastern shoreline of Madeira Bay looking for redfish muds. We came up on a sawfish up real shallow on the flat. For a shot in the dark I cast the buck tail I had on a light tackle rod at the sawfish never expecting it to even give a look at all. For some reason the sawfish went right after the jig, taking in an instant. The freakin thing ran then looked like a sailfish making all sorts of far out jumps. The sawfish was real erratic as it ran. The fact that it got up in the air several times was something else. Even though we had it on real light tackle we landed it. For a sawfish it was small, 5 ½ feet. We caught it on 10 lb. test with about a 4 foot 20 lb. test leader.
I went on three trips to Cay Sal Bank. The first was in a 22 foot Mako with Bro. It was flat calm. We had to fill a 40 gallon drum full of gas for extra fuel. On the run over we spotted a mix of Yellowfins and Skipjacks. When we ran up on the tuna we saw three giant Whale Sharks. What an amazing sight! We got to Elbow Key alright. Our focus was on grouper. We caught several scamp as well as a number of rock hinds. It was great to see the rock islands and the old lighthouse on Elbow Key. We had no trolling gear on us or we would have taken on the Yellowfins. Even before we left to return back to Islamorada we found a fuel drum that had several big slammer dolphin on it. Bro said it was getting dark so we had no time to catch those fish. On the trip back the seas were made up of the most subtle flat calm swells I ever noticed. It was a tranquil night. We arrived back in Lower Matecumbe in the dark.
Some of the hardest work I ever did was on lobster boats for traps in. I worked for Ken Teeple and for Bill Greenwall out of Lower Matecumbe. We set traps in the harbor, the Gulf, and also Oceanside. One of the mates was from Columbia, several were from Cuba. I learned about their native countries and also began to grasp Spanish.
There is one morning of Tarpon fishing I will never forget. The horizon had an orange hue to it. There were all sorts of dark clouds forming around us. Our location was Matecumbe Harbor at the time. We were running due east towards Lignumvite Key. On the far side of the harbor is a well known bonefish flat. There are several unmarked cuts in the flat there. On the eastern side of the flat is a well marked channel. To the right is the marked channel to go past Lignumvite Key to get to the bridge whenever running Oceanside.
Our plan was to veir north in Lignumvite Channel towards the flats we planned on fishing. As we came across the bonefish flat we watched a dark nimbo cumulus cloud form into a waterspout. The wind picked up first. We were running so fast in the Action Craft we had to take our hats off. Had we been wearing hats the sudden gusts of wind would have taken them off for sure. The wind gusts were sudden and abrupt. The cloud started spiraling downward. There was no questioning it, this waterspout was going to form. Sometimes a cloud will hint like it is going to turn into a waterspout then fade out like nothing or amount to some serious wind gusting. The clouds were some of the darkest I ever noticed. As we came across Matecumbe Harbor the sun was coming up. It was just getting light out. The next thing we knew it got real dark. The skies were black. The wind was gusting hard, plus it was pouring rain. The rain pelted us bad as we ran even faster than normal to get out of the storm clouds where the tornado was forming. The waterspout was more like a tornado in size. The thing came out of the clouds quick then it meandered west right towards where we were running in the boat.
We turned north towards the Petersen Keys then ran out around those islands to the north turning to run northwest to where we were planning on fishing on the edge of a flat near Barnes. The waterspout went past the island then across the flat into Matecumbe Harbor. It was tough to see since it was raining so hard. We lost sight of the waterspout in the rain, except it must have dissipated as it disappeared into the Gulf.
Believe it or not after the weather event it got real still as the sun came out. We went first thing in the morning so we would be the first boat on the flat. There were tarpon all over the deep area on the edge of the flat that morning. The number of tarpon we sighted was amazing. After our scare with the waterspout we had a good morning. It was the ideal scenario to fly-fish. The tarpon were laid up or rolling. We spooked our share of fish as we polled. I thought we were quiet as a ghost except some fish were responsive when others were almost asleep. Several fish turned on his lure almost taking as we polled along until Chuck hooked one. I noticed it was an awkward fish since its reactions as it jumped were abnormal for a fish that size. We had to put our time in that morning. After landing our one tarpon, we called it a morning then headed back to Lower Matecumbe.
The Everglades can also be thought of as the Florida River. In fact the Everglades is somewhat of a tidal river.
Light Tackle fishing for Big Jack-Crevalle is so often overlooked in the shadows of more coveted game fish. The winter migration of large jacks has been exceptional so far. Locating a school of jacks has been exceptional so far. Locating a school of jacks has been exceptional so far. Locating a school of jacks on the feed can be the source of some great action. Working birds are a good indicator most of the time. The inshore fish can be the source of some great action. Working birds are a good indicator most of the time. The inshore fish can be caught one after another if sought out. Aggressive spin fishing with artificial lures like a DOA minnow or a bucktail with a twister tail worm are almost a sure thing. Jack-Crevalle in the 5 to 15 lb. range are abundant from Flamingo to the Islamorada bridges right now. The brackish channels that hold seatrout are good. The classic techniques of jigging for trout never fail if fish are in the area. It is important to maintain a constant retrieve to prevent losing fish. Artificial lures must be moving to look alive. A constant retrieve means constant hook-ups. A ten plus lb. jack on 8 lb. test is great. It is rewarding when a fish makes several runs during a fight.
At times there are colossal fish on the reef line in numbers difficult to imagine. The ocean side fish have been observed in numbers as great as four or five hundred 15 to 40 lb. jacks moving as one unit. Those fish are smarter than the ones found near the flats. Freespooling a live Bluerunner on sailfish gear is a prime tactic. Be prepared for long deep powerful runs. The bigger fish have above average endurance. A reel with lots of backing along with a precision drag setting is important. A spool of 200 plus meters of 12 lb. test will get the job done most of the time. Fishing a bimimi twist to a 40 to 50 lb. test leader increases line strength as well as provides an abrasive proof leader if a sailfish strikes. It is a great feeling letting a big one go after a long battle.
Sails at Sun up
…dialog based on Capt. Richard Quirk
JACK “Ritchie where are we going this morning”
RITCHIE “up to Conch”
JACK “look at the frigate bird, it is all worked up”
RITCHIE “sailfish, there is our sailfish kiddo, this is critical get on the deck, let me get in front of the fish”
Ritchie lined up on a set of birds working in the same area as the frigate. The sailfish were feeding right near the edge of the dropoff. The wind was gusting as it was, along with intense seas, it made it awesome to be going after a fish throttled up.
RITCHIE “get the lines out”
JACK “right man”
RITCHIE “fast kid”
JACK “no worries”
RITCHIE “now watch, look at those seagulls milling around, now look at that frigate bird, it is looking right at a fish”
JACK “right, got it, go after it”
In a short time…
RITCHIE “there goes the right rigger kid, hook that fish man”
Jack dropped back to the fish fast giving it several jabs on the hookup. As the fish went into the first run Jack gave the rod to the angler. The fish went up in the air right after it made the first run. The angler kept his cool just letting the fish go off.
RITCHIE “good work on the deck”
Ritchie hooked a fish on the center rod up on the bridge as that was going on. Now there were two anglers on the deck fighting fish.
JACK “man those fish are freakin’, this is wild man awesome”
RITCHIE “watch it now backing up, now one is going off to the starboard side, back the drag off on that reel”
JACK “so let the fish run right man”
RITCHIE “focus on the fish on the transom kiddo, make sure to gain back line as we go after the fish”
JACK “got it, man the drag is screaming on the fish running to starboard”
RITCHIE “the drag goes screaming alright, that fish has a sore jaw, now there is the leader on our first fish, light, light, slow on the leader kid, wait till the fish pops itself out of the water”
JACK “got the bill, right on”
RITCHIE “nice fish, now get it back in the water, tighten up on the drag, lets go get the next one”
The sailfish was throwing water all over. Out in the elements at sun up.
…dialog based on the Bubba Louie, a 33 foot Crusader
DAVE “we are all fueled up, lets get going”
JACK “primo man”
BRO “how far out are we going”
The wind was out of the east. Dave went right into it. The Crusader handled well in most weather. It was a run of over 30 miles to the current rip Dave wanted to fish.
BRO “look gulls working”
BRO “look over there man”
DAVE “I got the birds, the gulls are working on fish, let me get up on them”
Bro let out two flat lines as Dave caught up to the birds. Jack got a rod for a pitch bait to cast under the birds.
DAVE “cast a bait under the gull low on the water”
BRO “there goes a bull after it”
JACK “the fish is all over it”
Jack had his timing right on the hookup.
DAVE “man look at that fish”
As the bull began to make a run a big cow came charging in on the right flat, Bro hooked up on it. The bull took off fast charging through the waves taking line in mid air. Bro had his fish on trolling gear, it got up in the air except it made smaller runs. The bull Jack was fighting went deep after it got tired. Jack had a 40 lb. fish on a Penn 850.
BRO “work that fish in slow Jack”
JACK “there the bugger goes running again, man is it taking drag fast again”
DAVE “just keep on him”
BRO “Dave get the gaff, the cow is up”
JACK “nice gaff Dave, good going Bro”
DAVE “there goes the bull leaping out of the water again, Bro catch some of those smaller fish”
JACK “bailing gaffers man, awesome, Dave the big bull is tired, get the gaff Dave”
Dave being an ace with the gaff handled the big fish well.
BRO “nice work”
DAVE “the gaffers, the birds are still over those gaffers, we’ll get on the fish again”
Dave ran the boat up current of the feeding fish.
BRO “hooked up again”
DAVE “awe we can fill the box”
JACK “man look at all the blood”
DAVE “keep going”
BRO “man it is awesome catching fish like this”
DAVE “we’ve got over four hundred pounds”
JACK “enough right?”
DAVE “lets run inshore”
JACK “now lets chill out”
BRO “look how awesome our catch is bro, lets smoke a joint eh”
JACK “sounds good to me”
After setting course back towards Tennessee Light. Dave noticed a wooden board floating. He gave Jack a 40 lb spinner with a Penn 950 reel, set up with a Yozuri lure. Jack ran the lure out as Dave made a pass on the drifting board. Out of the blue came a 20 lb. wahoo.
BRO “man did that fish take some drag fast”
Dave gaffed the wahoo then went back to the helm to find the debris again. Bro let the Yozuri out the same distance.
JACK “amazing we just hooked into another wahoo.
DAVE “run the lure out once more Jack”
BRO “far out bro, we just hooked into our third wahoo”
The wahoo were all in the same size range. After gaffing the fish Dave set course back to shore as the sun was setting.
The skies grew dark as we headed for shore. We were in a full blown rainstorm before we knew it. Waterspouts were almost forming up. As the rain dissipated we spotted several sailor gulls circling over fish. The wind was out of the East at almost 30 knot gusts. The reason it was somewhat calm is the fact that the rain flattened the seas out. In the downpour it was as tough to see as it is in the fog. The captain ran up on the birds then got upwind of them to make it easier for me to cast to them. Using two 30 lb. spinners then one of our 20 lb. rods we got takes on three fish in a quick flash of action. The wind made for real long casts into the fish the birds were on. On the first cast I gave the fish a short drop back with a flying fish. The fish were not in our sight we just knew the dolphin were under the birds. After hooking into the first fish I took a deboned hoo on another 30 lb. rod to cast. Again it is how it is sometimes. When dorado are on the surface in a pack of 4 or 5, the feeding fish never hesitate to take if the presentation is right. The third fish was shadowing the fish we had on so I cast another deboned hoo to it. After our navigating through the rainstorm we had a triple header on. To our good fortune we landed the fish. As we worked in our third fish two more dorado moved in. Sometimes things just flow right. The first was a bull the next was a cow. What a blessing to catch five dolphin in the 20 lb. range after we got skunked in the harsh weather that morning.
…threadfins on the reef
The morning was dead still. There was a low fog lifting off of the horizon. The first thing we did on the Kalex was catch Threadfins using our 14 ft. net. Alex got us on the pilchards that were racing in great numbers on the patch. George was also just as onto the Threadfins as Adler that morning. Dave alternated turns on the net with me. We used our scatter chum to cloud the water to cover the net since most of the time Threadfins aren’t ever caught in the castnet. The scenario was something else that morning as we were scoring two to three hundred Pilchards or Threadfins at a time the numbers were so great. We had real fine sand chum.
The Yellowtails were all over the edge of the reef at Alligator. It was a great time catching big Yellowtails on the Threadfins. What made it even more awesome was the fact that we were catching big Mangrove and Mutton snapper in the cloud of Yellowtails at the same time. The fish were right on top of the water column. Imagine a flash or red as a big Mutton snapper takes a Pilchard right on the surface. Our big Pilchards or Threadfins are what made things happen for us.
Fort Pierce sailfish
December is a cold month in Stuart Florida. I got held up one morning on A1A driving to the dock because a train was blocking the road. The fog was beginning to lift as the train rolled past. What a hastle man. Charlie flipped on me, telling me I should have left for work earlier. Well, I would have made it to the boat on time if the train wasn’t blocking the road. I still got there 15 minutes before our one angler for the morning. The rods were all rigged, plus there were four dozen baits brined on ice. It was a still calm morning. As the sun was rising about 200 or so ravens flew past the dock at first light. The fog began to lift up off the Indian River. The horizon had a distinct red haze to it that morning. I took out the sailfish rods then had a cup of coffee. Charlie was blowing smoke about me getting caught up at the train tracks. Todd pulled up. Charlie said “lets go see what he thinks about the weather.” Todd said “we might as well go” So we went. The inlet was rough. We had a wave break over the bow as we were getting out of the inlet. The wind was right out of the east. It was over 20 knots, gusting at 30. Most of the sailfish being caught were offshore of Fort Pierce. There is an edge that we would work about 15 miles east of the shoreline. Even though it is 15 miles out, the edge there is just 150 feet deep. It was a rain gear morning. Man we got drenched on our ride out. The wind was hawkin’, so we put out four baits rather than our normal spread of seven. Sometimes that is all it takes. The first fish came right up on the flat. I had the drag set real light so the fish could tug some line without resistance. A sail will pull a little line then drop a bait before charging back in on a bait it is best to wind on the bait a little or hold the rod up in the air. Getting the hoo in sight makes the fish visible also. The more excited a fish is the better the chance of getting it to commit. I hooked the sail. Todd fought the fish. It made several short runs except it was small. We were able to back right up on it. I brought the fish onboard quick to get the hook out of it then dragged it through the water a little to revive it. Our second fish popped up on the left rigger. After banging the clip down I gave it a quick feed getting the hook into the fish on the first take. It was another small sail. It came jumping towards the boat. I had to be real delicate with these small fish, their bills are soft. Charlie cooled off after we landed some fish. Number three came up after our squid chain, then faded back on the flat line. I dropped back to it then hooked up again catching the fish. We called it a morning after landing three sails then ran back to Stuart.