So that's what a Cobia looks like!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Wow!  It’s been a long time since I was fishing on my boat – probably over a month.  I think that is the longest I have been away from it since January.  I have the Panacea withdrawal shakes.  Now, I didn’t say I hadn’t fished in that long as I did make it to Costa Rica two weeks ago where I caught a 120 pound sailfish.  Don’t believe me?
Okay, yes, the guy taking the picture did cut the top of my head off, but yes, that is me with my bucket-list fish!  I suppose it was more important to get the entire fish in the picture than it was to get the top of my head.

But anyway, I digress.
I am blessed today to have the honorable Jim Pittman on my Triton.  It is hard to believe that I have had the boat for eight months and he hasn’t fished with me yet.  We remedy that today.

I came down last night, checked my bait trap and found 15-20 live pinfish.  We have live bait!  If you have read earlier blogs, you know that I said I wasn’t going back out again without live bait.
Jim, as usual, is early.  He arrives at 6:30 a.m.  I hate early risers. The boat is already in the water from last night, so we get an early start – leaving the dock at 6:45 a.m.  The sun comes up just as we exit the channel.  Beautiful.  I hate waking up early, but I do love sunrises.

First stop – K Tower.  Nobody else here.  Fantastic.  We drop our live bait down.  I am ready for quick hits.  30 minutes go by.  Nothing!  Well now that is disappointing.  Tyler, at the dock, convinced us to purchase some frozen LYs.  I think he was just upselling us though.  Regardless, we cut one up and put one of them on the line.  Immediately, we get a hit at the bottom.  That doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.  Jim, being the better fisherman, gets the first fish in the boat.  Key West grunt.  Good-sized.  But really, I am not here to catch grunts.  Grouper or Amberjack would be nice. 
Jim catches the next 10 fish.  All Key West grunts.  I catch – not a damn thing.

The water is AMAZINGLY calm today.  As calm as I have seen it since January, so we decide to head into deeper water and proceed to Bryon Reef.  We drop down next to a couple of other boats.  Immediately, we get HUGE hits.  Immediately, our lines break.  What?  I just recently rigged all the grouper rigs to 90 pound test and 90 pound leaders.  NOTHING should be breaking these lines.  The guy from the other boat yells, “Black Tip sharks – fuckers are everywhere.  That is all we are catching when they don’t break the lines with their tails”.  Sure enough, Jim immediately gets another one on the line – except this time, his line isn’t breaking.  These sharks are probably 2-3 hundred pounds and extremely strong.  Good luck with that Jim.  The fish probably weighs 2 times what Jim does and I don’t have a fighting chair on my boat.  He does his best for 15-20 minutes (I am eating a sandwitch watching him kill himself), but eventually the shark breaks the line.  Jim is thankful and exhausted. 
We troll for a little while.  Something big does hit the trolling line and snaps the leader almost immediately.  Goodbye Stretch 25.  Dammit.  Those lures aren't cheap.  Why didn’t somebody tell me the sport of fishing could be expensive!

Since it is directly on the waypoint line back to the marina, we head back to K Tower.  Keep in mind, the fish count is:  Jim:  10.  Marc.  0.
We drop live bait down again next to K Tower.  There are a few boats here but nobody seems to be catching anything, which I have found is usually the case at K Tower.   A few minutes go by and I get a big hit.  I fight this thing for 15 minutes.  As it comes up, we can see it is a Cobia.  That’s cool.  I have never caught one of those.  He is actually way too big to get in the net but Jim and I are so excited we never even consider the fact that I have a gaff on the boat.   Novices.  Anyway, we get him in the net (sort of) and voila, my fish count goes up by 1!   Amazing how your fishing day can go from crappy to happy by just catching one big-ass fish.

We try trolling Oar Reef next but Hurricane Isaac has stirred up all kinds of seaweed making trolling impossible.  We head back to shore relatively early. 
Not a great fishing day, but trust me – I have had much worse than 11-12 fish in the boat.  And it is always good to spend time with Jim.  It probably helps that I am so physically attracted to him.

Here is the fish on the dock and here is the fish on my grill.  How does Cobia taste?  Yum!  Nice job on those filets Jimbo!

Tight lines everyone.

Captain Paul

The Secret

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Want to know the secret to deep-sea fishing? 
Gene Griffin, Cameron Paul, and I spent all day yesterday on the Triton – but not fishing.  It was a “maintenance” day.  If you read one of my earlier blogs, you knew that both my VHF radios died.  Gene installed a new one on the boat, and I purchased a new mobile VHF.  Communications restored.  110 degrees in the marina shed.  It was unbelievably hot!  The three of us spent the night at the Panacea Motel because it was close-by.  Like the teenage girls text:  OMG.  That is the nastiest motel in the U.S.  The shower handles were made from electrical tape.   We were going to head home after our maintenance day but Terri asked, “Why aren’t you guys going fishing on Sunday?”  Excellent question!

We were all happy to wake up, put salve on our flea bites, brush off the roaches, and get on the water.  Since we were right down the street from the marina, we did get an early start and were on the water at 6:30 a.m.  Leaving the channel, we watch the sunrise.  It is a breathtaking sight and one of those moments that make you feel blessed just to be alive.  It is also a beautiful day and the seas are less than 1 ft.  The smoothest I have ever seen it out here.
Because of the smooth seas, our goal is to get to Bryon’s Reef about 50 miles away from the Marina and ten miles past K Tower.  It is a long way, but there are big fish out there.

Because of the smooth seas, we have no problems getting to the reef an hour and a half later.  There is nobody else out here, so we start trolling first.  Not much luck, so we decide to bottom fish.  We are using frozen squid and ballyhoos for bait.  Not much luck bottom fishing either – which is annoying since we can see fish EVERYWHERE.  And I don’t mean just a few fish:

As we sit on the reef, we see an ENORMOUS variety of fish species.  Floating next to the boat are large Kings, hundreds of AmberJack, 8-10 foot sharks, thousands of Spanish Mackerel and Angelfish.  The water is a crystal clear blue.  It’s kind of like being in an all-natural aquarium.  What are we catching?  Not a damn thing.  We are obviously doing something wrong!  I get a bite. It’s a large shark.  I don’t want shark.
I get frustrated with bottom fishing, so we start trolling again.  Something big hits the line.  Cameron grabs it first.  Cameron fights this thing for 15 minutes.  He has to maneuver around the entire boat.  Don’t lose it dude!  That is the biggest fish you have ever had on the line!  We get it in the boat.  Nice Amberjack Cameron! 

Cameron says he is exhausted.  Of course, like almost ALL fish species, it is closed, so we have to throw him back.  Just for the record, I think the ever-changing Federal fishing regulations are utterly ridiculous.

We continue to troll, without much luck.  Very frustrating since we can see fish everywhere! 
It is still relatively early, so we head back to K Tower and tie up next to it.

Once again – fish EVERYWHERE!  Barracuda (6 ft easily), Cobia (4-6 ft), Mackerel.  Well, pretty much every fish species I have ever heard of is right here under the boat.  Millions of bait fish.  What are we catching?  Nothing.  Wait – I take that back.  I throw a lure about 100 feet.  As it is in the air, a sea bird flies right into it, flips over, and falls 20 feet from mid-air.  Now my lure is attached to the bird’s wing; he is squawking like crazy and I have to slowly reel him into the boat.  Cameron and Gene remove the hook from the wing.  The bird is wounded but after a few attempts, she finds wind under her wings.  I flip him the bird.  (Sorry – but I’m irritated).  So while other people are catching fish, I am flipping birds.  The observation, “I suck at fishing”, really seems to be an under-statement at this point in time.  Stop laughing.

A boat approaches.  They start fishing.  Two minutes later – they have a large slot redfish.  Another two minutes their 7 yr old catches a grouper.  What the hell??!!  I yell over, “Hey, what are you guys fishing with?”  The guy replies like I am an idiot, “Live pinfish, of course!”  Of course, indeed.  I ask him, “Where did you get them?”  His response, “I could tell you, but I would have to kill you”.  Interesting.
Another boat approaches.  They anchor right next to us.  They start catching fish immediately.  I ask, “What are you guys fishing with?”  The guy looks at me like I'm an idiot, “Live pinfish, of course!”  Of course, indeed.  The old guy asks me, “Do you guys have a sabiki rig?”  You mean that thing in my boat that I have never used but Gene just happened to rig up yesterday on maintenance day?  Yep, I got one of those.  The old guy says, “Give it a try”.  So we do. 

A sabiki rig is simply a bunch of small shiny hooks that have no bait on them.  Little fish are attracted to the shiny hooks and they bite them.  It seems silly to fish without bait, but supposedly, it works.  Cameron gives it a shot.  A minute later, viola, he catches a small minnow.   I put that minnow on my hook and drop to the bottom.  Wham!  Gag Grouper.  Nice.  Cameron catches another minnow.  Minnow on hook, Gene drops the bottom.  Wham!  Gag Grouper.  This is cool.  Cameron catches a larger bait fish – some kind of fish I don’t recognize.  I put him on the hook.  Drop to the bottom:

WHAM!  Okay, this is, without a doubt, the largest thing I have ever had on my line bottom fishing.  It takes all my strength to hang onto the pole and to keep my sorry ass from falling out of the boat.  I start moaning and grunting.  My deep-sea rig is bent completely over.  This must be a shark.  SNAP!  Line breaks.  Dammit!  As I am re-rigging a new leader, I see a school of 5-6 ft cobia directly under the boat.  One of them has my hook, leader and weight hanging from his mouth.  He is laughing.  I can see the bubbles.
So Cameron keeps sabikiing.  (That is not really a word).  Gene and I, and sometimes Cameron, place the bait on our lines, drop and struggle for a while with massive fish until the line snaps.  Keep in mind that we are using 50 pound test with 50 pound monofilament leaders.  It is simply not enough.  Most of the time the leaders are breaking at the hook – not our line.  We keep this up for a couple hours.  I am now completely out of leaders, weights, and circle hooks.   Hey, I get to spend more money on fishing equipment - who knew?

The secret to deep-sea fishing:  Live bait!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Granted.  On certain days, the fish won’t bite anything due to conditions, moods, tides, or whatever. But without live bait, I’m certain it is not worth the time and effort to take the boat 40 miles offshore.  As best as I can tell, success revolves around live bait – and heavier tackle.  I will be purchasing 80 pd test and 80 pd leaders, now I just have to figure out where to buy bait traps and how to get them out on the water the night before.

Stay tuned for my next blog – with live bait.
I wonder.  Is fishing like golf?  Just when you think you have it all figured out, you realize you don’t?

Captain Paul

A Tale of Two Trips

Friday, June 29, 2012

This is a tale of two trips. 
Russell Paul, Cameron Paul and I head out.  0% chance of rain, so I’m feeling pretty confident.  We proceed to Oar Reef where we have had success trolling in the past.  This reef is near K Tower about 30 miles from our marina.  I really want to get out to Bryon’s Reef, but it is another 20 miles from Oar Reef and the wind is strong enough to make me chicken out.  Tropical Storm Debby has just passed through two days ago and we are still getting the tail-end of her winds.  Maybe next time.  I need a bigger boat.
Russell has purchased two 20-year-old RAPALA lures.  These things are antiques, but he wants to try them instead of our normal Stretch 20 and 30’s.  “Fine bro”, although I have my doubts.

We start trolling and it isn’t long before something of decent size hits the Rapala.   The fish are probably saying, “Hey, what the hell is that?  We ain’t seen one of them before!”  That last line is funnier if you say it with a southern accent.  Russell starts reeling.  He gets it almost to the boat.  It is silver, big and round.  It definitely isn’t a King.  We’re not sure what it is, but we are excited to get it on the boat.  I grab the gaff.  Poof – fish disappears just as Russell gets it close to the surface.  The hooks on the Rapala lure bent and the fish got off.  Damn.  That was a good-sized fish.  I don’t think the Rapalas were designed for a fish that large.  Whatever.  We start trolling again.  It isn’t long before we get another fish - Cameron’s side of the boat this time.  Cameron fights him for a little while and gets him next to the boat.  I gaff him.  Hey – fish in the boat!  A bonita!  Here he is:

Nice job Cameron.  He is already out-fishing his Uncle Russell.
We spend a few more hours trolling, but we don’t catch anything.  Due to Tropical Storm Debby, the water is muddy, filled with seaweed,  and fresh water.  I’m surprised any fish are here.  We bottom fish for a little while near K Tower.  Cameron catches a few rock bass.  Russell and I catch nothing.  The day is getting late, so we decide to head in.  We return to the dock around 2:30 p.m., clean the fish, wash off the boat, and Russell heads home.

But this is a tale of two trips, and if you are still reading, this is where it gets interesting:
Terri and Delaney are in Carrabelle waiting for us.  It is our goal to take the boat from Panacea to Carrabelle; join them; and boat all weekend heading towards Apalachicola.  Carrabelle (about 35 miles) really isn’t that long of a trip and is about equivalent to heading out to K Tower.  No problem!

Cameron and I head back out about 3:30 p.m.  We tell Rock Landing Marina to not expect us again until Sunday.  As we exit the channel, we notice that the SW wind has picked up significantly, and we are navigating it head-on.  Under good conditions, I typically run about 35 MPH, but I can only go about 15 MPH in these waves and this persistent wind.   The waves are easily 2-4 feet now, but they are “different” than what I am used to.  They have an angry look to them.  The ride is uncomfortable as we slam into them.  But hey, we tough it out.  An hour later, we approach Buoy 26 (still 3 miles from it) which is about 7 miles off the coast.   We have reduced speed to 8 MPH – just slightly faster than trolling speed.   The 26 buoy marks the SW point of Ochlocknee Shoal.  The Shoal is very shallow.  The waves are so bad at this point that I decide to take my chances and cut across the shoal instead of going around it.  Yes, this is a risk in that the shoal is very shallow, but the idea of heading 7 miles offshore in these angry waves is a little scary.  So - we head across the Shoal.   I tell Cameron, “If we get to 3 feet, we need to turn around.”  He helps me keep a close eye on the depth finder.    8 ft, 7 ft, 6 ft, 5 ft, 3 ft, 2 ft.  That’s it, we are done.  4-6 ft waves are slamming into us and we are only in 2 feet of water!  I have navigated the boat in bigger waves out here, but I guess because of the recent Tropical Storm, the best way I can describe them is, like I said, “angry”.  They aren’t rolling, which is what  I am used to.  There are no “gaps” between them and the white-caps aren’t short, but appear for 8-10 seconds like those crashing on the beach.  The wave peaks are crashing over the bow and actually hitting the T-Top.  Cameron and I have our life jackets on.  We are soaked to the bone.  Remember, we have been fishing all day.  The SW wind is easily 20 MPH with gusts.  We’re acting tough, but we are exhausted.  Honestly, we are also both a little scared. 
You know those tingles you get when you know you are somewhere bad you really shouldn’t be?  Every inch of your body says, “Get out”.  I immediately take a sharp left away from land, towards the buoy, and towards open water.  I pray we don’t go aground – the tide is going out – not in.  If we get stuck, we are here for 6-8 hours, in the dark, because not even Sea Tow can get onto this shoal.  Everyone knows that I want a bigger boat and a deep-V hull, but at this exact moment, because I cut the shoal, I am thanking God that I have a Bay boat and that it only drafts 13 inches.  I have the motor trimmed all the way up.

We make it past the shoal and back into 18 feet of water.  Whew!  One disaster avoided.   Man, these waves are intense!  I still have the tingles because we are still getting the shit beat out of us.  I enter my last waypoint which is the Channel Marker outside of Carabelle.  “17 miles” says my GPS.  Holy Crap!  Cameron looks at me dead in the eye and says, “Really Dad?”  We have just completed 16 miles.  That puts us at least two-three hours away at this speed.  It is 5:00 p.m.  The waves are  punishing the bow (and us) every two seconds.  Executive decision time.  Go for it OR turn tail and run.  All-in or fold.  Forget it.  Safety first.   I fold.  We turn around.  Tropical Storm Debby wins.  We call Rock Landing Marina and let them know we are returning.  Oh, did I mention that both my VHF mounted radio AND my mobile VHF radio are now busted.  We do have cell phone access, but still….My cell phone is all wet.
Going with these waves is much easier.  Cameron and I take large sighs of relief.  I think the boat does also.  I bump the speedometer up to 20 MPH.  It still takes us over an hour and a half to return to the marina, but we make it back safely.  I will state again – we are exhausted.  I drive to Carabelle and sleep 13 hours that night. 

Thank you – Sheila at Rock Landing Marina - for waiting for us to return safely.  That meant a lot to me. 

Moral of the story:  I need a bigger boat!

Stay safe.

Captain Paul

The New King

May 25, 2012

High Temperature:  90.  Winds NE 5 – 10 MPH (says weather).  Seas 1-2 feet.
The sentence above is the weather forecast.  What a bunch of crap.

As we leave the channel this morning, the waves are 6-8 feet.  In fact, I have been heading out since January, and these are the worst seas I have seen in the last five months.
On the boat today are Russell Paul and Vince Capish.  Vince works for TPD.  Let’s see, how do I describe Vince?  I've got it:  He is indescribable.  Let’s leave it at that.  The guy has a heart of gold and you won’t find a better person to count on if you are ever in trouble.  If I say anything more about him, he will want to kiss me, and since there would be no way I could stop him (he is twice my size), I will stop.  The fish is actually huge, but Vince makes him look small.  When we catch a big fish, I need to remember to only take pictures with little guys.

Because of the NE 20 MPH fricking wind, we don’t get more than a mile out of the channel before all three of us are soaked.  I am only cruising at about 10 MPH. 
Before I completely blame it on the weatherman, let me say this:  “I think weather forecasts, in general, aren’t supposed to be for those of us who fish.  I think the weather forecast is for people who are sitting on their back porch reading the paper and drinking coffee.  I will also say this, the weather in the Gulf changes hour-by-hour so it really would be impossible to predict if from morning to afternoon.  Still, 6-8 foot waves and a 20 MPH NE wind is “quite” different than 5 MPH and 1-2 ft seas.  Okay, enough about the damn weather.

We are heading to Oar Reef this morning.  Oar Reef is just inside K Tower so I feel right at home.  I remember when I was scared to death to go "all the way" to K Tower.  Now, it seems like a close friend.  Russell loves to troll.  He isn’t a big bottom fisher.  And like Mike Wilson pointed out a few weeks ago, “Marc, let’s compare all the fish you have caught trolling, versus bottom fishing.  Any fish worth noting has always been trolling and not bottom fishing.”  Interesting perspective and entirely correct.  So we will troll.  Besides, it is really starting to get hot out here on the water and “always moving” is better than sitting still.  No longer do I need a jacket heading out in the morning.
We are trolling with a Green Stretch 25. I also have a new Blue Stretch 30 that Mike Wilson picked up at Bass Pro Shop last week.  Although the greens have been very dependable, I’m looking forward to trying something different.

It takes us awhile because of the waves, but we finally make it to Oar Reef in about an hour.  Everything on the boat is wet.  Vince is two Natural Lights in, but he still has 34 left, so we are good.
We only troll for a few minutes when we hear the sweet music of drag.  Something small.  A Spanish Mackerel.  The Stretch is at least half his size.  He must have had delusions of grandeur.  We throw him back.  Not interested in him.  We aren’t trolling long before something hits the rig in the rocket launcher right above my head.  I will take a moment to apologize to the deckhands here (especially to Vince since he is a guest), but I really didn’t think when I grabbed the rod.  Besides, the fish didn’t hit it that hard so I kind of figured he was another Spanish Mackerel.  And, in fact, as I start reeling, I can tell he is on the line, but he isn’t giving up much of a fight.  I get him close to the boat and then all hell breaks out. 

He does NOT like the look of the boat.  He runs.  He runs hard and fast away.  Damn, this fish is much bigger than I thought.  Definitely not a Spanish Mackerel.  I already know he isn’t a shark because they don’t hit Stretches.  He is either a King or an Amberjack.  I get him close to the boat again, he runs again.  I am moving all around the boat by this time cause this son-of-a-bitch is going every direction and pulling my drag.  Russell and Vince are both staying out of my way and are getting the gig ready.  I will apologize to Vince here again.  I had no idea the fish was this big, otherwise I would have let Vince take the pole.  Still, as the Captain, I am having a fantastic time fighting this monster.  I know how Ryan feels now.

I get him close enough to the boat where Vince can gig him.  Damn Vince, I’ve never seen anybody gaff a fish that effectively.  Anytime you are on my boat, you are the official “gaffer”.

King Mackerel.  25 pounds.  Biggest fish on Geeks 1 up to this point.  Sorry Ryan, you had the biggest King, but this thing is bigger.  There is a new KING in town!  I suppose the contest between you and I has now officially begun.

We place the King in the cooler.  Well, we put ¾ of him in the cooler.  He won’t fit.  He doesn't even fit into the above picture. That’s kind of funny.  We start trolling again.  Vince catches a large Jack Cravelle.  21 inches.  Is there a minimum size on Jack Cravelle?  We’re not sure, so we throw him back.  In hindsight, we should have kept him.  He was a pretty fish.  We troll towards K Tower.  When we get there we can see Cobia all around the tower.  Bait fish are also everywhere.  Another boat approaches and fishes with live bait. They catch nothing and move on quickly.  One thing I am learning about K Tower:  Everybody fishes it and the fish seem immune to both fake and live bait.  These large cobia swimming around us are not idiots.  So there are always a lot of fish at K Tower but I have yet to see anybody catch one.

Its getting late in the day so I head to shallower water around Ochlocknee Shoal.  We head to my waypoint called “Shark Shelf”.  Guess what we catch?  Yep, shark.  Damn, there are lot of sharks here.  Interesting that during the summer time everybody swims here.
We head in with, yes, you guessed it, one fish.  But damn, he is one large fish.  I am okay with that.  When we get back to the dock we compare notes with the 3 or 4 boats that went out that day.  Nobody caught much – not even Captain Vic.  That wind killed them.  Geeks 1 returned with the largest fish – by far.

Wait, let me repeat that, Geeks 1 returned with the largest fish!  Love it.  Russell says I am adding to my Captain Creds.

 Vince, at his best!

Tight Lines.

Captain Paul

Fishing is Hard


On the boat today:  Russell Paul, Mike Wilson, Marc Paul

I have been dreaming about Bryon’s Reef all week.   After that Rock-the-Dock tournament, I really wanted another shot at that location.   I mean, I like to fish and everything, but the dreams were starting to drive me crazy. 
We headed out at 7:15 a.m. in typical fashion.  The weatherman called for 1-2 foot seas, 5-10 MPH winds, 0% chance of rain.  I’m thinking, "There couldn’t be better fishing conditions".  Weatherman are always “spot on” right?

As we leave the channel we get hit with a rather brisk NE wind 10-15 MPH.  Bryon’s Reef is 40 miles from Rock Landing Channel.  I sure hope this wind dies down throughout the day. 
Typically, I like to cruise at 30 MPH, but today, with this morning wind, I have to run the boat at 18-20 MPH.  It’s going to take us some time to get there.

An hour and a half later, we arrive at the reef.  I haven’t seen another boat out here all day.  Wait, I take that back.  I have seen exactly one boat and he is racing me to the exact location where I want to go.  Really?  He anchors right in front of me.  Bastard.  So, we start trolling.  Immediately, Russell catches a 25” Amberjack.  Great looking fish – not 30”, so not big enough to keep - but still a great looking fish.  We throw the trolling lines back in.  Almost immediately, something extremely large hits Mike’s rig.  This fish, by far, is the largest thing that has ever hit my trolling line.  The fish starts to run – fast and hard.  Then, he changes his mind as he probably doesn't like the way that hook feels in his mouth, and he heads straight back towards the boat - fast.  Mike is reeling as fast as he can.  This fish is big and fast.  The fish gets closer to the boat and just like that, poof, he is gone.  Dammit.  That boy was big.  Hey, who needs bottom fishing.  Let’s do it again.  We throw the trolling lines back out.

The waves are cresting at a solid 5 ft with white caps.  The wind is constant out here at 15-20 MPH.  You’re fricking kidding me!  There was supposed to be no wind today.  Weathermen!  They should just say, "We really have no idea what the weather will be today - now for sports".
We troll for another hour, but no more hits, so we decide to get on this guy’s butt and bottom fish.  As we were trolling around him, we noticed that they had several large fish on the line, but we have yet to see them get one in the boat.  Their lines keep breaking.  Oh, I feel terrible for those guys - yeah right!

Have I mentioned how difficult it is to anchor in 5 ft swells and 20 MPH wind?  We attempt it numerous times.   I know where the tugboats on the bottom are because the butthead in front of me is sitting on them, but trying to get my rock anchor to catch is proving quite difficult.  After numerous attempts, we kind of get the anchor to catch on something although we are not on the reef.  Mike is pretty tired from pulling 80ft of anchor rope so we give it a try.  After 20 minutes or so, I catch a small key west grunt, but other than that, nothing.  We keep bottom fishing for another hour, but – nothing – not even nibbles.

The day is marching forward and we have a LONG drive back.  I tell the boys to drop the trolling lines so we can troll back towards K Tower.  10 miles to K Tower.  We can’t go fast anyway because the waves are crashing over the bow.  We troll for an hour – nothing.  We are definitely running out of day now so we pull in the lines and head towards K Tower – a little faster.  The wind is punishing us.   Due to the wind direction, the waves are crashing over the starboard side.  Mike is soaked.  Thanks Mike – I’m pretty dry - please don't move.   We finally arrive at K Tower, but it is 2:30 p.m. now and we still have another hour to get in.  Nothing to do but keep going.  Since we only have one fish in the boat, I throw him back.  What’s the point.  Seagulls love us.
We arrive at the dock – oh, guess what, "Geeks 1: doesn’t have any fish in the boat – again.  No other boats around today, so big deal.

We are exhausted due to the waves and wind, but at least we are back safe.

Fishing is hard.

Tight lines!

Captain Paul

Grow Some Balls

April 27, 2012

Wow! Where do I start with this blog?  If you are going to read this, give yourself some time.

It was the bi-annual "guys" fishing weekend.  We usually head to the lake house in central Florida for bass, but this time, because I have a new fishing boat, it was a unanimous decision to salt water fish. 

Mike Wilson and I head out Friday morning.  We head towards Carabelle and troll.  We actually catch a couple of gag groupers trolling the reefs in front of Carabelle.  We return to the dock with two grouper.  I thought that was a good day of fishing.  I mean really, two Grouper?  Can it get better than that?

Jeff Paul, Nick Sloan, and Gene Griffin arrive late Friday night.  After a few drinks at the bar, we head to the house and get some sleep.

The next morning, we head out to the area around Ocklochnee Shoal where Ryan and Russell caught their Kings the week prior.  We troll for several hours and catch ---- nothing!  Well, I take that back, we accidentally catch one gag grouper that we don't even realize has fouled all our lines.  He was over 22" though, so we keep him.  Having no luck, I decide to head "all the way" out to K Tower.  We had just arrived and were going to drop our lines when the police (FWC) arrive.  They ask us how many fish we have in the boat.  Sheepishly, we respond, "One".  They ask to see it.  We show it to them knowing it is large enough.  Their response, "You can't have a gag grouper in Federal waters.  It is a criminal offense."  Really?  Who knew we were in Federal waters?  Who knew there were different rules?  Where the heck do Federal waters begin?  Fortunately, Gene had grown up with these boys (thanks Gene) and they knew we had actually caught the fish in "state" waters so they said we could go but they told us to quickly get back to State waters with the "illegal" gag grouper.

We have one damn fish in the boat and almost lose it for not knowing what the hell we are doing.

We limp back to "little boy land" (aka "state" waters) and begin trolling again.  Nothing!  We head into even shallower water.  Nothing.  We return back to the dock with our one fish. 

This is when things get really interesting:

Did I mention that we had entered a tournament?  When we get back to the dock, as expected, boats are everywhere.  Everyone is returning with their catches to show them off on the large stage.  A couple of boats have 100-150 fish in them.  Everyone has caught fish and Everyone agrees it was the best damn fishing day of their frickin lives!  35 pound Amberjack, 48 pound Kingfish, 40 pound Cobia.  Hundreds of red grouper (not a single gag grouper in their boats by the way).  I mean, the diversity of the fish was amazing!  We are staring at all these catches dumbstruck.  Where did all these guys come from?  As usual, the other Captains and dock hands ask, "Well, how did Geeks 1 fare on this best fishing day of the year?"  "Uh, we have one fish which we caught by accident and we almost lost that to the cops".  Again, everyone chuckles.  I'm getting used to it by now.  We left the dock that morning with our designer clothes (I think Gene was wearing Prada), and I'm pretty  sure we never lost the creases in our starched shirts.  And to top off the day, we stand our brand new fishing poles up on the dock, they all fall over and one of them sinks in the water.  So we have to spend time fishing our fishing poles out of the water.  Perhaps I need a correction here, we caught one fish and one pole.  Again, everyone on the dock is laughing at us. (quietly)

I was pissed.  I never said this was a family blog, so allow me to say I was really fucking pissed.  It is embarassing to be a boat Captain and not catch any damn fish.  Especially when every single boat that returns to the dock has hundreds of huge fish on their boat.  Give me a break.

Robbie is the manager of Rock Landing Marina.  Nicest kid in the world.  I asked him where he was fishing. "V Tower" he says.  Fishing for big fish doesn't really even count until you get past "K" Tower.  Except for the trout guys, nobody fished in-shore for that tournament.  By "in shore" I mean anything less than 25 miles away.  Wow!  That really changed my perspective of things.  No wonder we're not catching any large fish.  Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of fish in-shore if you know what you are doing.  Captain Vic proves that every day when he returns with copious amounts of trout, redfish and spanish mackerel.  But the reason I bought the Triton was so that I could catch larger fish if I wanted to.  And this weekend - I want to catch larger fish.

So we are all sitting around the porch that evening.  The map I have been using, let's call it the "little boy" map only goes out about 10 miles from shore.  (Which I thought was a long way).  I put that map aside.  If I am going to remain Captain, I need to grow some balls and lose the "little boat mentality".  I don't own a 25 year old 18 ft bass boat anymore.  I have a boat that is fully capable of running offshore 50-70 miles on a nice day (which these are).  I pull out the "big boy" map which is broken into grids and goes out 200 miles in the Gulf.  There are a LOT bigger fish out there apparently.

I calculate my waypoints for the next day and tell the guys, "Let's fish deep or stay home".  My farthest waypoint (Bryon Reef) is 40 miles offshore - 10 miles past K Tower, but not quite to "V" Tower.  I can't quite push myself to V Tower - yet.  They all agree.  Time to go deeper.

We head out the next morning.  We're on the water for three minutes.  We're not even out of the channel and we get hit with blue lights.  Cops.  You have got to be kidding!  Turns out - not cops - but the Coast Guard.  They were responding to flares the night before.  These Coast Guard boys were out of Panama City in some type of sturdy stainless steel raft "thing" with twins on the back.  They had been running hard all night long looking for a distressed boat that shot flairs.  They asked us what port we had come out and had we seen anybody in distress.  We had not.  These guys looked exhausted.  Man, I'll tell you:  It is good to know that guys like that are willing to look that damn hard for those of us who want to spend our time fishing and boating on the water.  I was extremely impressed with these young guys.  They resumed their search and we were off again.

We stop at K Tower and fish around it a little bit along with some other boats.  The wind has picked up considerably resulting in white caps and 3-5 ft swells.   I watch one Captain, using his twin engines, quite expertly manuever the stern of his boat 5 ft in a circumference around the tower while the other guys fish off the stern.  That's pretty impressive.  As soon as they leave, I watch another guy accidentally ram his piece of shit boat into the tower numerous times.  I am quickly learning that there are guys that know what they are doing out here and others that obviously don't.  I'm guessing the first Captain catches more fish.  For the first time, I practice keeping the boat stationary using the engine, the wind, and the current.   It takes some practice, but eventually I get better at it and am able to keep the boat stationary in the swells.  If you think its easy, I encourage you to come try it.  There are a lot of fish around K Tower - we can see them - but nobody is catching them, so we take off and head a little further out from K Tower.  Nothing at that spot either.  No fish in the boat.  I am getting frustrated - again.  Time to head to Bryson Reef which is 10 miles past K Tower and not too far from V Tower.

When we get to Bryon's reef (75 feet of water), ironically, there is another boat sitting on the exact coordinate where I want to put my boat.  They are catching fish.  We go near them, but try not to get too close.  We also start catching fish - Key West grunts.  Good size fish and pretty good eating, so we stick them in the cooler.  We catch about 20 of these.  They are fun at first, but they get old.  I catch a 4 foot lemon shark.  Gene Griffin catches a 25 pound AmberJack.  There is a story behind that, but I will have to tell it to you in person.  We see large fish (not sharks) everywhere underneath the boat, so we decide to troll.  We don't have much luck.  With Jeff's assistance, we work together to slowly and painstakenly manuever the boat, all the time watching the fish finder to find structure on the bottom.  With the wind and current, it is much more difficult than you might think.  Obviously, we are on the reef because we can see it on the Fish Finder.  But trust me, the reef isn't that big so if you are 10 or 15 feet off of it - guess what, you ain't catchin nothin.  We catch more grunts but the day is getting late and it is time to head back in.  I look at the map and determine that from where we are currently sitting 40 miles offshore, I can enter a waypoint that is just outside the Rock Landing channel.  It appears to be a straight shot with no obstacles, shoals, oyster bars, etc.  Interesting.  40 miles out and not a single turn.  I wonder how difficult back the ride will be.  I'm expecting wind and waves and a tough ride back. 

We get started.  Not bad, kind of choppy, but not bad.  My waypoint line takes me past K Tower about 100 feet on the port side.  K Tower was always my definition of a "long way out".  Now I am blowing by it, headed back in at 30 MPH thinking to myself, "I think I just graduated to the next level".  As soon as we get past K Tower, the water becomes as smooth as a bathtub.  I push the throttle up to 35 MPH, sit back, and basically let the boat drive itself while glancing at the line on the GPS every now and then.  Everyone on the boat falls asleep.  Hour and half ride back in - why the heck not?  We get back to the dock around 3 p.m.  We don't have anything close to a tournament worthy fish, but at least this time, we do have a cooler full of edible fish.  The other boats had a tough day of it.  Not many of them caught much. What a difference a day makes.

Geeks 1 caught fish!

It is interesting how perspectives change over time concerning the water.  Being a Captain is different then being a passenger.  As a Captain, I think a part of you will always worry that something will go wrong with your boat and someday I'm sure it will.  So you do your best to keep everyone safe.  But sooner or later, you have to trust your boat, your skills, and your ever increasing knowledge to push yourself to new challenges.  From a Captain's perspective, I kind of feel like I graduated from Elementary sea school to Junior High Sea School.  I needed my friends to have confidence in me and they did. 

Moral of the story: Want to catch bigger fish?  Go farther and fish deeper water.  The concept s simple, the reality isn't.  I think you have to earn it - or you become that guy who continuously rams his boat into K Tower in 3 ft swells.

The first place prize for the tournament was 1K for the biggest King.  At least, I thought that was the 1st place prize until someone from the tournament called to notify me that I had won one year of free boat storage at Rock Landing Marina.  Heck, you can keep your Kingfish, I just doubled down.  I actually made a "profit" by fishing all weekend with my friends.  Perhaps Gene is partially right when he calls me "lucky".

As always, it was amazing to have my close friends fishing with me on my boat.  I stress much more about catching fish then they do, but the weather was beautiful all weekend and we obviously had a fantastic time on the boat telling jokes, stories, etc.  All of these guys have stressful jobs; are responsible fathers; and I'm certain they needed this time away to re-charge their batteries.  I was honored that they took the time to be with me.  Special thanks goes to Mike Wilson for being an incredible deck hand.  That boy worked his butt off.  What was I thinking when I was considering not having you on the boat?  Next time - live bait and straight out to the reef.  Oh yeah baby.

Thanks again guys for joining me.  That was a fantastic weekend.

Tight Lines

Captain Paul

The KING has left the building/ocean!

April 20, 2012

I have entered "Geeks 1" into a Kingfish tournament at Rock Landing Marina.  The tournament is next week, so I figured that we needed at least one practice run befor the tournament.  After all, we have never caught, or even attempted to catch, Kingfish on the Triton.

On the boat today, again, is Russell Paul and Ryan Brooks.  I think they have become as addicted to fishing as me.

We headed out early morning for the SW side of Ocholocknee Shoal - about 12 miles offshore.  I was anxious to try out my new Penn reels.  Russell also bought a new Penn reel.  We were instructed by several people to use Kingfish lures which look like tinsel on a Christmas tree with three large hooks attached. 

Just a few minutes after trolling we catch a couple of Spanish Mackerel.  Thanks for the action guys, but we are looking for your grandfathers.  Please go away.  We throw them back.

I have mapped out a 17 mile perimeter between four waypoints.  After those mackerel, things got very quiet trolling.  We reach the 2nd waypoiont, make a turn to the West and keep going.  After another hour, I get frustrated because we aren't catching anything.  So, we decide to drift and bottom fish for a little while.  We spend a half hour doing that.  NOTHING!  Whatever.  We came to troll, not bottom fish, so I tell the guys to reel em up and we head off again at 3 knots.  Nothing is really hitting these tinsel lures (we are calling them "skirts" at this time), so we change all the rigs to Stretch 25& 30 lures. 

It isn't long before we hear that sweet music of drag.  It's on Ryan's side.  He jumps on the pole.  He starts fighting this thing.  Man, this thing is big!   He hit the stretch 25.  After a considerable fight, the fish gets close to the boat and we see it is a King.  Man, he's big!  The King sees the boat.  No way jose!  He doesn't like the look of the boat and takes off running again.  To say Ryan is excited would be a huge understatement.   This is a big King, and I'm pretty sure the biggest fish Ryan has ever had on his line (well except for that 10 ft shark two weeks ago, but let's not count him).  The King heads under the boat and runs again.  Ryan, I must say, rather expertly moves around the boat with the fish.  I can see the ferociousness in his eyes.  Ryan - not the King.  Ryan gets the King next to the boat; I gaff him and stick him in the live well.  Hot damn!  Kingfish in the boat - and a 25 pound kingfish at that.  He is a monster!  Okay, the day just got better.  Off we go again.  Let's get another boys.

It isn't long before we get a bonita.  Then, we have another King on the line. Russell's turn this time.  We bring him in and stick him in the livewell.  Not as big as Ryan's, but still impressive.  Shortly after, Russell gets another King up to the boat and pulls him out of the water without the gaff.  Why you do that bro?  King gets away.  No matter, we really didn't want another one in the live well anyway.  Who is going to clean these boys?  Not me, I'm the Captain.  We fish for a little while longer, but no more major hits. 

We reel em in and head home.  The wind is blowing like a banshee now!  Wow, whitecaps everywhere.  We hit one swell that, I swear, made me lose a molar in my back teeth.  I can tell this major weather front is coming tomorrow.

So I get back to the dock and Macon (dock hand) puts my boat on the lift and starts to take it away.  "Wait a minute dude", I say, "I have fish on the boat that need to come out of the live well".  He says, "Oh sorry, Mr. Marc, I'm not use to you having any fish".  Bastard.  I think I want my tip back that I gave him that morning.  Macon giggles like a girl, by the way.

Great day fishing bros, and excellent teamwork I must say.  It really does require all of us to work together to get these big fish in the boat.   I am as ready as possible for the upcoming tournament.

So the BIG mystery.  I have heard contradicting stories from everyone.  Do Kings taste good? 

I took Ryan's monster home and put him on the grill.  This is what he looks like sizzling after Ryan's expert filet job:

OMG!  He tastes awesome!  Mystery solved.  Kingfish taste incredible on the grill.  Really, I'm not lying.  I soaked him in milk for 30 minutes, put him on the grill with some spicy Redfish seasoning and some butter.  Extremely light and fluffy.  Oh yeah baby.  Even Cameron and Delaney loved him.

Bring on the tournament.

Tight lines!

Captain Paul

Be wary, wary qwiet, we are hunting Gwouper.

                 Bird Watching?

April 6, 2012
Grouper season opened five days ago.  Beautiful day – at the moment.  Yesterday we had severe storms in the afternoon with a Tornado touching down in Tallahassee.  The Weatherman says “Expect severe thunderstorms in the afternoon again today”.  Weathermen are idiots though.  It is 7:00 a.m. The sky is clear.  I downloaded a new app on my Android called “Rainy Days”.  Cool app.

On the boat today is Ryan Brooks and my brother Russell.  Both of them are excited, as I am, about our first foray into grouper hunting – especially when I showed them the picture Jim Pittman sent me of his Grouper from a few days ago.  I have never taken the Triton on a grouper hunt before.  Jim is a fishing God!  I taught him everything he knows.
Fred, at Rock Landing Marina gave me some coordinates next to K Tower (thanks Fred), so we are headed there first.  Since I am getting very confident with my GPS, I enter some new waypoints that I want to hit (channel markers) and we are off.

We have no problems getting to K Tower.  We hit the first spot but I have trouble keeping the boat on the actual coordinate.  Dropping an anchor 65 ft, attempting to remain stationary while estimating tide, drift and wind is more difficult than I thought.  We quickly drift off the spot.  We catch a couple of small grunts, but no grouper.  I try a few other GPS coordinates – but except for a few small fish, we really don’t catch much and we keep drifting.  Many of you won’t believe it, but I get irritated easily.  I am irritated.  Since we are so near K Tower I decide to head right to the tower and drift next to it.  Who knows, maybe there are some Grouper right next to the tower. 
I am standing on the bow.  I look down.  Holy Crap!  That is the largest damn shark I have ever seen!  I know the water magnifies things, but he has got to be at least 9-10 feet long.  He is only a foot under the boat.  He is kind of staring at me hungrily.  I literally got goose bumps.  I climb down off the bow, because - well, just because.  A few minutes later, Ryan gets a HUGE hit on his pole.  The line takes off and his reel starts smoking.  That ain’t no Grouper.  He caught the shark.  Have fun with that Ryan!  It doesn’t take long for the mammoth shark to break his line though.  Then, Ryan catches a bird.  No really!  I have seen birds land on the boat before, but never on someone’s pole.  The bird just sits there and stares at Ryan.  Russell takes a picture. 

Still nothing at K Tower and the wind is picking up.  Clouds are getting darker.  I don’t like this. Bad weather scares the hell out of me – especially lightning.   Instead of heading NE back to Rock Landing, I go NW to Carrabelle.  We will be closer to shore, albeit West of our departure location so if the weather turns bad, we can cruise into Carrabelle Marina.  26 miles to K Tower, 15 miles to Carabelle. 
We find something called “Smokehouse Reef” in Carrabelle.  The big yacht next to us appears to be catching fish, so we stop.  We catch – NOT a damn thing!  We stay here about an hour and catch absolutely nothing.  Grouper fishing is hard!  Wind is getting stronger.  I am a stubborn man, so I decide to head East again, but instead of heading to the safety of Rock Landing, I head out to Oar Reef which is about halfway to K Tower and in 55 feet of water. 

We reach Oar Reef and seas are easily 4-5 feet now.  White caps and large swells.  We drop our lines but who are we kidding.  This is impossible. The wind is steady at 10-15 knots.  Sky is darkening.  As a Captain, I don’t like it, besides we all know I’m a chickenshit.
So we grudgingly head back towards Rock Landing.   The Triton usually cruises quite nicely at 26 knots, but I have to reduce to 17 because of the swells.  We stop at a few locations near shore looking for Trout and Spanish mackerel, but nothing, and I mean nothing, is hitting our lines.  I even miss the shark.  The sun is out but it is still very windy.

We head in.  I probably burned $200 in fuel, traveled 57 miles and came back to the dock with no fish.  As a Captain, I admit, I feel like a failure.  I really thought we would catch some Grouper out there.
Easter Sunday next weekend, so no fishing, but the weekend after that, I intend to fish both Friday and Saturday.  Unless somebody convinces me otherwise, I’m gonna head back to St. Marks and fish inshore locations that I used to know very well for Reds and Trout.   I need to get my confidence back and some fish on the boat.

On the drive home, the skies let loose.  Intense lightning, thunder and rain.  Man, I’m glad we didn’t hit this mess on the boat.  Okay, so maybe the weatherman aren’t complete idiots.
I will write again in two weeks.  Tight lines.

Captain Paul