This was the big weekend when my good friend John P. was down from Mass. to have a fishing marathon with me. It started out slow, was hectic in the middle and ended a little slow but was a trip of a lifetime. read on.
Picked up John at the airport at 5:30pm and had him on the water under the Midpoint bridge at 9pm fishing for bait. We used jigs to catch a couple of 2lb catfish of which I cut in half and free lined under the bridge. We were fishing for tarpon on the shade line created by the street lights on the bridge. Tarpon were crashing bait every where. John was having fun just catching cats. Our fish few hits on the cat tails were black tipped shark of about 20lbs. and to my amazement we caught 4 gaff-topsail cats ( a very aggressive feeder) of about 10lbs each. These kept us busy and in the cool night air we planned out the weekend. We ended at 1am after catching around 100lbs of fish not counting the bait cats that john kept bringing in. My objective had not been met as we did not encounter a tarpon. I actually am beginning to dislike fishing for them as they are too particular in the their feeding habits. I must be getting too spoiled with the other more reliable fishing to be had in these waters.
Friday morning, our plans to get bait, fish the Boca Grande for Poons, then go for Spanish Macks. We didn’t actually stick to that plan. While getting bait the approaching front started a rain squall line to our north and the light rain made it a bit difficult to see the shiners. however, we did manage two live wells full. Off to the Boca in search of a poon for john. It was looking a little dark over there but we went anyways. John and I always throw caution to the wind and go for it . When we got to where I wanted to be there were only 15 boats in an area that usually has 100. The poons we rising, but not as much as I would have like or have seen in the past. The rain was getting heavy and thunder was heard in the background. soon it was so heavy that I could not see the other boats. and the lightening was striking all around us. Boy does it sound loud on the water, reminded me of a trip with Al Lapa for blues at Milestone. Anyway we were one of 5 boats left without a hit from a poon. so I hightailed it for Safety Harbor. where we thought we could ride out the storm and catch a few anything fish. Well it rained and rained. the electrical part of the storm passed. By the way, John and I were both impressed at the way the 22′ Pathfinder boat handled the 4 -5″ swells coming out of the pass with a port side white capped sea. Excellent bow entry on this boat. now I got us behind a mangrove island for shelter where we ate lunch an caught 4 cats and one small shark. The day looked like a wash out when I started to see lighter clouds too our south. So with a west wind I figured the beach was going to be sheltered. I raced over there and even though it was sheltered the offshore swells made it so I could not use my trolling motor. I anchored and live chummed shiners into the surf. That was the ticket as we caught about 20 snook each with a few gator trout over 20″ . The skies cleared and we continued to catch fish. The snook averaged at 18″ -22″ inches long and were a blast to catch especially after the start we had to the day. I figured we had about 60lbs of fish for our efforts. Of course we let them all go and just enjoyed their company.
Sat. Partly cloudy with a west wind at 10 mph. not bad, but post frontal conditions made getting bait a chore. But we filled two live wells and off to an offshore wreck I headed. on the way there John insisted we stop at Captiva pass where he wanted to relive a previous trip where we had good luck with the Spanish Macks. I knew that they were not there as I have not had a good bite there this year due in part to the red tide and on shore breeze. I stopped and we gave it a half hour where we boated 4 or 5 small grouper to 15″. Now back to the my plan. On the way offshore I noticed the rocker switch light had gone out on the center live well. Don’t know how long the fuse had blown but all the bait was dead. You need lots of fresh water when you have 500 baitfish in one well. I pressed on. We found our wreck in 57′ and dropped a marker , anchored and started chumming. John set out 3 rods while I cut bait and readied equipment. His first hit almost spooled the real with a line screaming drag circling the boat engulfing and wrapping the other two rods and the marker buoy in the process. what a mess. I cut all the lines and untangled the marker as John proceeded to just run around the boat an fight the fish. After a short encounter with the anchor and some tense moments boat side I gaffed the first kingfish ever caught on my boat. a nice 40″ , 15lb fish. This was the start of a great fishing day. We continued on to catch one kingfish after another with a lot of lines being cut from the feeding frenzy that was created with the live chumming and the chum bag hanging. It got to a point where we could only fish two rods a piece one in the water while tying the last broken leader. We were using 30lb power pro line with 100 lb test mono leader. and a 2/0 long shank hook. John at one point tried to use Tyger wire leader , very thin stuff , but no hits as I think they could see it. Our action continued as Spanish Macks were chasing baits on top and the bonitas were chasing the Macks and the Kingfish were chasing the
bonitas with Large cudas all around the boat waiting for the leftovers. It was chaos. At one point john caught a blue runner about 3lbs. and I cut all its fins off and used a 16/0 circle hook , 80lb power pro, and 100lb leader and set this baby on the bottom. half an hour later the rod was over doubled. and john could not get it out of the holder. Big Mamma came calling. John fought it with style for 30 minutes when the leader broke. I went back to bottom fishing with squid to get another blue runner , as I was bring one up Big mamma ate it off my small rod. She didn’t exactly break it off quickly as I was dragged down the boat while sitting on a cooler with my Penn 975, drag locked down, with 50lb power pro on it. I held on until the 100lb test lead broke , AGAIN! Man was she big. John caught an 18″ Spanish Mack. I cut its head off and sent it down to the wreck . half an hour before our friend was back and this time I took the big pole only to be broken of at the leader again. This has never happened to me before. I was out classed by a fish. At least I think it was a fish. Well we left the spot for shore at 6:30 pm after catching 10 kings , 10 – 40 lbs, 10 bonitas -8 -10lbs, 10 Spanish Macks, 5lbs, and many blue runners and small groupers . est. 280 lbs of fish, and I errored on the low side. This is beginning to sound like a real blown out of proportion fish story. But we have photos to back it up ..
Sunday , new fuse in the pump , bait was easy minus the Memorial day idiots who insist on cutting through my chum lines. offshore we went , Oh by the way John didn’t want to stop at the pass this morning. ha ha. On the way offshore I saw the light go out again. Without hesitation. I had john use the wash down pump to keep the bait alive while I changed out the pump. This boat is designed with fishermen in mind. turn a ball valve to stop water flow , rotate out the motor from pump housing, unplug the red and black wires , install the replacement kept in storage, open valve and we are back up and running without a lost bait in 10 minutes. Love that pathfinder boat. Today was calmer with out clouds. The same bite we had yesterday continued until about 10:30am then things got quiet. We caught 5 nice Kings each and 2 bonitas each before the bite stopped, The fish were still there we could see them eating out chum. but they must be able to see out leaders with the high sun and calm conditions. so squid to the bottom and up comes a blue runner and you guessed it , back down she goes with the big rod only this time I have managed to tie a clinch knot with150 lb test leader. Boy is that difficult to tie a knot with. I will need to research how those offshore guides rig that stuff. After an hour wait and while eating some watermelon. The standup tuna rod is singing out drag. John is up, and the fight is on. Big mamma drags the anchor until it is in the wreck. John has been dropped to his knees twice now. I manage to get the belt on him and that lessens the pain from the rod butt. John is very well built and in good physical shape, but the 95 degree heat and 3 days on the water are taking their toll on him . It is now 30 minutes into the battle , John has managed to get the fish off the bottom and ten cranks on the reel only to loose the ground 5 times. 1 hour into this and John looks like he may give me the rod, I start talking , 3 more time I say, 3 more runs left in him you can do this. John starts for the finish line. he is pumping for all it is worth. we see color, a faint brown down around 30 feet and then big mammas takes back all that was given. I tell john , do it again but slower, trick her up and make her take that drag again , it is the only way to tire her. John listens to me for the first time in 20 years. and up she comes 20 feet from the surface , our first good look at the giant fish. Back she goes to the 57′ wreck. I feared that she would get inside the wreck so I encouraged john to pump for all it was worth and turn her. He did, and she came up. when at the surface she laid there almost to say , ” OK you win , pet me and turn me lose. And take all these hooks out of my mouth while your at it!”. The Goliath Group was 49″ long and 68″ in girth , using the IGFA calculations for weight we figured this fish at 230lbs!!!!!!!!. I used the rest of my film up on the photo shoot, while we revived her. Everything was fine , that is until my polish friend decided that he would lip lock the fish like a bass! This fish didn’t have much for teeth but its mouth was the size of a 55 gallon drum and when it clamped down on johns hand and headed for home I though for sure he was going to her house for supper. She twisted his wrist, fillet his fingers, and just about pulled his arm out of its socket before letting go. To the bottom she went with all the little cleaning fish following her back to the
Soon after this the sharks started swarming the chum bag as I had cutup a mackerel for bait and tossed the head out for chum. We caught 4 sharks that were about 4 feet long and most likely 40 lbs each. I did a lot of that catching as John was still licking his wounds from Big Mamma. Our day ended with an impressive 540 lbs of fish over the rails and photos to back it up.
Monday, Bait was easy, back to the wreck , Kings on top, bonitas and Macks skyrocketing thru the air chasing baitfish. after catching two or three fish that just scream drag until your almost spooled at least twice in each battle all I really wanted to do was watch mother nature do her thing. I was calm and you could see tons of fish ,some species I don’t even know what they were, all under the boat eating our chum and our live chum. Sharks, cudas ( oh , I forgot to mention that on Saturday and Sunday john caught at least two cudas each day that were over 30 lbs , that would add 120lbs to our total, unbelievable even for me.) snappers, bonitas, kings, Macks and jack crevells circling the boat. we didn’t catch as much today as we did on sat. I think that the bright sun , no clouds, calm seas are condition that make it easy for the fish to see the leader . We tried an experiment to prove it. John went down to 50lb test leader and was immediately chomped off 5 times in a row. And when I would throw my bait out with 5 or 6 live shiners as chum the kings would eat all the shiners but mine on the hook. I must look into 100lb test fluorocarbon for when this happens again. Always learning something out here.
Hey John, lots of fun , enjoyed the company, can’t wait for next time. take care of those cut hands, and enjoy the kingfish steaks. Our total for the weekend looks like something in excess of 800lbs of fish , maybe a lot more who really knows. Every one else, I can not guarantee a weekend like this but I would sure like to invite you down to try.