Now I am a god-fearing man, so don't let the title of this post fool you.
I found several definitions for "Dancing With The Devil." Here is the one that is most relevant for this post:
"Taking a risk that will cost perhaps much more than the 'dancer' can afford."
Snapper season is open until Labor Day, so we are trying to get in as many days of offshore fishing that we possibly can. Red Snapper may not be open for another entire year - for us recreational fishermen.
On the boat today are: My brother Jeff, his friend Chris (quite the fisherman), my friend George and his friend Kevin. We were supposed to have two other people. We waited until 7:30 a.m. at the dock for them, but they didn't show.
I checked the marine forecast: 5-10 mph winds, 1 -2 foot seas. Perfect! What isn't so perfect is the thunderstorm forecast: 70% probability of rain and thunderstorms. Okay, 70% is a lot, but most of those are in the afternoon (right?), so let's get out there quickly boys so we can return quickly and drink a few beers.
We are headed to V Tower 50 miles offshore. Its starting to feel like home for me out there. I have lots of good waypoints for Snapper there.
The morning starts off very pleasant:
About 7 miles offshore, we stop to sabiki for live bait. You don't need live bait for Snapper, but Gag Grouper love them and if you catch your limit on Snapper, you can always have fun catching large AJs with live bait. So we stop at the bait grounds.
When we come to a stop, the bow turns into the wind and so becomes my first indicator that the weather is NOT what was forecasted. Consistent 20 mile per hour wind and 4-5 foot seas. Are you kidding me? Where the heck did this wind come from? I check my phone radar. Oh, that does explain some things:
The "Severe Weather Aproaching" warning at the bottom of my screenshot is noteworthy.
"Okay guys" I say, "We are NOT headed 50 miles offshore to V Tower in 4-5 ft seas and 20 mph winds!". Actually, none of them disagree with me, even though they don't know the extent of the storms. Or perhaps they do as they also have smartphones, but just assume I know what I am doing.
The dance begins.
So I make the decision to only head 17 miles offshore to Oar Reef to see what we can catch there. Oar Reef is near K Tower. I like to troll over reefs before I bottom fish them, so we put out the trolling rods. Within a minute, something hits it hard and we pull in a large Spanish Mackerel. Cooked fresh, I have learned that this species tastes amazing. So - we have dinner for this evening. And that is exactly what I said, "Great, we have dinner for tonight!". A few minutes later, we catch another one. Alright, fishing is starting off well. - And it is still sunny!
The dance continues. (See those clouds to our South?)
I should never have thought that fishing would continue smoothly. Kiss of death!
We anchor on Oar Reef. Nothing, and I mean nothing biting. We use squid, LYs, live bait, tequila, whatever.... Nothing biting for 1/2 hour. Not even a grunt or rock bass. Okay, so I have no idea what is going on at this point. We decide to pull anchor and head towards K Tower which is only a few miles away. Before we can pull anchor, George tells me that the chum bag is wrapped around the Starboard engine. Da*n it. We get that loose. However, while I'm sitting on the trimmed up engines getting that untangled I see that there is fishing line wrapped around the port engine. Da*n it! So, I cut as much as that loose as possible. As we go to pull the anchor, Jeff tells me that his line is hung up on structure. Da*n it!! Okay, we can see if we can fix that as we pull the boat forward. Then, the anchor rope is knotted in the windlass. Da*n it!!! Takes 10 minutes to fix that. Then, Chris tells me that the anchor rope has caught on the waypoint buoy rope. Da*n it!!!! We are able to free that as we move forward but then the anchor is caught hard on structure. Da*n it!!!!!! After almost ripping the cleat on my bow off, we finally free the anchor 1/2 hour later. We pull up ANOTHER rotted anchor with our anchor.
Okay, that whole segment of the day sucked. No way things could get worse, right?
We head to K Tower, but I'm thinking to my self, "Self, we could blow by K Tower and make it, at least to Bryson Reef 30 miles offshore". There ARE some snapper there. I take another screenshot before I leave Oar Reef. Here would be my path:
Severe thuderstorms don't move right? Although I have noted that the message at the bottom of my phone has now changed to "Damaging Storm Warning".
It is a relatively long run, and as we head farther and farther south, the line of thunderstorms to our south (the direction we are heading farther offshore) starts to look a LOT worse. The storms are obviously building. I can't take a screenshot of the radar because I don't get radar on my phone this far offshore. But I can assure you based on just looking at it, the weather is NOT improving.
I "kind of" take a vote. Do we keep heading south (farther offshore) or do we turn back around to K Tower. As we get closer to the southern nasty looking front, George gives me all I need for ammunition, "Perhaps Captain, we should reconsider our decision". Yep, that's all I need. I immediately turn the boat around and head back to K Tower where it is still sunny:
I used the color yellow in the picture above because we are retreating. Remember though, that this screen shot is a couple of hours old. The front we are looking at looks a lot worse.
The dance with the devil has become a little more provocative.
We fish K Tower for a little while, but once again, nothing biting - perhaps the fish know something we don't. Everyone is still smiling though. Its sunny! Nothing to worry about. Okay, Kevin isn't smiling in the background. But he rarely smiles.
Kevin almost smiling? Holy crap.
Kevin, not smiling.
It is about 2 p.m. I'm feeling like we have pushed our weather luck quite a bit. Remember that a 70% chance of showers means that there is only a 30% of NOT being in thunderstorms. I'm not a very good gambler.
As we approach the coast, the storms there have also obviously grown. We are headed straight at one. I'm starting to think that I will need to head east to St. Marks as the storm is just off our port bow. We miss it by a few hundred yards. I'm hauling butt, so what little rain we hit on the edge of the storm stings like heck.
I don't really like dancing that much and while I would like to die fishing, just not this Friday.
We make it back safely to the dock. Although Jeff continues to call me a "wussy", I'm pretty sure we all feel, to a small degree, that we cheated the devil out of a final dance. That probably isn't a good thing. I'm not a cat and I am a firm believer that God gives us free-will - even to do stupid things.
That evening, during a horrendous lightning storm in Panacea, and while we are eating at a local restaurant in Panacea, I re-check the radar:
Needless to say, I attended church on Sunday and thanked God for my life - if not for my poor decision-making to go fishing on a day that we definitely should have stayed home.
Be safe everyone - or be reckless and enjoy every minute of it! At this point in my life, I'm not sure which advice is best. Oh, and the Spanish Mackerel we had both fried and blackened that evening at Hook Wreck's restaurant. OMG - it was amazing!
Thanks for reading everyone.
Captain Marc Paul