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