Catch and Release African Pompano

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By Capt. Marlin Scott as seen in the Keynoter, Saturday June 7, 2014 The pelican took a tight airborne turn to it's left side and then dove straight down crashing into the shallow oceanside flat. Seemingly stunned, the bird sat upright for a few seconds and then extended its neck skyward to swallow the catch. This was a good sign when searching for a baitfish known locally as a pilchard. If the pelican kept his head down towards the surface of the water and slowly filtered the seawater through its slightly open bill, we would assume the catch was much smaller and in the form of glass minnows, which wouldn't help us in our plan. The slight oil sheen on the surface also gave our crew some hope and a direction as to where the pilchards were. Step one of the wreck fishing on a bay boat day was coming together. Earlier that morning me, Captain Seth Hopp and new SeaHunter bay boat owner Blane Woodfin loaded our gear onto the new 24 footer in hopes of cast netting pilchards and then fishing a few wrecks just offshore of the lower Florida Keys. With complete coordination, the crew moved into position for the throw and each time Captain Seth threw the net, the livewell became darker. A "blacked out" livewell was a reality now. Summertime is not the most productive time to catch pilchards so luck was on our side for sure. Off to the wrecks we we went. Two foot seas and clear skies made the run offshore simple and comfortable. After reaching the waypoint, a quick scan of the bottom showed the majority of the fish just up current of the main structure. With 1.5 knot eastbound current and little effects from the wind the drift was started just west of the main show of fish. A pilchard was pinned to the circle hook and dropped to the top of the wreck on an expanded Carolina rig (long leader) by Blane. Within seconds the rod was doubled and Blane, in his always calm and classy way says "good fish". The mid-sized amberjack made valiant attempts to return to the wreck and was a great start to the morning. After the pictures were taken the fish was revived and then released. That had been our plan from the beginning, release the majority of the catch taking only enough fish for a few meals. Being selective was key and the amberjack was not on the menu. The next drift yielded a full size margate that was sufficient for the take. Dinner was done so all out sportfishing was in order, everything caught from that point forward would be released. The third drift was the charm. With all of the conditions taken into account from the first two drifts we were now dialed in. As Blane opened the bail on his twenty pound class spinning outfit we all agreed that the same scenario would play out. Within minutes he would be holding a bent rod fighting another fish and that's exactly how it happened. There was a difference with the third hook up compared to the previous two. This fish was more powerful and was making longer more horizontal runs. Ten minutes into the battle Captain Seth suggested that it may be an African pompano. Earlier in the week Captain Austin Carlson from Two Conchs Charters had caught a few. As the fish came into view, the bright iridescence came shining through. African pompano are something to behold. Blinding beauty. Knowing the fish would be released, Captain Seth grabbed it's tail and pulled the African aboard. Blane had caught one many years before but still marveled at the brilliance of the beautiful creature. These fish are somewhat rare and one of my personal favorites on the table. But a deal is a deal, the fish was going to be released. The first attempt was unsuccessful as the African pompano slowly floated back to the top. Seth grabbed it again and faced the fish into the current as we slowly idled in gear. With the lower gunnels on the bay boat this was possible. Once we heard the deep grunting noises, Seth said "He's kicking his tail good now". The next attempt at release was successful. The African pompano disappeared into the blue water out of sight. Sportfishing over a wreck on a bay boat........I get it now.


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