Here is part of the report and story as I remember it.
Since it was constant fishing, short resting periods, lots of rigging, plenty bait cutting, etc… the order of the events may have changed in my mind. I also tried to see what everyone in this trip was experiencing but focused a lot more on my fishing.
THE FISHING TRIP: OCTOBER 21ST TO OCTOBER 23RD 2011
Aboard the “Lauren Jeanne” with Captain Yuri Vakselis
The Spot : Dry Tortugas, Florida
Weather : cloudy, winds of 10 to 15 knots
Water: Cloudy sand mix noticeable
Fish catches : Amberjack, Jack Crevalles, Mutton Snappers, Yellow Tail, Snappers, Many kinds of Groupers, King Mackerels, Cero Mackerels, 1 small Blackfin Tuna. Horse Eye Jack, Bonita, and football sized Blue Runners
Biggest size Type : Amberjacks weight : around 50 to 60lbs… Muttons 16.2 lbs … Yellow Tail Snapper 5 lbs, Red Grouper around 16lbs…Kingfish mackerel around 28lbs
Techniques : Jigging, dead and live bait
Jigs : Knife Jigs 100-250 gram, Diamond jigs 100 gram, Red hawks jgs…Pink, red/white, silver, and blue worked the most.
THE PLANNING: After many emails and PM’s a year ago we decided to take one of those famous Tortugas fishing trips with Captain Yuri. It took many emails throughout the year to get in accord as to what gear we were all going to bring and some got together to order lead and vertical jigs so we could get discounts. Rods were made, reels were bought, and many lists came and went. We picked a moon that would not create so much pull and would result in weaker currents. We hit the jackpot as the current was minimal.
CLOSE CALL TO A NO GO: As many know that week almost got thrashed by a developing low pressure system that canceled many other trips on different boats, but fortunately for us a mild cold slowed down the low down and in the words of Captain Greg “it stabilized itself”. I think we almost became mini meteorologists, and oceanographers, LOL…. The good thing is that the bad weather created a nice environment for a feeding frenzy (so we think). The ocean was a bit dirty from the previous low pressure system and passing weak cold front. What a great time to fish!
Getting ready and loaded to the max.
THE BAIT: It was known that it is imperative that we take all kinds of oily baits to the Dry Tortugas but it was pretty hard to gather bait before the trip, at times we all tried to go out at some point and got drenched in water doing so. We collected a few runners, macks, and jacks. We decided to stop trying and to catch bait on the day of the trip. On the way up we did the norm, stopped at Jacks and got some fresh ballyhoos and some threadfins (in case we went to a wreck), we then passed by the Yellow Bait house in hopes for some frozen gogs but they had none, we passes by Atlantic fisheries and loaded on fish dip and slab of frozen gogs (BINGO! They had them!). We tried for cudas and other baits at channel 2 but these were on the other side of the driving bridge so we moved on, we passed by 7 mile bridge and found nothing there. We then went to get some pins that “SOMEONE” though was useless but I insisted and they caved in. After Rory netted the pins and Ricky, Nelson, and myself got a few of the bigger ones (Rob was the vigilante taking care of our gear), Rory got some sardines that were in the mix and Rory said “why not throw another cast?”. And so he did and got some more. We took the white bait just in case. We were more confident and went to the boat and met Jorge, kewl guy. Nice to meet you and fish with you man.
THE FIRST DAY, FRIDAY:
THE RIDE OUT: Since on Thursday the weather was a little strong the plans were to go to the Fort and start fishing in the morning but we got to the boat early and Yuri decided we had a good window to go out right away so we left about an hour early and started fishing just before midnight. The ride was a little rough when we hit Rebecca’s Shoal and the waves according to the captain were about 5 to 7 feet. To me it felt like much more as I saw some higher waves that surpassed my head level (maybe it was the motion sickness that started to kick in due to my age, LOL)…
FISHING STARTED: All we needed was 3 ounces to get to the bottom but I chose 5 ounces for my mutton rod and 8 ounces for my grouper rods to be used with large baits ( I did target them on every stop). Others chose 6 ounces and even 8 ounces to get to the bottom quicker. Since the water was murky I stuck with 50lb leader most of the time and when the bite slowed down or the fish got bigger and the sun was out I switched to 50 pound fluorocarbon at times switching to 40 pound leader. After the water was chummed up the muttons started chewing within an hour of us being there. The bite was great from the get go. Two of the crew went to bed while the rest continued fishing. The first night was all about the muttons while a few sharks came by and collected their Tortugas tax. We started with a variety of baits pinfish, cut blue runners, and George had fresh gogs that he used and kindly shared some with us. We caught some muffins and some decent pinks but the bite slowed down. I then took out my little spinner with a 60 gram vertical jig and got a blue runner so George and I cut it and got more decent size pinkies with the strips we cut. So we kept every blue runner we caught after that. Other baits were used and just about everything that hit the water got chewed on. Also I think Rob tried the Lucanos and Jorge tried the Aki jig for a bit. The yellow tails were very aggressive and so we got many of them most were over 20 inches. I got one that was 26 inches (5 pounds), so I kept it.
THE VERTICAL JIGGING GOT STARTED: Early morning. I started jigging and got a football sized blackfin tuna, then came a couple of jack crevalles, and I had a nice fight on the Saltist 4500 I tighten the drag all the way and the hook pulled. Jorge started jigging as well and ended with another nice jack crevalle that was released. (We only kept one for bait). I then tried again with the looser drag (about 18 pounds), and then the trouble maker got hooked, SEA DONKEY! Rory and I were on. I spent quiet a while to pull mines in and Rory pulled his sea donkey in a bit easier since he had that huge 18K. We did not want to waste space in the cooler because we saw that the bite was kind of hot on the muttons. And each of those donkeys filled a 150 quart cooler with no problem. After the donkeys the bite slowed down and we moved to another spot. Rob got hooked on the Lucanos a few time the aki jig did not. The rest of the day was red groupers on live and butterflied “PINFISH” and we also got some nice flag yellow tails. I believe that Rob and Rory were using the white bait for those. We looked for the box of squid but could not find it, then realized we left it in one of the trucks. Jorge, Rob, Rory, and Ricky jigged the most. They pick a few nice and some short muttons and groupers. I only jigged when the bite slowed down.
THE SECOND DAY, SATURDAY:
It went by as we continued to try the jigging and baiting until we figured that we need to drop the jigs first before any bait and that was the ticket to some nice groupers and muttons. I got one of the biggest muttons of the trip on a vertical jig while Jorge got another two and Rory got a nice one as well. We were taking the pics when Nelson got hit on bait and pulled the other biggest mutton, both were 16.2 pounds on a digital scale. Rob kept on trying the Lucanos with Rick and both got nice red groupers and short ones as well. Rob got a real nice hit but his tiny Lucanos jig hook broke. Rory and Jorge continued with other muttons on the jig while I was using bait. We spent the entire day moving from stop to stop and we picked at the fish with the jigs on every first few drops. We would run to be the first ones to drop the jigs or bait, we had a small competition to see who got the most muttons and the biggest mutton, LOL….Ricky got creative and found a new secret bait, ended with a nice size pinky and I tried it as well with a much smaller cut bait and it worked. Then Nelson got creative and used a second hand bait that a red grouper had spit and BANG! He got hit on it but it was a short red grouper. The day went by and Ricky got a nice hit when all of a sudden his line felt like he was pulling dead weight, his nice size black got cut in half by a shark ?
This night we had the famous Yuri fish dinner and let me tell you it was all that people talk abound and then some. It was some great fish. I understand now how Robert started eating fish.
Jorge and Rob kept picking at the pinkies while we all slept I between naps. They got some live gogs and played with the kings for a bit. We ended with 3. Jorge had a massive hit that he could not stop. I went to be after that.
THE THIRD DAY SUNDAY:
It was the shark and kingfish saga! Every mutton or yellow tail would turn into a toothy critter (well it happened all trip long but it was more often as on this day). Nelson was the only one awake all night and he caught up with catching muttons I had a nice black grouper that cost me three tries to get it out of the whole when I felt my line vibrate, a king cut my sinker off when I had the fish a good 20 feet from the surface. Lesson learned: Spray paint my shiny leads in the future… We kept on fishing for yellow tails to see if we got some flags we ended catching some in the 24 inch range. Nelson, Jorge, and Rob kept on picking at the muttons while most of us were trying for more groupers and then they joined us as well. The morning slowed down and was time to go so we had to rearrange all coolers and drink all drinks since we had run out of fish space. The smorgasbord followed with Ricky eating his first Hot pocket ever, LMAO!!! He kept hearing hot pocket this hot pocket that until finally he had one.
BACK ON LAND! We unloaded and carpeted the floor with our catch, started to get ready to load all our stuff when we went to check the truck I opened it and Rory and I got hit by a MASSIVE! Nasty smell of the squid that was left on my cast net in the truck bed (the net still dipped in fabric freshener! LOL Well my truck stinks a mile away, I have to park in the far corner of the lot, LOL…Some got their fish cleane for 30 bucks an hour. I regret not doing so! I just finished cleaning mines a few hours ago and what a mess I have in my back yard. My neighbors are going to love the smell tomorrow afternoon, LMAO!!!!
Well that’s the end of some of the stories/report here are some more pics for those that skipped all the mumbo jumbo I wrote, LOL!
On our way to No Name Key for more bait gathering we spotted an endangered Key Deer. They are very small deer due to the small size of the islands and are losing their habitat.
At the temporary dock
The rest of the story in pictures
The final tally as given by the 6 fishermen was:
- 11 muttons… (biggest at 16.2 lbs)
- 3 reds
- 1 scamp
- 2 tails in the 18in range
- 1 cero mackerel
- Limit on muttons…(biggest at over 15 lbs)
- 6 red grouper, plus one released
- 2 big kings
- 1 big jack crevalle
- And countless yellow tails released
- 16 muttons…(biggest at over 15 lbs)
- 2 red grouper
- 1 gag grouper
- 2 king fish
- 1 big Amber jack
- 1 cero mackarel
- And countless Tails released, kept two 24 inchers
- Limit on muttons….(biggest at over 12 lbs)
- 1 Big Mangrove snapper
- 4 big porgies
- 2 kings
- 3 red Groupers
- Over 10 yellow tail flags and countless more released
- 16 muttons (biggest at 15 lbs 15 oz)
- 6 groupers + 1 devoured by sharks,1 gag grouper,1/2 black grouper (had to pay the mafia in grey suit….) ,1 strawberry,1 rock hind, red groupers
- 1 porgy
- 2 kings
- 4 tails over 20″ (biggest at 24″)
- 1 5′ lemon
- 1 spotted moray eel
- countless smaller tails and smaller sharks
- Limit on muttons, over 4 released (biggest at 16.2 lbs)
- Over 15 yellow tails released one at 26″ kept, one at 24″ kept
- 2 black groupers
- 4 red groupers, plus about 4 red groupers released
- 1 football size blackfin tuna
- 1 big amberjack….several small ones
- 2 kings
- 3 cero mackerel
- 2 jack crevales over 12 pounds, kept one for bait because of gaft on head
- 1 small Almaco jack released
- 1 horse eye jack released
A variety of other groupers were caught and released by just about all the anglers on board. A total of about 160 fish kept and many, many released.
The biggest muttons caught were at 16.2 pounds by Herbert (cudaman) and one of same weight by Nilson (rare).
The most muttons caught by Herbert (Cudaman) and by Robert (WhoDey)
Jigging worked best at first drop
Dead bait worked better by switching to different baits as often as the bite slowed down.