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