It was another year for the Amberjacks to aggregate in the Florida Keys. Unlike last year’s trip when our lines got cut off by shark after shark this year the shark issue was not bad at all but the fish just did not want to eat in the morning. This year the plan had a live bait backup. The plan was that if the Amberjacks would not be there in numbers we would then go fishing for snappers and we would also use live bait to fish at the Humps and shallower for snappers. My personal plan was to just jig until my arms fell off which almost happened, as I type right now I am doing so in pain and it was worth it as it always is.
The trips was set to go fishing on Sunday but weather almost stops us from fishing, luckily the Captain had Saturday available and we decided to move the day to the day that just so happened to be my Birthday. One of the original members of the trip was not able to get Saturday off but lucky for us Alex was available and was able to replace him. I got to the docks at 6 am and the Captain was there he filled the boat with diesel and came right back. It was loading time, bag after bag of heavy jigs. One of the bags felt like it had 50 pounds of jigs mine was only 30 pounds and I thought I was overdoing it it. We carry as many jigs as we can as we do not know what the fish will want to bite on that particular day. Sometimes it’s long jigs sometimes it’s small jigs, sometime they like a color and sometimes it really doesn’t matter.
Loading the boat.
A great Florida Keys sunrise.
On the way out many boats were catching pilchards.
Our mate casting the net to get some baits.
After a couple of throws we had more than enough for our trip.
We tried a few spots like the little hump and some wrecks. We could not get the fish to bite so the captain moved the boat to the Hump off Islamorada. We were using 300 gram to 400 gram jigs. While at the hump there were some small Blackfin Tunas, that were caught on live bait, I was able to get one the jig but it was almost the size of the jig I was using. At the Hump the Amberjacks we were looking for were not biting so we moved back to the wrecks on 300 feet. Again the bite was slow but the guys fishing live bait caught a few Rainbow Runner fish at around 10:45 in the morning. Below is Victor and Dorian with their Rainbow Runners.
The fishing finally started to take a turn for the better with those fish and as we moved to another spot we got a surprise by way of a Sunfish. It had been bit by sharks and was barely able to swim upright, but it slowly did. Below is a picture of its dorsal fin showing the bites.
Well the Amberjacks finally felt hungry and it happened at our lunchtime right around noon. They were not hitting the long jigs so I decided that maybe just maybe if I switched to slow pith jigging I could get one to hit a smaller jig. I as I was joking around telling everyone that they fish were not hitting my jig on 80 pound leader that always you switch to a smaller reel and light line it’s when you get the hit and so it happened. I used my Shark Slow pith rod and a Shark slow pitch jig of 200 grams to get the first Amberjack to bite. Once the first one hit others were able to start catching them as well.
Below is Victor with his Amberjack. The fish was released.
Below is Dorian with his Amberjack. The fish was released.
I was able to get a second one and it was also released.
Below is Jared who fought several fish but got cut off a few times. This time he had an unusual catch with a stingray that was released.
After 1:30 pm we made the decision to fish shallower to catch some snappers so we moved to about 230 feet or so and then moved a bit shallower. Here live bait was king, Victor was able to land a nice size Mutton Snapper and a nice Black Grouper that was released.
We saw some Sailfish jump out of the water doing their acrobatic dance and then saw some man-o’-war birds but nothing was under them. The day was done, we were tired and the Captain went a few minutes over the agreed time but we were not able to find more fish, no dolphins this time but maybe next time. The trip was great fun as always these trips are and was a bit slower than usual perhaps due to the quick weather change that was occurring during the weekend. We will definitely come back next year and will possibly do 2 different trips instead of just one. Thanks to Dorian for putting the trip together and thanks to Alex for jumping in at the last minute.
Many have adventured to the Dry Tortugas fishing grounds; some have adventured to the Pulley Ridge area and fished the deep drop zones in the daytime and shallower areas at night. Not many if none have only fished below the 500 foot mark and the shallows of Pulley Ridge a full 3 days (if someone has congrats you kept it quiet long enough). This trip started when members of the Boatless Fishing forum got together at a BBQ, some dreamed of a long range Florida fishing trip, since a few of us had done this before we suggested a few options and one topped them all so we said lets go on the Yankee Capts, let’s put a date and ask the options. I emailed Captain Greg Mercurio of the Yankee Capts and asked him for rates and dates. He came up with a great idea that involved less sharks than in the Dry Tortugas and less quantities of small size fish, but a novelty on its own, something a little different; A focus on quality fish, let’s go to Pulley Ridge and explore fishing on top of the bank in less than 400 feet and doing so full time. No deep dropping that requires electric reels. That was the main idea behind this trip and what can I say, he was right on the money. We found quality and plenty of it. I can only let the pictures speak for themselves.
We told people not to focus on buying expensive baits like goggle eyes. A lot of people still did, well, it didn’t work so well here The fish wanted oily or bloody baits like speedos bonita. Squid did well enough in my opinion. As for gear just stay with the regular Dry Tortugas gear. Just like Captain Greg recommended; 50 pound test braid was perfect to get the bait down, a 15 foot top shot of 50lb test mono was sufficient, a 10 to 12 ounce bank sinker tied to a swivel placed on the main line and then a bead on the main line. Then another swivel and about 10 to 15 lb test mono with a 7/o in line circle hook was the preferred rig ( http://yankeecapts.com/tackle-section/ ). For the vertical jiggers, 50lb braid to 10 feet of flouro carbon line and 220 gram jigs to 350 gram jigs was all that was needed under the conditions we had.
We were to depart at 8pm, but Captain Greg contacted me the prior day to see if we could leave the docks earlier since we had a long drive to Pulley Ridge. We all got there with in minutes to 3pm and waited for the boat to return from filling the boxes with ice and the boat with fuel. We all gathered by the boat and looked like a Marine Flea Market was about to happen.
Bill, who drove from Georgia wasted no time and started to troll with his rod as soon as we hit the depper waters of Key West as we approached one of those Key West sunsets
We all prepared our final adjustments to our gear as the night approached. After many ours to Pulley Ridge morning time was there and our co Captain was waiting for the morning wahoo bite. But we had to wait for that one.
She knew we were getting close to the fishing grounds and in no time our Pulley Ridge veteran came up with one stud of a 17 pound Scamp Grouper. Winning the prize for first grouper caught.
Coincidentally, Bill who is an avid traveling fisherman was slow pitch vertical jigging and hooked up on the very first Mutton Snapper of the trip. He won a prize for doing so.
The day started on fire, there was hook up after hook up. Bait and vertical jigs went head to head. Here is Jarred a new comer to vertical jigging and now an avid slow pitch jigging man, he hooked up on a slow pitch vertical jig with a Red Grouper.
The bite had slowed down on the first stop and so we moved to another and then a little deeper. Nilson, did not take long before hooking up with a nice Amber Jack which was released.
A lot of screaming reels all over the boat with double hook ups, up to quad hookups, the over under screaming of the mates could be heard from one end of the boat to the other as the mixed bag of fish started flooding the decks. Some bonitas (little tunny) found their way into the mix and a regular scene to happen of the days of fishing.
Andre, a new face to our group was enjoying some vertical jigging action and caught a nice Almaco Jack.
Will, a now vertical jigging veteran showed his jigging machine aptitudes switching from speed jigging to slow jigging when the moment required it, but he also threw a pencil to change routine from time to time. Next to him is Chris, a new comer to the Long Range scene hooked up on not only a good fish but on the urge to go back and do it again.
The bite was still almost non stop, we hit the right place at the right time. On came Quy, he jumped on the trip after another fisherman hurt his knee. I got to to tell you he made the right decision as he was getting some nice fish. Next to him is Art who once again nailed another quality fish and not to be his last either.
Well I was not only documenting the trip I also got to fish and this time I hooked up on a nice Amber Jack from 400 feet of water on a Shark Slow Pitch Jig.
The the jigs kept on bringing fish up to the decks, this time bill and Jarred had double headers on slow pitch jigs. Jarred was also having good luck with Shark Jigs. Jarred has a Yellow Edge Grouper and Bill has a Snowy Grouper.
Rori joined the party with a nice Blue Line tile and Nilson got himself a Snowie Grouper snack.
Jongsoo hooked up with a nice Snowy Grouper.
And then again with an Amber Jack using a Shark Jig.
Nilson and Imran hooked up on some nice beauties Queen Snappers.
The variety kept coming, big Gag Groupers started to show on this trip. Below is Danny with a nice 27.5 Gag Grouper caught at 11:30 am of the first day of fishing. This fish was caught with a whole squid.
Some more Amber Jacks were showing up in between the Gag Grouper Catches.
It was a madhouse again with a mixed bag of fish comng over the rail and them again more Gag Groupers made a showing. Jongsoo got a nice one that went over 20 pounds.
I got another Gag Grouper that went 29.5 pounds.
Then Victor joined me as he was part of our triple Gag Grouper hook up.
The hot bite was quick, it only lasted 30 minutes and by noon things had calm down. The only thing caught for an hour was strangely enough, a startfish. No worries it was released back to the ocean. Then the fishing got a little slow with a few fish on every drop and so the sun started to set many took a nap or stayed away from the hot sun. That was a good choice.
Night time came with a another nice mixed bag of fish. Rori started it with a Red Grouper and William caught a nice King Fish Mackerel on a Pencil.
Danny got in the action with Black Fin Snappers and Rori got a nice Mutton Snapper.
Then Rori hit it big with a nice Red Grouper at around 10 at night.
Once again the bite slowed down and slow pickings were back on, but then at 2am things turned around. Chris got a Mutton Snapper and right after that a very nice Dog Snapper.
By 2:30 am Nilson got a nice Blackfin Tuna. Many of the were to come via vertical jigging with glow jigs and even with non glow jigs close to the boat. Sorry that bite was just too hot for me to put the rod down to take pictures.
I followed with a Mutton Snapper and a Nice red Grouper.
The bite kept on going on and off with waves of fish coming and going, this lasted until about 7:30 am and after it slowed down the Captain decided it was time to move and try something else.
I keep telling people if you brought the gear to troll, do it. Rory did and he was rewarded. Up came a nice 35 pound Wahoo. I know that left a great taste on many people’s mouth. Got to love a quality fish like that.
I fell as sleep during a hot Mutton Snapper bite that lasted a short 30 minutes. It goes to show you that you should always sleep when the boat moves and not when it stops to fish. Well, after that was over a few quality Kitty Mitchel were caught and some were released. Here is Jarred again with another Slow Pitch Vertical jig caught fish.
Below is a video Jarred shared on his Slow Pitch Jigging
The quality Queen Snapper did not stop showing up. Here are Bill and Nilson with two more beauties.
As the Queen Snapper were hitting the decks 3 sail fish were hooked. One by William on a vertical jig, one by Patrick as he was deploying bait, and one by Art. Hopefully the video will come out good. To top it off a Mako shark was hooked up and lost right at the boat.
Chris and Art kept on the quality hunts.
Art dialed in.
It was almost the end of the fishing trip and I nailed the smallest fish so far to hit one of my jigs. It’s amazing what fish will try to swallow when they are hungry.
The day ended for us at the bow with Bill and a super nice Grouper.
And Victor with a very nice Almaco Jack easily over 20 pounds.
All good things must come to an end, and this time with an awesome Pulley Ridge Sunset.
Rori and Bill did not give up on the trolling until the very end. Chris and Rori were hoping for a last minute Wahoo.
The fishing crew last resort was rest and wait for a dinner snack.
The boat crew lined up all the fish on the side of the boat, getting ready to dock. In total we filled the 2 back coolers and one quarter of the third. Not bad for so many who were here for the very first time. That goes to show that when people follow instructions they get results.
Once docked we got ready to receive our fish and tally for the prizes.
These were the 2 contenders for biggest fish. I happened to win that category, but did take my self out of the non cash prizes since I organized this event. The cash prizes were a pool and had no sponsors in it.
Below are the runners for biggest Snapper. Imran won that category.
Below is William, he won biggest tuna and 2nd place most Mutton Snappers, Groupers and Blackfin Tunas, he received a fishing trip with Captain Phil Caputo.
Below is Art, he won First Grouper caught. He got a nice set of jigs donated by OSAGE my self and a prize bag donated by JimyjigsUSA. The jigs had a very nice finish to them and the glow paint is high quality. I and others were impressed with the finish.
Below is Bill, he won First Mutton Snapper caught. He received two one pound spools of mono donated by Art.
Below is Quy, he won most Mutton Snappers, Groupers, and Blackfin Tunas Combined. He received a free 3 day Dry Tortugas fishing trip on the Yankee Capts.
Below is William, with his prize for biggest tuna caught. He Receive OTI poppers donated by OSAGE and a prize bag donated by JimyjigsUSA.
Below and again is William, he also won Heaviest fish caught on jig. He received a Vertical jig pack donated by OSAGE and my self. He also received a prize bag donated by Jimyjigs USA.
And Once again William won with heaviest combined weight of Snapper, Grouper, and Blackfin Tunas.
Below is Andre, he won 3rd Place with most Mutton Snappers, Groupers, and Blackfin Tunas caught. He received 2 Packs of Mentos and a $50 gift certificate.
Below is Chris, he won 4th place most Mutton Snappers, Grouper, and Black fin Tunas caught. He received a Harness donated by Patrick and a JimyjigsUSA Koozie.
Here is another look at Art’s Queen Snappers. These were runner ups to biggest nappers.
Victor and Danny show us their groupers once again.
here is Victor showing off his Almaco Jack
The crew cleaning the fish.
And to finish it all off here is the group shot and two panoramic shots.
Please visit our trip sponsors. They were generous and very professional with their Prizes.
Our trip not only became a special novelty trip, it became a mini tournament on its own thanks to officer Chris’ idea, a California Long Range trip and Dry Tortugas trips veteran on board of different vessels. I started to look for sponsors right away and was very happy that Capt. Greg Mercurio sponsored us from the start, not only did he waved the fuel surcharge for our Long Range Fishing Trip, he also donated a free 3 day fishing trip to the Dry Tortugas. Also to add to our prizes Nilson Soto a member of several fishing forums and avid Land Based Fisherman and with several Dry Tortugas fishing trips on his belt donated an unusual prize. Osage a vertical fishing veteran also donated jigs to our mini tournament. Art who is another Florida Long Range veteran and an original Pulley Ridge pioneer donated 2 full spools of mono. I posted on several places looking for sponsors and JimyjigsUSA came on board on their own, we really appreciate they did that and were impressed on the quality finish of their jigs. Shortly after, Captain Phil Caputo donated a full day fishing trip as well. Jongsoo, a representative of Shark Jigs came on board with a full load of samples and great prizes. The jigs functioned perfectly and were of high quality. We were very grateful to all those that donated to our mini tournament.
Yankee Capts, Key West’s Originators, Leaders and Pioneers of Dry Tortugas/Pulley Ridge Fishing Trips since 1977
I spent a couple of weekends getting my jigging gear ready and couple others catching bait for our trip to the Dry Tortugas. On one night I had hell netting with a 3 foot cast net but managed to net 136 ballyhoo of which I a gave a bag of over 20 to each on the trip. Before the trip we had one more night scheduled to catch bait and this time I was to bring a 6 foot cast net to make things easier once I got to the dock Adam got the boat ready to go but it was a no go. The bridge between the dock and the liberty of the ocean was blocked by higher than normal low tide, we were not able to get past the bridge to get fresh bait that we would keep brined to take the same day. In the end of bait gathering we all managed to get a few goggle eyes and bought a few as well. With the bait in our freezers and our gear ready to go we thought all was 100% when all of a sudden we were on weather watch as the weather could make a bad turn to cancel our trip as it did in 2013. It was the last day and we got the go ahead to drive to Stock Island in the Florida Keys. I had to leave some gear behind as this boat only allows 5 rods per person. It was tough for me to do so as I like to bring 7 rods with me. I ended bringing one bottom rod, 2 jigging rods, a top water rod that could double as a jigging rod, and a bait rod to catch gogs and Yellow Tail Snappers. I also brought a YO-YO reel just in case. On the way we were notified that Captain Yury was on a hunting trip and Captain Shane Leonard was to be our Captain for this trip. Most of us had fished with him three times before so I had no worries.
On the way to the boat.
I picked up Nilson for the drive down to the Keys. We played Tetris with our gear and coolers to get everything in the back of my Scion XB box car. We did it and did not leave anything behind. On we went for a few bait stops so we stopped at Key Largo Fisheries for some fresh ballyhoo, but they had none so while we were there we went over our memory list of things needed and of course we forgot a few things. Towels, toothpaste, and soap, need to take at least one shower on this kind of trip you know plus you do need to brush your teeth everyday day. After getting that plus a few unneeded things like chocolate bars we went on the way to catch some bait. This time to the well known not a secret spot No Name Key where the boys loaded a 15 gallon bucket with live pinfish and prayed they made the journey to the boat.
At no name Key
Well, we got to the boat and had to wait for Stevie the Wonder to finish cleaning it. We let the boat dry out a bit and loaded our gear in it.
As we were waiting just about all of us had good hope for a good fishing trip as we stared at the fileted fished in a cart. These were from the trip before us. Looked like a nice load.
Fishing got started.
Things started slowly with me getting a small Cobia on bait. Robert started with the mutton snappers by nailing a decent size one then Rory put a bigger one in the box. A bit later I switched to a jig and then got another small cobia, and then another. I thought there might just be one out there that was of size but there was no luck for me.
In the morning
I started jigging and was able to connect with a Red Grouper a story that would repeat over and over for about 20 times. On this trip the Red Groupers seemed to like jigs slowly moved near the bottom. Below is a Red Grouper on a Supplex jig.
Next I got a porgie on the same Supplex jig.Rory was onto the Mutton Snappers with live bait.When he decided to jig a shark came up and claimed it’s Dry Tortugas taxes.Adam got this nice Scamp Grouper on a vertical jig.At noon I took a rest from the jigs and used a live bait to get this nice 12 pound Mutton Snapper.Shortly after at 1:15 pm I got another beauty of 12 pounds as well.
Nilson joined us and got his Mutton Snapper.Adam went back to bait and landed his Mutton Snapper.I decided to go back to jigging and landed a nice Red Grouper.Adam kept on bait fishing and landed the biggest mutton of the trip, a 14.5 or so Mutton Snapper.Nilson went on and also got a 14 pound Mutton Snapper.
The First Night
Night time came by and I do not know what happened, I fell as sleep. Yes I did! I guess I am getting to that stage in my age where the non exercise couch potatoness is setting in and by 9 pm I start to get sleepy just to wake up at 5:00 am. Oh well I missed out on some good fishing, I think. Well, I was told that the seas would be rough so we were to move behind the Fort for cover.
The Second Morning
The morning of the 14th things got hotter, we were fishing in shallow water and fishing was hot. I was glad I slept well and so did others. It was no surprice, I spelt a hell of a lot more than I ever done on a fishing trip.
Ricky started into the good fishing by nailing a decent mutton around 8:30 am.I kept with my jigging and after catching a few more small Red Groupers I lost my Supplex jig to a King Mackerel. I switched to a Blue Blue jig and at 11:30 am landed this nice Red Grouper.Meanwhile Adam kept with the bait fishing and landed this nice 14 pound Red Grouper.My Blue Blue jig got cut off by another King Mackerel so I switched to a Maxel Dragonfly in 180 grams. The result, another Red Grouper and this time it was a double header as Adam got one a minute later with live bait.The above grouper was a stubborn one and rocked me, I managed to get it out and almost lost it as my reel drag got loose and then the Shout 1/0 hook bent but did not bend enough to loose my fish.
In the Red Grouper madness Rory and Robert also had a double header.Ricky was drifting a Hookup Jig (Troll Right) in the chum slick when a very nice Red Grouper hit the tiny morsel. He had a good fight trying to get the fish in the boat.I kept on with the Maxel jig and kept getting more Red Grouper after Red Grouper.Nilson it was still around 1:30 when Nilson also got into the hot Red Grouper bite and landed a few very nice Red Groupers.
After the bite slowed down we made a move to deeper water but the current was just too much, 2 pounds would not hold so we moved to another shallow spot. The Captain told us to get our heaviest gear and put a big live bait down. Adam decided to use his jigging gear with a Jigging Master hook, he made the right choice and was able to land a nice Goliath Grouper.Then shortly after Rory landed on of the few non Red Groupers.
On The Second Night
Night time fell upon us and was to be the last night of the trip. The highlights were Rory thinking he was stuck on the bottom and using a YO-YO to pull his rig but surprise, surprise, the line kept on coming and coming until a big Nurse Shark was revealed. Rory always seems to find one of these cats no matter where he fished, well most of the time.
After the Nurse Shark was released unharmed Adam landed an 18 pound cobia. it went nuts in the boat as they always do, so we had to put it in a cooler until it calmed down. We forgot all about it and did not take a pic. The rest of the morning we spent it catching yellow tails to make up our snapper limit. The Captain was kind enough to cook breakfast and dinner for us through out the trip. Normally he would do a breakfast and a dinner. We thank him very much for going the extra mile with us.
Back at the dock we laid our gear against the fileting station for a wash.
Our catch in garbage cans, there was more in the coolers as we were unloading from the boat.Our total catch picture is below.
High Hook for Mutton Snappers went to Robert with about 10 Mutton Snappers.
I was High Hook on Groupers with my limit of six and all by way of the Vertical Jig. Got over 15.
Rory also ended very high on the Groupers with 7 Red Groupers and one Gag Grouper.
Biggest Fish, Biggest Mutton, and Biggest Grouper went to Adam.
Stevie the Wonder fileting our catch for $35 bucks an hour, $5 more than last year. But it is worth the wait to make things easier when you get home.
All in all on vertical fluttering jigs (Slow Pitch jigs) I caught:
5 Cobias – released all of them because they were too small
15 red groupers (and even more, most where short of the legal size requirement) I kept my limit of six
3 Lane snappers
3 Vermillion Snappers
1 Yellow Tail Snapper
1 Mutton Snapper
1 Porgie – Released
1 Grey Trigger Fish – Released
The gear I used was :
-Accurate BX600 4:1 w/ 80 lb braid, top shot 100 lb mono on a GF850H Calstar (30 to 80 pound class rod).For Groupers and doubled up as a Mutton Snapper rod at night. I had 80 lb braid backing and a short 100 foot top shot that I could change when night or daytime came.
-Shimano Sustain 5000 with 15 lb mono line to catch Yellow Tails. Next time will bump to 20 lb line.
-Shimano Stella 8000SWPG on a factory Calstar 7 foot rod.
-Jigging Master PE3 filled with PE4 BB line with 40lb flourocarbon leader on a 200 gram Jigging Master Power Spell Jigging Rod.
-Jigging Master Ocean Devil PE6 filled with 65lb Tuffline XP and and 60 lb leader on a Jigging Master Terminator 400 gram rod.
Jig and assist line after getting hit after hit after hit
This report is now way over due, what can I say, I have been a busy bee. As always work gets in the way of fun with the family and fishing but I can still find a way to balance life in a way to include some fishing and going out with my family. The grass in my back yard has waited quiet a while now but “Oh Well!” I don’t go on my back yard that often anyways. When I agreed to go on this trip I knew it was in July and I knew it would be hot, but didn’t know it was going to be scorching hot! There was no wind and no current. I don’t think that Captain Shane needed to drop the anchor at all, but he did. Many think that because you go on a 6 pack you will catch your limits on every species but that is not the case. Most fish like current so they can ambush their pray and it’s been my experience that while fishing offshore and inshore they do not feed much when there is no current and so it was the case on this trip. This is the reason this report will be sweet and short 🙂
When we got to the dock the boat was not ready, they had to fill the coolers with ice and had to fuel it.
In the meantime we walked around the Stock Island Marina and found all the changes to be very pleasing to the eyes.
I was very pleased to see that the water clarity was so good that coral heads were growing under the docks and some hogfish were spotted.
Once the boat got back we loaded our gear in.
After loading up we left Captain Yuri at the dock since Shane and Yuri’s nephew were to Captain the boat on this day.
Soon after we were in the Dry Tortugas area where things were a bit slow. Scot even had to measure a red grouper which he was happy to know it made the measurement.
It was then that the pain in the ARS (Amerincan Red Snapper) showed up and so we had to move.
The first Dry Tortugas Sunset came and the fish cooler was sad looking.
Night time yielded a couple of fish and of course the known King Mackerel of the Dry Tortugas.
It was now morning time and as we saw a funnel cloud develope the muttons started to bite. Jimmy was eating his breakfast when his rod started going off and then finish the by landing the famous Dry Tortugas Mutton Snapper.
I also got my hands on one.
Adam landed a nice size mutton.
Scott did as well.
Ed found himself a mutton size Mangrove Snapper, as a nice school passed by at almost noon.
In the after noon we hit a batch of red groupers and scamps mixed with Yellow Eye Snappers.
Sharks, ARS, sharks, and more ARS. The Sharks were a pain in the ARS! Here are two that got hit but only one survived the attack.
And then Ed found himself a nice size Mutton Snapper.
Another beautiful Dry Tortugas sunset fell upon us together with the humidity and heat, it was like being in a sauna for the entire trip. Most of us were exhausted as many sharks were caught specially by me and Scott.
This strange looking fish that resembled a Star Gazer fish was caught by Scott.
Below is what was to be the last shark of the trip an estimated 8 foot bullshark fought by Ozzy.
It was very slow pickings in the heat but we manage to fill our coolers.
Hopeful next time I fish in July there will at least be a small breeze.
Many months ago during the boatlessfishing forum BBQ, we spoke about a private fishing charter just for boatlessfishing members. Nothing happened until after I went fishing on an Ironman trip ( ten hours fishing on the Reward Won). The trip was an all day fishing trip, jigging, kite fishing, trolling for dolphin, bottom fishing for snappers and groupers and king fish flat lining; “A mixed trip”. So I asked Captain Wayne how much a private charter like this would cost. After finding out the cost of the trip I suggested to fish on this boat, the boat can have 15 people while drift fishing but I suggested to have a maximum of 12 to give us all plenty of elbow room to fish comfortably and with less people there would be more chances for everyone to catch a fish. I started the thread about the trip. Some members wanted to fish vertical jigs, some wanted to fish with live baits, and a couple of them were interested on king mackerels (kingfish). We set a date but later found out one of the Captains was not available to fish on that day and Captain Wayne had another private charter booked, so we moved it a day over. Lady luck was on our side as the fishing trip got us some trophy fish.
The original intent was to fish live bottom for snappers and groupers, troll in between spots, and then a few wrecks to vertical jig for big amberjacks. When the captain got there he explained that the commercial fishermen had already wiped out the amberjacks and so that would be hard to do, so I asked him to take us where the fish were. I have fished with Captain Wayne at the helm for many years, sometimes once or twice a year and some years up to ten times so I trust his judgement anytime. When he starts to give advise I listen even if I know about it or had done it before, you never know when he will say something I’ve haven’t heard before or give a twist to something I already know. As we waited for everyone to arrive and finish unloading (by this time it was 6 am) he gathered us to give us the fishing plan for the day: We were to go catch pinfish on the way out, fish some ledges, rock piles, wrecks, live bottom and some deep water on the way to Fowey Rocks light house. If we made good time we would meet Jimmy the bait man and get some white baits, all depending on how everything went.
Below on the left is Captain Wayne Conn giving the plan, on the right boatless members talking about their adventures as we are heading out on the boat, it was about 6:20 am.
Below on the left catching pinfish for bait. On the right it was 7:30 am when passing by the new South Beach pier (almost completed).
On the way out I told everyone to take turns on the trolling rods. One was mine, the other was Richard’s and the another was the boat’s. The ride was not as time consuming as catching bait was, we got to the fishing grounds and were in about 130 to 150 feet of water when the Captain said “I am going to adjust the boat for the drift”. Everyone started to drop the baits as the engine shut off and I jigged for that first drop along with Ron, Victor and a few others. A few minutes after the baits were dropped the first rod bends were observed.
It was 8:06 am when Jessie had his bent rod fighting a super nice Gag grouper and only 3 minutes later Robert “ffishermen” was fighting a very nice Mutton snapper. The bar was set high at the very start of this trip.
Below is Jessie with his first ever a very nice 21 pound Gag Grouper.
Below is Robert “ffishermen” with his nice 12 to 14 pound Mutton Snapper.
As the boat drifted away and nothing else on the bite the Captain decided to do a second pass on the same spot. At 8:48 am my son Seth was the first to hook up and then Raul at 8:51, both brought in gag groupers.
My son Seth and his Gag Grouper.
Raul and his Gag Grouper.
Again no more bites as the boat drifted and many were already with only 1/4 of a spool left as we leave our reels in free spool trying to maintain the bait in the bite zone (where the boat turned the engines off for us to first drop our bait). This is what many of us call long lining. The Captain decided to do a third drift where fishman Joe AKA Gruntking got another Gag Grouper at 9:06 am.
The captain made the decision to move the boat to deeper water looking for the better fish populated spots. No one was trolling anymore so I decided to put my trolling rod out but there were no takers. We were now in the 200′ to 240′ and many had to up their weights from 6 to 8 ounces to 12 or 16 ounces, some doubling up on sinkers as we did not bring those specific weights. It was all pick a fish here and there and we started to see some scamps come up.
Below is Chris with a nice scamp at 10:55 am. I know he will enjoy it very much.
Below is Jessie with his first ever American Red Snapper at 11:00 am. This was the only one caught on this trip.
Ron and Victor where jigging and got a few almaco jacks but not many more fish were picked up on several drifts so Captain Wayne decided to go even deeper. No one was trolling anymore as no fish had fallen for the trolling skirt I was using. I had told Richard to use a pink trolling skirt I had brought and then offered it to others but the lure was left on the bench as trolling was not giving results. I understood why no one wanted to do so, as you do have to pay attention to the rod and have to make sure to bring the line in every time the captain slowed down the boat and made a few turns around the wrecks looking for fish on the sonar.
Ron fighting an almaco jack on a jig at 11:15 am.
On the way to one of the spots someone saw a school of peanut Mahi Mahi’s around a vertically floating piece of bamboo and so everyone tossed bait at them. Raul and I were some of the lucky ones to get one that was of legal measurement but the rest would have to throw back a few and so did I. The boat was drifting and since no more fish were taken, I decided I would rig the pink trolling skirt on my rod. Perhaps I could get lucky and get one more dolphin fish I thought. I took the black, purple, and blue skirt that I rigged using 10 feet of 250 lb test wire cable off the 500 lb snap swivel (makes it easy to switch trolling rigs). I use that trolling skirt to target toothy fish like wahoo and blackfin tunas, but sometimes Mahi Mahi get hooked on it as well. I snapped the pink skirt rig on, I had used 10 feet of 100 lb test fluorocarbon leader to a 11/0 3x strong live bait Mustad hook. As the boat turned the engines on and started to move I let out the trolling rig and as I snapped the release clip on, I looked to the right I heard a scream and saw my rod bending, I picked it up and let the fish run a bit. I tightened the drag and started to fight the fish, I saw a big wide flash and screamed BIG DOLPHIN! (Mahi), but there was not a jump during the fight, then the mate says “IT’S A WAHOO! IT’S TURNING! BACK THE DRAG OUT!” So I did, this allowed the fish to run and wear it self out and prevented it from breaking or snapping my line. These fish have power and very sharp teeth. The fish made an additional small run and I was able to get it close to the boat for the gaffing. I was lucky the fish did not cut through the fluorocarbon leader. On my boat and while on fishing party boats on the way to Bimini back in the late 80’s and early 90’s I would always get them no bigger than 15 pounds and this time I was able to get double that weight.
Me fighting the wahoo at 12:30 pm.
Below are pics of my wahoo. One to show the nice fish.
And one to show size comparison.
The Captain continued stopping where the fish were but the fish were not cooperating and so he went even deeper. This time to 400 feet where a couple of fish were landed. Jessie again nailed another fish as we has getting ready to bring the bait back on the boat he felt a tug and in the middle of a tangle he was able to land it. And yet again another first ever for him, a Snowy Grouper!
Many could not reach bottom as the current started to rip faster and faster as we went deeper, so the Captain told us he would move the boat to shallow water to give us a chance at snappers, more groupers and perhaps a chance at kingfish mackerel as well.
It was now 1:40 pm when we were in 150′ of water and Robert got a very nice 6 pound Ocean Talley while fishing for king mackerel.
Some of the last to hook up to a fish on the trip were Richard and Peter. This happened at 2:10 and 2:15 pm when they hooked to a black tip shark. Richard fought one and as he was bringing it in it broke off, then Peter fought his all the way to the boat. They both did great on the fights.
It was over, no more bites 3:00 pm was here already and some water spouts began to form. We got rained on and the Captain called it quits, we headed back to port. Again I stressed for someone to let the trolling line out and someone did but there were no takers.
The water spout at 3:35 pm.
Back at the dock the fish were laid out on the deck.
And we took the group picture.
The only thing we missed was the big amberjacks and bait to go on the kite, it would have been an awesome addition to this trip. But it was not needed as this trip was considered epic by some since many personal best were attained. I hope we can do this again.
Here is the end summary of my fishing report:
THE FISHING TRIP: Private Charter Boatlessfishing.com 10 Hour Fishing Trip.
Aboard the “Reward Won” with Captain Wayne Conn of the Reward Fishing Fleet
The Spot : Off Key Biscayne Cape Light House, FL
Weather Forecast: Cloudy with afternoon showers and thunder storms, Sunday SouthEast winds 10 to 15 knots. Seas 2 to 4 feet with occasional seas to 5 feet. The real weather was: Earlier seas 2 to 3 feet in the morning and 2 to 4 later in the day with occasional 5 foot rolling waves, cloudy skies and storms after 3pm.
Water: Choppy and slow current in the morning strong currents in the afternoon as we got closer to Fowey Rocks Light House.
Fish catches: Small Dolphins, 1 mutton snapper 12 to 14 pounds, 1 mangrove snapper,1 Red American Snapper, 4 Gag groupers 1 @ 21 pounds, 1 Snowie Grouper, 3 or 4 scamp groupers, 1 wahoo, almaco jacks, a couple of bonitos.
Biggest size Type : Wahoo around 32 pounds on the scale
Techniques : live bait, dead bait, and some Vertical Jigging
Jigs : 80 to 400 grams
Via a social site The Reward Fishing Fleet announced their “Iron Man 10 Hour Trip”. It was to take place around Elliot Key which is right before Key Largo Florida. I accepted the invite and hoped that the big AJ started to arrive for the usual April spawning season, and guess what? The big Amber Jacks’s started to arrive and Captain Wayne was able to get us on them. My intentions on this trip was to catch and release and so it was on many others mind.
The trip began as it usually does we all met at the Bayside Marina around 5 am, when the Captain arrived he needed to get some item from his newer boat “The Legacy” so I got a chance to take a look at the boat and I have to say, they are doing some great work on it. I can’t wait to get fishing on that boat. As we went back we loaded our gear into the boat, and Captain Wayne Conn gave us the fishing plan. We were to go get live bait, we would troll on the way out from there taking turns as people caught fish, we then would go bottom fishing on hard bottom, and then we would hit a wreck or two. I love fishing with a Captain that takes his time before the trip and plans what can be done and “can” is the key word. Many Captains plan a trip thinking what “will” be done. If a Captain plans what “can” be done he/she takes into consideration that not all things can go as planned. On this trip the Captain came prepared to anchor but the forecast was once again wrong and so he didn’t anchor, he drifted his boat over the spots. At the spots that were hard bottom, bait fishermen had their chance at bottom fish. The ones vertical jigging with small jigs also had their chance at bottom fish like snappers and groupers.
Here is the fishing report in pictures:
We got to the lighthouse and fished for some bait. Like all the other boats around were doing.
Captain Wayne Conn bought live bait which was covered in the $100 total fee for the 12 hour trip. Live bait was white bat and the very expensive goggle eyes.
After we left from getting bait we started trolling. I trolled with a home made daisy chain of lures. I had gone to a local tackle shop and purchased 12 small plastic squids that I found on sale for $1.00. I rigged them as follows: 150 lb test swivel, 24 inches of 50 lb mono, red bead, plastic squid, 150 lb swivel, another 24 inches of 50 lb mono, red bead, plastic squid, 150 lb swivel, on the third one I used 36 inches of 100 lb test flouro carbon a bigger plastic squid, a 1/2 ounce weight, a red bead, and a 3 times strong live bait “J” hook. It always pays off with a black fin tuna or a dolphin of any size. This time it was with a 30″ inch mahi mahi. One mahi mahi was kept in the water so it would attract the others, then other fishermen tossed cut baits and got some more mahi mahi.
Here is the color with the catches.
After the dolphins we got back on the way but this time only small bonitos were the takers. As we got to the bottom fishing grounds a few undersize mutton snappers were caught as well as trigger fish and porgies. The jigs worked and started making their presence. Here is William with a Toro Snapper that was released.
Along came the Captain’s plan and so we went fishing at one of the wrecks. It was my first drop and my line became tight and at the same time 3 others. I was close to the boat and my line went slack and so did Bernardo’s line. But the person fishing live bait landed his. It was a nice 30 ponder cobia. The Captain did two more passes over the wreck but the wind pushed the boat leaving the transom close to the wreck and all of us at the bow farther from it so I did not get another chance but other jig fishermen like Willian and Bernardo did.
The Captain got in the jigging on the transom hooked a fish and gave the battle to one of the fishermen, he then gave the fish to battle to his friend below.
Below is William on the fight using the right equipment gets the fish in with no problems or lengthy battles. He was using a Jigging Master Terminator II 300 gram rod and a Talica 12
Below is William and his Amber Jack
Here is William releasing his fish.
Below is Bernardo and his priced catch. It was also released.
After the fishing battles people that were bait fishermen wanted to get some other types of fish to be fair the captain moved to a hord bottom spot to give then a chance but that spot did not produce much. The captain also raised the fishing kite at many of the stops but at this stop we staued the longest as a chance at sailfish was probable, but there were no bottom fish and no sail fish takers. Captain Wayne Conn moved the boat once more towards a small barge wrecked, I got a nice size barracuda at this stop, and then to another wreck where I would have another chance at a fight with a sea donkey (Amber Jack).
Below is my Sea Donkey (Amber Jack) I released this fish as well.
As we drifted towards Fowey Rocks Light House, the small kingfish mackerel started to show up, here is one of them caught by a fisherman that had tons of patience waiting on a chance at fish.
I give kudos to Captain Wayne Conn and his mate for working hard on getting everyone on the fish. He takes us to the spots and is upto us to get on the fish but he goes out of his way and catches fish to allow others to fight the fish and even allows them to keep the fish if they wish to do so. I love to hear his first question before landing a fish; “if you want to release it’s great, we can release it and if you want to keep it it is entirely up to you”. He always strives toward conservation and does not like it when someone says lets keep it just to leave it at the dock. You can hear him talking about releasing fish through out the entire trip which encourages people to do so and they leave the boat with a clear conscious mind when doing the right thing. Off course there are times when a fish just won’t make it because the angler took too long some time because the fish was foul hooked (hook was not in the mouth) or because the angler’s tackle was just too light for the task. When this happens there nothing else that can be done other than to keep the fish if is is legal size and legal species.
All trips come to an end and so we had to say good by to one of the great light houses of Florida “Fowey Rocks Light House”
On the way back I took a shot at the Rickenbacker bridge and below it you can see the fishing bridge. It was the original driving bridge to Key Biscayne Florida but a new and much higher bridge was built. The great thing was they left the old bridge standing to be used as a fishing bridge. The South side of the fishing bridge was knocked down due to structural damage (so they say).
Summary of the report:
THE FISHING TRIP: Iron Man 10 Hour Fishing Trip which in the end ended being a 12 hour total trip so thanks to the captain for that.
Aboard the “Reward Won” with Captain Wayne Conn of the Reward Fishing Fleet
The Spot : Elliot Key to Fowey Rocks Light House, FL
Weather Forecast: Sunny 20% chance of rain, Saturday South South West winds 9 to 14 knots. Seas 2 to 4 feet with occasional seas to 5 feet. The real weather was: Seas 4 to 6 feet with occasional 8 foot rolling waves, cloudy and no rain all day.
Water: Choppy up to 8 foot seas and slow current in the morning strong currents in the afternoon.
Fish catches: Small Dolphins, Big Amberjacks, Mutton snappers, trigger fish, Groupers that were released, porgies, kingfish
Biggest size Type : Amberjack estimated at around 60 to 70 pounds
Techniques : Vertical Jigging, dead bait, live bait
Jigs : 80 to 300 gram, butterfly jigs,silver, blue, pink, and orange worked the best.