Snapper Fishing

For those of you who have been reading ALL my Sailing chapters, I couldn't let you down for your morning read - so please consider this post a "bonus".

Happy 4th of July everyone!

As I promised to provide in my last sailing post, this post is about offshore fishing. Specifically, red snapper. The season is only open for 30 days so I gotta get at least one trip in before it ends.
For the last four years, Cameron has been on the UNF ultimate frisbee team. Terri and I have hosted these UNF college kids (all 30 of them) at our house at least once a year for their annual Tallahassee tournament. All the college kids are a lot of fun, but there is one young man named Chris Daddario whom I really hit it off with. With the exception of Cameron, you won't find a bigger personality in anyone! I love this kid.

And, of course, getting an opportunity to fish with my own son for the 4th of July? Well, it doesn't get any better than that.

Recently, Daddario (not hot sister) told Cameron that he wanted to fish with Mr. Paul before he heads back to New York. Bring it on!

Scheduled. 4th of July offshore fishing, baby!

So on July 3, Cameron and Chris head over from Jacksonville to Panacea for the 4th of July. Devon, Cameron's roommate lets us know that he will be driving all the way from West Palm Beach to join us.  Glad you could join us Devon.

The boys arrive late at the Crak Shak in Panacea Thursday night. It looks like Chris has a Mohawk here, but it is actually a cabinet sticker above his head. Not that I wouldn't bet against him for having a Mohawk.

Early day tomorrow boys, so eat your pizza and go to bed.

Individuals on the boat today:  Me, Cameron, Chris, Devon, Josh, Harry Carey. I met Harry at the dock a few years ago. We've become friends. I have a hard time remembering names so I labeled him "Harry Carey" so I could remember. Josh I know through work.

Everyone arrives at the dock on time. We head out around 7:30 am.

Pretty day. Hot, of course. 
High chance for thundershowers in the afternoon.
For some reason, storms don't scare me as much.

We troll across Oar Reef - about 20 miles offshore. Catch nothing. That sucks. But I'm not really out here to troll. I/we are out here to bottom-fish for Red Snapper.  

We head farther offshore towards V Tower.  My first waypoint for bottom-fishing is about 35 miles offshore. Everyone drops lines. Immediately, the rock bass start hitting, along with a few Key West grunt. Devon, apparently, is the "Rock Bass King". The boy is good at catching them, which, surprisingly is quite difficult considering the size of the rigs and circle hooks I use.  

Although they are quite tasty, we are not here to catch little Rock Bass!  I want to see something big and RED!

Somebody, at this first spot, (Josh, I think), does finally manage to catch one Red Snapper, but right after that, the sharks show up:

I don't like sharks. Well, actually, I have nothing against them, they just don't taste very good and it is easy to lose fingers or a hand if you don't release them properly. I am definitely not out here to catch sharks. They are fun to fight, but they sure as heck aren't coming aboard my boat. Josh does a great job of cutting the line as close to the shark's mouth as possible. The shark will eventually rid itself of the hook and I get my large egg-weight back. Nice job, Josh.

We pull up lines on this 1st spot and head to my 2nd secret spot which, btw, is labeled "Fred - Snapper". If, for some reason, we don't catch snapper today, at least we have a bunch of rock bass and grunts in the boat.

I tell the boys to "drop":

Within 30 minutes
Everybody catches Red Snapper!
I love my secret spot.

Aren't they beautiful?

Within 30-45 minutes, we put 11 Red Snapper into the fish box! (We already had one snapper from our first spot). Well, that was fun. It is now 10:15 a.m. We have officially caught our limit of red snapper (12). Well....What the heck do we do now? Head back 40 miles to the dock?

Nah, we're already way out here, so we all agree to head over to V Tower and have some fun with AmberJack. We can't keep them (they are out of season), but we have an entire bait-well full of live bait. Little pinfish are like candy to AJs, they just can't resist them. And AJs put up a heck of a fight.  

So we head over to V Tower - it isn't far - about 4 miles away and we start fishing.

It doesn't take long: (2 minutes, perhaps):

All these AJs you see in the pictures are considered "small", but man they are a LOT of fun to battle.  At one point, we were tripled up with AJs. It is kinda madness on the boat when that happens because fishermen are moving behind and in front of each other all around the boat. It is like controlled chaos. I absolutely live for moments like this.

Motley crew.
Great picture though.
Awesome shirts!

It is a pleasure to spend the 4th of July fishing with Cameron.
Love you son and I am quite proud of you.
Congratulations on your upcoming graduation at the University of North Florida.

Cameron didn't actually like fishing much when he was younger, but he has become quite proficient offshore.

We spend about an hour-and-a-half catching AJs. I think we brought about 9 or 10 of them on board.  We release them all, of course. AJs will WEAR YOU OUT!  They are great fun though. We still have about 15 pinfish left, but in all honesty, I think the boys are done. Its only noon.

We start to move away from the tower towards home. Wait.... I'm hungry.  Time for my sandwich. So instead of going full speed towards home, I say,  "Hey guys, put the trolling rods out for a few minutes while I/we eat our lunches".

I only get about two bites into my turkey sandwich when the trolling rod goes off. Cameron catches this 5 ft King on a Stretch 30:

Great fish Cameron. We'll eat him for lunch or dinner at the restaurant back at Rock Landing. You shouldn't have punched him so many times with your fist to knock him out. Look at all that blood. At least it isn't Capt'n Hook's blood. Been there, done that - thanks Gene.

See the seas behind Cameron? Dead calm. Absolutely not a breath of wind - no waves. It's going to be impossible to sail today. Wait, no! I have big engines now! 500 horses to be exact. (Sorry, Nick - I couldn't resist.) Still love your little Johnson though. :-)  Wait....

It's time for us to haul-butt back in 40 miles and it wont take us 8 hours! :-)

Try to relax Josh. 
You look very stressed.
Thanks for all your help out there today. It's a pleasure to have you on my boat.

The boys take their time cleaning the fish. It takes them over 1.5 hours:

Thanks for cleaning guys.

Standing next to the fish cleaning station, they wonder why she didn't fish with us:

Devon and Chris clean the boat up on the rack:

What do I do while everyone is working so hard? 
I get served beers from "Becky, the beautiful bartender!"
I manage the other guys.

Good to be Captain!
Nice shirt, Becky. Sorry you got in trouble for wearing it.

After the boat and fish are all cleaned, we shower-up back at the Shak and return to the bar for a few well-earned adult beverages. We do a few one-handed push-ups (me, not Chris). Later that night, we watched a fantastic firework show out on the pier. We never did get any rain. But man is it hot out here.

That was a wonderful day fishing, boys. Thanks for joining the Capt'n for the day and for all your hard work.  Let's do it again someday.

Happy 4th of July everyone. God bless America.

This really will be the LAST post I write for a while.  Sorry about that.  :-(

Sail - Final Chapter

6:30 a.m. Sunrise. Time to go!

We are just barely inside the channel, so it only takes 15 minutes to exit into the Gulf.

As we head North, Nick gets an innovative idea on how to make us some coffee. He sticks one of my coffee bags inside a water bottle. Then, he sits it outside in the sun to heat up; shaking it every now and then. After an hour?  Pretty darn good with some vanilla flavoring. So now, at the end of our trip, he is a better Captain AND cook than me. Thats humbling.

Last day on the water - and I have "relatively" hot coffee - I'm in a good mood.

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

We know that when we make it to the Venice pier, we are getting very close to our final destination where we will ultimately meet Jeff:

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

We just passed it.

We reach the Venice channel:

We tie up to the Venice Yacht Club dock next to a 100 ft yacht. 
If you look hard, you can see our sailboat on the left:

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

We, of course, head to the bar next to the pool, to wait for Jeff.

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

I have a feeling that this is a private club, but once again, my motto of: "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission".

Based upon that philosophy, we order frozen, tasty drinks.

"May I have your member #, sir?" The bartender asks me.
"Member #?" I ask.
"You don't have a member #?"
"No sir. We just sailed in from the Keys".
"Oh, in that case, I'll just make you a guest of 'Mike'."

I think the bartender assumes we are on a huge catamaran sailboat. Because of the big yacht between the bar and our boat, he can't see what we are on. (No idea who Mike is, avid sailor, perhaps?)

"Perfect, I reply. Mike loves the keys - and he is a great guy!"
"Yes he does, and he is" answers the bartender.

We pay for and enjoy our frozen drinks at the private Yacht Club :-).  At the end of our adventure, we are, apparently yachtsmen now!  I should have had them charge our drinks to "Mike". :-)

Jeff arrives a few minutes after we finish our drinks. Perfect timing, bro.

Is the cabin as clean as it started?

Um, no.

I won't miss hitting my head on the boom.
Tight quarters for this last week.

Here we are ending our sailing adventure, coming into the final dock in Venice:

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

We, fortunately, make it back to Clearwater without any significant problems and park the sailboat in the driveway where it started.

Nick and I shake hands and hug. I let him know how proud of him I am for some of the quick-thinking decisions he made. I thank him for making me a better Captain. He really did a great job out there.

Why did we do it?  It wasn't the "sanest" thing in the world to attempt. I suppose it has something to do with being in your 50's. We are still healthy and we still can. Another decade of age? Perhaps not.

The best explanation: Nick and I both love being on the water. Sure, we yelled at each other a few times (mostly my fault), but come on, the average temperature was 95 degrees!

Are we still friends? Never closer.

Thank You's go out to:
  • Garmin corporation for their amazingly rugged and durable hand-held GPS.  That thing worked flawlessly through the rain and the sweltering heat. We relied on it for our lives.
  • Don and Natalie for housing us for two days in Bahia Honda.
  • Hancock Whitney bank for my handy-dandy Florida cutting board.
  • My employees for working hard while I was gone.
  • Brian, from Custom Hitch & Trailer in Naples.
  • Jeff, Sue and his family for housing me two nights and for coming to rescue us with the trailer.
  • My wife and family for letting me go without complaints.
  • The Coast Guard, for always listening to idiots (adventurers!) like us on the VHF and who are ready to come assist whenever we need them. And for maintaining those offshore buoys.  
  • The Lord, for changing the weather at the last second - and for my life.
  • Road Rangers.
  • All the nice and helpful people we met along the way. (Including Everglades City sailboat guy)
  • And most importantly to Nick's 1983 9.9 HP Johnson motor. My favorite engine - FOREVER!

Nick, that was an unusual experience my friend.  Hike part of the Appalachian trail with me next year? Sam says he is already "in".

How would I sum it all up?  Adventurous, Scary, Idiotic, Surreal, Beautiful, Strange, Hot, Epic!

And mostly to my blog readers (20,361 all-time pageviews) based upon Google stats - If you have actually read all of these Sailing chapters - thank you very much - I really do appreciate you spending part of your busy day to read them. As a writer, it warms my heart when you text me, or make comments on this site to let me know you enjoy them. (Thanks Lorraine for being one of my most avid fans.)

I hope I have kept all of you somewhat entertained with these short stories.

Back to offshore fishing posts reel soon.


Marc Paul
USCG Certified Master Captain
"Sailing Yachtsman" :)
Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

Sail - Chap 7 - Sanibel Island

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

We leave Marco Island at 8:30 a.m.

"Marco Island to Sanibel" is one of our longest legs. Approx 40 nautical miles. We run maximum 5 nmph, so this will be at least an 8 hour sail - assuming everything goes perfectly. Which, as you know by now, is impossible.

Once again, a pretty morning, but very little wind. We sail for a few hours until 11:30 a.m. It is very difficult to bear the midday heat from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. on the sailboat so we (mostly me) make the decision to head into Naples to escape it for a few hours.

Other than our quick stop at WalMart when we blew a tire, I have never been to Naples, and I have definitely never seen the local houses from the water. Holy Crap, there are a LOT of rich people here:

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

My Account Director, April is from Naples. I think this is her house.

It takes us an hour or so to navigate the long channel into the city. Large boats fly past us every few seconds. We find a public marina where we fill up the tank and ask if we can dock the sailboat there next to the large yachts.
Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

"NO!" Says dock worker #1.
"Do you know anyplace where we can dock the boat?"
"NO!" States dock worker #2.
Obviously, 'customer service 101' is not a required course to be a Naples city dock worker.

But right behind the public marina dock we notice a restaurant. I see an open slip. Can we go there?

"NO IDEA! And if you're done gassing up, you need to move this sailboat!"
Bite me, Naples city dock workers.

I don't know if this particular slip belongs to the restaurant or not, but I have built a career upon asking forgiveness instead of permission, so we hop back on the boat and we motor into the empty slip. We walk into the restaurant. I, of course, mention (rather loudly) that we have just sailed in from Key West - and we need lunch!

That gets other people at the tables talking. They look at us, and our little sailboat, a little differently now!  They probably think we are studs.  Pssshaw to the huge yachts around us.

We are seated immediately at an outside table, under a fan, next to our beloved sailboat. The couple at the next table starts asking us questions about our voyage. The waiter, hostess, bartender, etc., all come over to ask us questions about our adventure. Unlike the Naples dock, there are nice people here at this restaurant - even if we aren't on a yacht.

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast
Ironically, the place is called: "The Dock"
Not inexpensive - go figure.
Great food though.

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast
See all the yachts behind us!  None of them, I assure you, just came from the Keys.

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast
Yum. Again.

The Everglades and storms are starting to seem like a distant memory.

We ask the waiter if we can leave the boat for a little while we take an Uber ride to a West Marine to get another fuel tank. 

He asks his manager.
"No problem," he says.
"No problem," says the manager. "Enjoy your adventure!"
Thank you for your excellent hospitality "The Dock"!  I give them 5 stars on Google Review before we leave. I rarely give 5 stars.

We take our Uber ride to West Marine, return with another backup fuel tank. It is about 3 pm now. The heat of the day is over, so we decide to head back out and sail for a while.

Another hour to get out of the channel and we are back in the Gulf of Mexico.

After a few hours of sailing, the sun starts to set. Our stomachs are full and it is a beautiful evening:

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

The wind has picked up. It's about 8:30 pm. It's getting late, but we make the decision to head for Sanibel Island anyway. We can actually see the lighthouse blinking white, so we know where our destination is - go towards the light!  How far can it be?  We can see the light!

But the lighthouse light is deceiving.  It can be seen from 20 miles away, which is about how far away we are.

9:30 pm. Dark.
10:30 pm. Still dark.
11:30 pm. Dark. The wind has picked up. 4-5 ft seas. We're not really worried about storms, but we are at least 5 miles offshore and the relentless wind, hitting us directly in the face, is getting somewhat old in the dark - and we are tired. We consider turning off the motor and just sail, but that seems like a lot of work this late at night and we would actually go one knot slower. We keep pushing through under motor.

12:30 a.m. Dark. 5-6 ft seas. How come the f**king (fricking) lighthouse doesn't seem to be getting closer!
1:30 a.m. We finally arrive, kinda.
Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast
Once again, Nick makes another smart "Captain" move. For the last 5-6 hours, I have been guiding the boat towards the light. I'm purposefully going straight at it. As we approach the lighthouse, Nick pulls up Google Maps, switches to Satellite mode and informs me that the channel is waaaay off to my right.  There are shoals directly in front of us. Well, that does make sense - hence the presence of the lighthouse. Duh. 

Looking at the satellite version of Google maps in the pitch dark is like having night vision. Google maps show us EXACTLY where the shoals are and where the boat is (in real time) in relation to them. Nice move, Captain Nick. So I reluctantly turn the boat away from the light, to the right, where we escape the shoals. We eventually make it to the other side (North end) of Sanibel island where we know there is a dock and safe anchoring. 2:30 am. We anchor, and go immediately to sleep. After 18 hours of sailing / motoring, we are done.

Morning. Sunrise. Hot. 6:30 a.m. 4 hours of sleep.

Behind us, about 100 yards, two girls are on turtle patrol on an SUV.  We wave - they ignore us.

People are on the dock fishing. They ignore us.

Nick goes for a swim.
"You should get in, he says".
"I'm not in the mood for a swim, Nick".
"It feels good", he says.
"I don't feel like it."
"It will make you feel more refreshed."
"Shut the "F" up, Nick. Leave me alone."

This is really the first time we start snipping at each other. Mostly, it is my fault. I don't do very well on lack of sleep.

I have been keeping a sailing log each day:

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

In my journal, I write, for the first time, that I am having feelings of "This sh*t is getting old". And we are only halfway to Clearwater! That fact doesn't help my morale this morning.

I make us some sausage for breakfast using Hancock Whitney's cutting board that they gave me at a Governor's Club luncheon a few weeks ago. I have actually been using this cutting board every day on the boat. Its seems appropriate to use it for our adventure up the Florida coast.  Thanks Ben Graybar! (Best banker ever).
Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

I feel a little better now after some protein, but I'm still not my normal, jovial self. I know it. Nick knows it. I need hot coffee, but I don't feel like pulling the grill out.

Mistake #7.

Now we have a decision to make. We can go around Sanibel island on the Gulf side, or we can save a couple hours and take the safe, scenic, inter-coastal route, under the bridge, up to Boca Grande pass. We make the decision to take the inter-coastal:

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast
No problems getting under the bridge.

At first, it seems like a good idea. We can't use the sails, of course, but there are LOTS of things to look at on the shoreline, but here's the problem: There are also LOTS of boats. Big boats! As we head North up the inter-coastal, thousands of boats pass us. 

We spend the day rolling and pitching from their respective wakes. Some of these boats are 70-80 ft long. They produce large wakes. Our little sailboat is no match for them. We aren't in danger of capsizing from them, but after 7-8 hours, they do get very irritating. Everyone flies by us with the wind in their hair - and they probably wonder why we choose to go so slow.  Have I mentioned that I am not a patient man?

Sometime around lunch, we do make a stop at Captiva Pass to take a "wake" break and have some lunch. We park the sailboat next to several other boats and jet skis. Everyone around us is "hanging out". We do the same:

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast
My cooking duties return.

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

Yes, the fresh Spanish Mackerel in the foil is delicious!

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast
Another great picture, Nick.

We spend a couple of hours enjoying the water and beach. Nick and I walk on the island and take a few more pictures. The waves from the channel and passing boats are quite severe. We actually help a couple whose small boat has come ashore and they can't get it off the beach. We help them lift it. Our good deed for the day.

Oh yeah, one quick funny story. While I am cooking lunch on the boat, it is very wavy. The sausages keep rolling around on the grill. One accidentally rolls off and lands in the water. I can't reach it. The current pushes it to the boat next to us and on down the line to the other boats. A few boats down, I hear some people, scream. I know what is about. Oops.  Sorry!  :-)  Feel free to take a bite out of it. It's good!  

Now, I feel a little better, Bill Murray.

Time to go!

We continue up the inter-coastal being passed by more huge boats - through Charlotte Harbor. We do some Google research late in the day and discover that there are a couple of marinas just inside Boca Grande Pass - as you leave Charlotte Harbor. There are two marinas. Here is the first one:

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

As we putter by, we ask the well-dressed, young man on the dock if they have fuel. 

He replies, reluctantly "Yes". 

We don't really need fuel that bad since we have an entirely full backup tank. On the dock, I notice some ladies in evening gowns going inside for dinner towards the white-tablecloth covered tables. A 50 ft yacht behind us is about to dock.

Then, right next to it is this marina:

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast
More our style.

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast
Nick looks all refreshed in this picture because he was able to take a quick shower. But while he was in the shower, the lady walking away asked us (me) to leave. It was more like a demand. They are having a "ladies" fishing tournament and they need the slip that our boat is parked in - NOW! This slip:

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

Another funny, quick story:

The fishing boat next to us has a Captain on it that is preparing to take a bunch of ladies tarpon fishing in the channel. He is working on his rigs. Everybody here fishes for tarpon in the nearby Boca Grande channel. Anyway, Nick and I get on the sailboat and he starts the engine. Unfortunately, the engine only has one speed - forward. Neutral and reverse are broken. So I yell at him to turn the engine off. He doesn't hear me. I yell again, "Turn off the engine!" There is another fishing boat behind us waiting for us to depart and take our slip. Nick finally turns off the engine. As we are shoving off the pylons backwards, the Captain next to me asks, "You guys don't have reverse?"

I look him in the eye and say, "No sir, we lost it in a bad storm near Key West."
He sees, by my expression, that I'm not kidding. He looks at our little boat. He knows how far we are from the Keys. He just shakes his head. Only one gear - forward. Idiots.

I'll never forget the look on his face of incredulity.

We head out the Boca Grande channel. There must be 100 boats here - all within 10 feet of each other trying to catch tarpon. That looks like a madhouse. I'm glad I don't have to fish that way in Tallahassee.

We don't have a destination now; we just know that we need to keep heading North. We're thinking Venice might be our next stop, but it is a loooong way away.

The sun is setting as we come upon "Stump Pass" and little Gasparilla Bay. It's been a long day and we aren't anxious to sail/motor through the night again, so we take a hard right and safely anchor just inside the channel in a spot between two intersecting channels. This is our view from where we are anchored:
Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

Fishing Florida's Forgotten Coast

Behind me, a house is shooting off big fireworks. 
Nice effect.
Okay, so I did get a little tan.

Before we started our adventure, my brother Jeff (who lives in Safety Harbor) had made the offer, if we ever wanted it, to pick up Nick's boat trailer and come get us if we ever felt that we had had enough sailing. 

Nick still seems pretty determined to make Clearwater. I give him the chart and a pair of dividers so he can perform his own distance calculations.

After working the dividers for a while, Nick says, "Man - it is a LONG way to Clearwater from here!"
"Yes sir, at least another 4 days. We've been on the boat for seven days now."
"You know Marc, I think I've seen everything that I need to on this journey.  Up ahead of us are more beach bars, condos, etc."
"You're right, Nick. I feel the same way."
"Don't get me wrong" he states, "I have loved doing this, but do we really want to be on this boat, in 100+ heat for another 3-4 days?"
"Not really, Nick".
"Make the call to your brother," he says.

I make the call.

Jeff agrees to meet us in Venice, Florida tomorrow afternoon around 1:30 p.m. with the trailer.  Thanks Jeff. You are a great brother.

We have just made the decision together to sail only one more day.
We enjoy the sunset.
We drink another beer.
We love the fireworks.
We smile.
We go to sleep.

Tomorrow:  Sailing - Final Chapter."