Caution - this post is rather long. If you're busy, you may want to read it later.
Another year has passed since the 2014 "Panacea Rock-The-Dock" fishing tournament. Man, time sure passes quickly. I hate to see all of you age while I don't.
We entered the tournament again this year, but it will be my last year doing so. You'll understand as you read.
I arrived at the coast Thursday evening because I had some basic work to do on the boat (changing batteries, entering waypoints, etc.) I wasn't really expecting anyone to join me Thursday night, but both Mike and Gene said they would meet me down there. Cool - good friends to hang with!
We rented a house on Alligator Point; very nice place on the beach. Here is a view from our porch at sunset Thursday night:
The "Forgotten Coast" really is a pretty place.
The weather forecast for the weekend is "iffy" at best. Like I said in the last post, it has been raining almost every day in Tallahassee the entire month of April.
Fortunately, I stay away from the "red 10% alcohol content beer" at Mad Anthony's Thursday night; that stuff is strong!; we all get a good night's sleep and we wake up early Friday morning at 5:45 a.m. The weather forecast today is calling for sun and 2-3 foot seas. Wow - great conditions!
Morning. We are almost at the dock. We hear some profanities from Gene in the back seat. He has forgotten his sunglasses. "You can buy some cheap glasses at Crum's," Mike and I tell him. A few minutes pass. He curses some more. "I forgot my cell phone charger. I have GOT to work today", he says. BTW, Gene is a little stressed from work. There is nothing open at 6 a.m. so they drop me off at the dock and head all the way back to the house. An hour round-trip. Great start to fishing! Not.
We leave the dock around 8 a.m. We aren't far offshore when we quickly realize that the seas are NOT 2-3 feet. More like 6-7 feet and we are only about 7 miles offshore (what I consider inshore fishing). We are the only boat out here.
Now, in the 32 ft Century, I'm not too worried, from a safety perspective, about the waves, but we are getting pretty beat up. There is absolutely nothing biting at Rotary Reef; I'm definitely not going farther offshore, so we head inshore to fish "Trout Hole"; take it easy; relax and eat some lunch. The tournament doesn't start until tomorrow anyway. Except for a couple of crappy catfish, there is nothing at Trout Hole. We decide that drinking beer at the marina is a better alternative then catching catfish.
We do that.
What is the old saying, a bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work?
Gene has to work all weekend, so he takes off back to Tallahassee. (He is not puffing up in this picture).
Charmaine and Sam take his place Friday night. People are starting to setup their tents for the tournament.
Once again, we don't do anything crazy at the house Friday night and we all get a good night's sleep.
The boats are lined up at the dock; ready to head out. I talk with Robbie who has a 35 ft Marlago. Robbie's Dad owns Rock Landing Marina. We decide to head out together to V Tower - if the weather isn't too rough. I haven't even left the dock yet and I have to acknowledge "Tornado Warnings" and "Severe Thunderstorm" alerts on my electronics.
Now, logic states that if you are being required to acknowledge Tornado Warnings on your boat's electronics prior to leaving the dock, it might make sense to stay connected to said dock, but since it is tournament day, I simply Acknowledge them and we shove off. I tell Robbie that I will follow him until he does something stupid.
About 3 miles offshore, we hit 4-5 foot seas -and the waves are uncomfortably close together. The wind is howling. Simply said, it is ROUGH! Robbie calls me on the VHF radio and says he intends to head to V Tower (which is 40 miles offshore). I deem his decision to be either extremely brave or extremely stupid. I still can't decide which. What I DO know is that I am NOT following him. My boat can handle the waves, but I really don't want to be 40-50 miles offshore in a Tornado. As I learn later, Robbie actually heads 80 miles offshore near the Florida middle grounds. No way, jose. There ARE big fish out there though. Here he is proving it:
That is a 28 pound AmberJack. Nice fish Robbie! You definitely earned it.
I refuse to be limited again to Rotary Reef (7 miles offshore) so I head to a location that is about 15 miles offshore.
We start fishing. ZIZZZ. (Sound or reel drag :-). ZIZZZ. King. ZIZZZ, King. ZIZZZ, Spanish. ZIZZZ King. ZIZZZ, King. ZIZZZ, King. Okay, you get the idea. None of the Kings are very big (we are only in 35 ft of water), but we are having a great time catching them and Charmaine is filming the catches. We often don't even have a lure deployed all the way before a fish hits it. Mike and Sam are very busy:
We quickly catch about 12-13 Spanish and Kings (so we actually start throwing them back). At this pace, we could easily catch 20-25 Kings, but we can't eat that many, and they don't freeze very well, (I don't like wasting fish) so we decide to call it an early day and head back to the dock (to drink beer). It is only about 1 p.m. when we arrive back at the dock.
Even in a 32 ft boat, as we head in, we are getting soaked in the cockpit. Not from rain, but from waves crashing over the gunwales: (and I have big gunwales) pronounced "gunnels", btw.
Terri says that guys over 21 years of age are not allowed to wear puka beads. But when you are approaching 50 and don't give a damn what other people think, the rules start to change again. Hah!
As the Captain, I catch a LOT of flack from the dock workers about being a "chickenshit" Captain when I return to the dock early during a tournament. But hey, I really want to live to fish another day. I learned last year that there is no way we will ever actually compete in this tournament (I'll explain later), so I don't really care. Anyway, I am used to the dock workers giving me crap about something. They have goodheartedly been doing it for years.
We clean the fish (well, I don't) and head back to the Alligator Point house, except Charmaine who has had enough and she returns to Tallahassee to finish studying for finals.
Saturday night we are playing poker at the house when more severe storms pass through. We ask ourselves, "I wonder if Blake ("Reel Smokers" 31' boat) is still out on the water in this weather?" Turns out - he was. He was actually 80 miles offshore, at times, enduring some very severe weather. Like Robby, balls of steel, or brain not working? I'll let you be the judge.
Now, first place in the tournament, for any category is $750.00.
Is it worth it to win $750.00 while risking your life in a severe thunderstorm or tornado, 80 miles offshore in a boat that has no cabin? As it turned out, I heard that Blake (who is an awesome fisherman and nice guy) didn't win 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place. But then, he wasn't competing with locals - he was competing with guys fishing in the Keys. The weather is very pleasant down there I hear.
Is it worth it to come back early, head to a beautiful, rented house on the beach; cook and eat our extremely fresh fish, lose nine dollars at the house playing poker with Sam and Mike while drinking coconut rum and pineapple juice?
Dock. 9 a.m. Okay, we woke up late. I'm looking around for Robby. You remember him. He was the guy who went to the middle-grounds yesterday. I hear from the workers that he is sun-burnt and exhausted today, so he isn't fishing. I laugh, but I can't blame him. If I had gone to the middle-grounds yesterday in those waves, I wouldn't fish again for a few more weeks.
But WE are ready to go. We head out a few miles. Nothing biting on Rotary. On radar, we see a big line of storms coming our way (again). Dammit. Really?! I confirm over VHF with the marina. Yep - big storm. We head in; drink some coffee. We wait.
Storm passes around 10:30 a.m. Radar looks clear. Thank you, God.
We head out - again.
Don't even ask what my fuel costs were this weekend. If you do ask, don't tell my wife.
This time, we experience 7-8 foot waves, but they are rolling, and farther apart than yesterday, but not breaking. I have never been in waves this big. Because they are "rolling", we aren't exactly getting beat up, but they are a little freaky riding up and down. Sam and Mike are all excited. Why am I the only one worried?
We arrive at Oar Reef about 18 miles offshore.
Things start happening fast. Our first bite is a keeper AmberJack. Then, the Kings start hitting us fast and hard. In 15 minutes, we bring in 5 Kings. Just like yesterday, apparently. But then the bite stops as fast as it starts. Fish are weird.
K Tower is only a few miles away. We go there. We are there about 15 minutes when we catch three more keeper Amberjacks. Maybe we really are getting better at this fishing thing!! Here is Mike with a decent one:
Yes, we know, it isn't the size of Robby's, but we are on the boat again fishing and Robby is still sleeping. Admit it Robby - you know you were.
Oh, and apparently, the new bean bag was a big hit. Since both Mike and Sam fell asleep in it, they want me to buy another one:
We limit out on Amberjacks. We have a long ride in. We are tired. We head home. This time, we arrive back around 3:00 p.m. Apparently, we were the only boat out there. Everyone else is recovering from yesterday, drinking beer and watching the ridiculously large fish being waltzed across the stage.
Don't let the name fool you. The Rock-The-Dock tournament might be held in Panacea, but it is a nationwide tournament. That's cool, I'm glad the tournament has grown so big. Cudos to the organizers! The recognition is probably great for little ole Panacea, Florida. But as a Panacea fisherman, it would be nice if someone would explain the rules better to me. I thought it was mostly for local fishermen - hence the name. Conversely, the name "Big Bend Saltwater Classic" is pretty clear.
Professionals are showing up Sunday from Alabama, Mississippi, New Orleans (and I heard - even the Keys). We (locals) are fishing in 100 feet of water or less. They are fishing in 2-3 thousand feet of water. I mean the winning AmberJack was 65 pounds for god's sake! We heard a spectator say that they caught it Thursday afternoon. Really? I thought the tournament started on Saturday? Whatever...
The news does an interview with a guy on stage with a HUGE Amberjack. The cameraman asks him where he caught it and he replies, "We were in 500 feet of water". Really? 500 feet! You don't say? Okay, let's think about that folks. From Panacea, I wouldn't reach 500 feet of water if I drove my boat all the way to Tampa. Whatever...
Remember Robby's huge Amberjack from up above? It was only (only) 28 pounds and leaving "Panacea" (he actually "rocked-the-dock" as his foot left it), risked his life going all the way to the Middle Grounds for it. (He is a little competitive). So just imagine what a 65 pound Amberjack looks like. More than likely, it was caught in 1000 feet of water near an Oil Rig in the deep gulf. Then, like all the rest of the winners, they drove their fish to Panacea. I saw at least two trucks with New Orleans license tags. The boats were 40 foot with quads on the back! The guys all had matching shirts. (Well, we did also, I suppose.)
It is just my opinion (which isn't worth much), but the "Panacea Rock-the-Dock" tournament needs to be renamed to the "Gulf of Mexico Rock-the-Dock" tournament. With the footnote: "Fish weighing in Panacea, Florida." Apparently, if you own a truck or are willing to pay someone to fly your fish to Panacea by 4 p.m. on the final Sunday - you also can win. So if you live in the Keys, or in Texas or Mexico, give me a call next year on Thursday. I will pay to have your huge fish Fedx'd to me. I'll split the profit with you. For $750.00 (1st prize), I will still make money. And if you caught your fish LAST year and it has been frozen all year - no problem - just make sure you give it enough time to unfreeze before you ship it to me. I don't think they care if the fish has been speared either. So, that's okay, also. It's all done on the "honor" system.
But Capt'n Hook digresses... :-)
Did we have fun? You betcha. Did we fish all weekend in seriously rough weather? Most definitely. Did we return safely? Yes. Was I smiling at work Monday morning telling stories about fishing? Of course.
But I wonder............
- Should Capt'n Hook consider starting a small tournament for just locals on the Forgotten Coast between St. Marks and Carrabelle?
- Any profits would be donated to the "Gulf Specimen Marine Lab" in Panacea?
- For fun, participants must donate one fish and we all eat our catches and drink beer together as locals at Mad Anthony's in Panacea?
- All boats must leave at the same time from one of the local marinas?
- Your boat must be registered at one of the local marinas to prove you are local?
- Your fish must be physically removed from your boat and weighed at one of the local marinas by a tournament official?
- We put the whole party on the Capt'n Hook fishing show?
Speaking of which, The Capt'n Hook Fishing Show website is coming along. It still needs a lot of work so we aren't publishing the domain just yet. Charmaine is doing a great job filming, editing and posting. I think the crew liked the new Cap'n Hook fishing shirts and hats we just got in. Even Macon had one on yesterday! We still have LOTS to do this summer to prepare for a fishing show, but we ARE still moving forward.
Thanks everyone for reading! (all 3 of you).
Captain Marc Paul