For the past few years, every time I've traveled back to Florida to see the family and do a little fishing, I’ve been met with windy weather.
So far, 2011 is shaping up to be pretty darn good as my Florida Keys trip in January was perhaps some of the best mixed bag fishing I have ever seen and this past trip with the kids for spring break proved to be productive as well with limits of grouper and battles with mystery fish.
Our trips to Florida to see the family for spring break are always very busy as we never get a full week but just a matter of days.
By the time you see family, spend some time at the beach, and take a day with the girls at one of Florida's amusement parks, this time it was Universal for the new Harry Potter exhibit, it usually leaves only a day to go fishing. With grouper season just opening up April 1st and some colder water hanging around keeping the majority of kingfish further south it was a no brainer, we were going after some tasty grouper.
Mason with Uncle Jon
Our favorite grouper target, gag grouper, were still closed in federal waters but my brother Jonathan knew of a few spots for some nice red grouper. We launched the boat in Clearwater and went about 30 miles out on 2ft seas arriving at our waypoint full of anticipation. Jonathan readied the anchor, as I maneuvered the boat into position, my dad and Mason both readied their rods as it’s always a race to land the first fish. Once we got anchored up it didn't take more than just a few minutes and it was fish on.
We were fishing an area of cheesy limestone bottom, using a chum block to get a slick going. Threadfin, mackerel, squid and live pinfish that the boys had been catching off the dock were our baits. In the gulf, red grouper have to be at least 20 inches for rec anglers to keep. (Only 16, I believe, for commercials, go figure.) We waded through grouper after grouper with one after another being 18 or 19 inches. Finally, my brother Jonathan hooked up with a keeper size grouper and then it was just a matter of time before we had six keepers on the boat.
One of the things that I always do when I am bottom fishing in the gulf is set up a live bait on top with a bait runner and hope that something big and hungry swims by. As we were trying to catch two more reds to finish out our limit, the bait runner went off but by the time I could get to it the fish was gone. I reeled in to check my bait and saw only half of a big pinfish. We figured it had to be a toothy kingfish so I re-baited and tossed back out. A few minutes later, another zing and this time I lost the entire set-up as the fish severed the fluorocarbon leader with its razor teeth. Determined, I re-baited and tossed the big pinfish behind the boat avoiding the hungry bird that kept trying to get an easy meal.
After some time went by my dad caught a nice keeper sized gag grouper that we had to release but other than that the bite really slowed down. Just as we were talking about pulling anchor and trolling our way back in, the top rod went off again. This time the fish stayed buttoned as I set the hook and handed off the rod to Mason. I stopped passing the rod off to my son a few years back because he does a great job at catching more than his share of fish and his rubbing it in to the old man was more than I could handle. This time however, I figured that he was the only one on the boat that hadn’t caught a kingfish and I wanted him to have the experience.
It hurt my dad to have to throw this one back
It turns out that what I thought was going to be a nice little first king mackerel for my son turned out to be an hour and forty minute test of will between Mason and whatever we has on the end of the line. It was forty-five minutes into the fight when we first saw color. We couldn’t tell what we had however; we just knew that it was big. Could it be a big king? Tuna? How about amberjack? After some debate and looking at the way it was fighting we decided that it had to be a big AJ. All fish in the jack family are known for their hard fighting abilities and Mason would attest, this fish wouldn’t budge.
Mason continued to battle as time went on, I lit a cigar and cracked a beer, I could tell we weren’t going anywhere soon. The fish stayed a comfortable distance from the boat and teased us with a flash of color before it made another run, tearing line off the reel just as fast as it did on its initial run. My brother Jon and I debated whether or not we should drop the anchor but I ruled it out as I thought it was just going to be a short while and Mason would have this fish bested. Turns out I made the wrong call.
After 100 minutes of Mason and this fish going toe to fin, the fish had finally had enough of play time.
Mason yelled for us to drop the anchor as the fish made one last blistering run. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done fast enough. Mason kept saying we were wrapped up in the anchor rope but Jon and I just couldn’t accept it. We cut the rope and left the anchor sit just hoping the rope would fall through but it didn’t, and eventually SNAP! It was over!
Mason was exhausted in the Florida heat, my dad, brother, and I all sat silently as we contemplated what might have been. Even though we had a great day of fishing, we couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
Oh well, we had a great story and I’m sure we’ll have years of talking about the fish that got away.
The Outdoor Line
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