Captain Seth Hopp and I have never lost so many fish as we have lately fishing over one of our favorite Key West artificial reefs with our charter clients. We drop the baits deep, they get eaten by a large gamefish and a battle begins. However, at some point during a few of these battles, a catastrophic failure occurs that causes our clients to experience the emotion of losing a large fish.
The first question they always ask after the rod goes limp is "What did I do wrong?" We then walk them through all of the different scenarios of what might have happened - including the likely occurrence that something else may have ate it. That's when their eyes grow big.
"There's fish down there that can actually eat the big fish I was reeling in?!" We smile, nod our heads and add to the drama by asking if they'd like to see what the big predators look like. However, most of our clients don't want to spend the time fighting one large fish for what could be an hour or more. Rarely do we get to sting one of the alpha predators, so when Steve Pickens from Georgia called to book a charter that would be completely focused on big offshore wreck dwelling predators we couldn’t help but get excited. He wanted to flat wear out his teenage kids Jessica, Jonathan and Joshua.
A 7am departure meant Captain Seth and I would be prepping the Premium Time in the dark. I would be on the helm for the day and he would work the deck. We grabbed five frozen bonitos from the freezer and one bag of majua (glass minnows). I could tell he was excited and I smiled as I saw the sailfish dredge laying on the deck already knowing that we would be fishing the wreck basically in reverse. Big predators first and then take advantage of the distractions.
A short ride of twenty minutes and a quick check of the drift was summertime easy, beautifully lined up. No wind, a minimum current and we were lucky enough to be the first boat on the wreck. Seth attached the dredge to the teaser clip and I dropped the port outrigger. He then put an entire filet of a mid-sized bonito down to the bottom with the agreement that we would use the boat to pull the fish away from the structure. The bite was instant. With both motors in gear, Seth handed the rod to Steve and advised him to grab it tight so as not to lose it. The fish turned out to be a black grouper of quality size, but a distraction from the goal. However, you would never be able to tell by the smile on Steve's face.
Back to the wreck for another drift. During the next drop to the bottom, a couple of dolphin noticed the bobbing dredge dangling from our port rigger and swam over to investigate. Within seconds, Seth sent a live blue runner attached to a twenty pound spinning outfit flying through the air in their general direction. The attack was vividly exposed on the surface exciting the crew as the rod doubled and the dolphin attempted to clear the hook. It was another distraction from the goal but once again, you would never be able to tell by the look on Steve's son Jonathan's face when he proudly held the dolphin high for the photo.
Drift three would be the key to meeting our original goal of fighting a large predator over a deep wreck. To spice up the presentation, Seth added a wire leader and a large blue runner to a conventional thirty class outfit. Now two rods were just off the bottom in hopes of hooking either a shark or Goliath grouper. Almost simultaneously both rods doubled with heavy fish and we put both motors into gear for the thousand horsepower advantage. Joshua quickly put the rod that had carried the blue runner deep into the gimble of his fighting belt and started working his fish.
Jessica was unable to lift her rod out of the rod holder. Drag peeling out on a fifty pound class outfit means a big fish.
Joshua finished his battle with a medium-sized amberjack that turned out to be the third distraction from the goal. As he smiled while holding the amberjack for a picture, Jessica finally was able to lift the rod out of the rod holder and start working her fish. We were getting close to success.
Jessica never stopped her cadence. Slowly lifting the rod and then quickly reeling down time after time resting only when the fish pulled drag. An hour later, a big bull shark was at the transom close enough to leader. Seth reached down and touched the leader just as the full-sized shark bolted towards the bottom nearly pulling Jessica out of the boat. The snapping of the fifty pound test main line signaled an end to a successful battle and we did it despite all of the DISTRACTIONS!
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Steve Pickens and his big black grouper[/caption]
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