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

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