Isn’t That A Door(able)?
Doors are ubiquitous. They’re literally and figuratively everywhere. Doors can be of different sizes, shapes, materials or purposes. They can also be obvious or hidden. Literally, they can be used to keep someone/something in or out. Figuratively, they can be good or bad. For instance, it’s good to “get your foot in the door” as a start to a great career. I’m a perfect example of that. My old legal career (God, that brings back some scary memories) began that way. Ben Cotten, a lawyer I met playing sports in the D.C. Rec League while I was in law school at Georgetown, got me a job as a law clerk at another office, in part just so I could stay in D.C year-round to play touch football, basketball and softball with his team rather than go back to my usual school break factory labor job in New Jersey. That then turned into a full-time job as a lawyer when I graduated. Sure, I think I earned that latter job by my work as a law clerk, but I probably wouldn’t have gotten the chance if Ben hadn’t opened that door. But, as I said above, doors can also be bad for you. As a 65 year old man who never got married, I can’t tell you how many times I was “shown the door” by girlfriends over the years so they could move on to better things. (Of course, there were a few other times when I quickly found the first “emergency exit” door and got out before they had the chance to do that!) And, sometimes, doors can be good and bad at the same time. Think Monte Hall and the old “Let’s Make a Deal” game show. (“I’ll take door #3 Monte!”) Pick the right door and you were ecstatic. The wrong door? Zonked!! So, “doors” play a great role in everybody’s life in one way or another, and one played a big role in a fishing trip we had on June 26.
Our customers that day were locals Jake and Laura Kyer. They also brought along Jake’s brother Luke and his girlfriend, Kate Nadolny. Jake is a former “Coastie” and he and Laura had fished with us multiple times in the past. Really nice people and great friends now who always book a full day. I knew from our past trips with them that they understood that good fishing is not a guaranteed thing on any given day and I also knew that they were the the kind of people who would prefer to “go big or go home.” As a result, and because fishing had been spotty for a few days both inshore and offshore, we planned on “rolling the dice,” running out to deep water to the south and then just continuing to troll further south until we found something good or just ran out of time.
Jake had told me in the past that he enjoys my feeble journalistic attempts in FishMonster Magazine every month, so I jokingly told him at the start of the trip that “the pressure was on”. The deadline for my new article was almost here and I still didn’t have a good story. We also joked that, as Kate had never caught a fish before, maybe I could do a “Cosmo”-style “My First Time Ever”-type story about her experience. You know, the nervousness and anticipation, wondering whether you’ll do everything right and if you’ll enjoy it; how long it lasted; coming away satisfied; etc. Might work, I thought.
We ran out about 15 miles to 800 feet of water just short of “Wood’s Wall,” a several hundred foot dropoff located about 18 miles straight out from the harbor. There had been some scattered Sargasso grass in that area the day before where our boat and a few others found some smaller to medium-sized dolphin. Such grass can provide food or protection and, therefore, a temporary home or holding area for dolphin and wahoos. On the way out, we heard on the radio from one of the center console guys who can run faster than we can that the grass was there again, just even more scattered due the overnight wind change from east to north. Not ideal dolphin conditions but, still, “something to fish.”
That first area of scattered grass was about a tenth of a mile wide with “shoestrings” of Sargasso dappled with occasional 3-5 foot patches. A pain in the butt to fish – i.e., the baits kept getting “weeded up” - and, worse yet, there seemed to be no fish there. So, we decided to troll further south to find greener pastures. Just past the wall, we trolled through two more similar areas of grass, swinging by the occasional bigger patch as we did, but still got no bites. I had that “oh crap, not another family and friends curse day again” feeling. (Seems as if you have your worst days when either of those groups is with you, although it’s just probably that you remember those bad days more because of them.) Then, just a few hundred yards past that third grassy area, we got our first strike – a big “schoolie” dolphin that Luke got to the boat in short order. A few minutes and several hundred yards further south, we got our second strike – another nice “schoolie” that Kate did a beautiful job handling, especially for a first-time angler. Now, the pressure was off. We had dinner, Kate had caught her first fish ever, and I had at least one angle for a story – the above-mentioned “first-time” thing. We had passed through the first “door” of the day - the grass - and gained entry to some fish. But yet another door, literally, awaited.
After that second strike, we trolled south about another 10 miles and 1½ hours with no more bites. We were nearing what we refer to as the“double zeroes” latitude-wise and approaching turn-around time. I had just spent about a half hour in our tuna tower trying to spot debris that might hold fish or a grass line up ahead to give me reason to keep going south. Seeing neither, I returned to the flybridge, intending to turn for home at about the 30 miles from Key West mark. Then, a mile from that point, our mate Jerry Pope yelled that he had spotted what appeared to be a big floating wooden pallet off our starboard side approximately 50 yards away. That’s the the type of big piece of debris that can be a “door” of opportunity to a goldmine of fish --- if it has been in the water long enough to develop an ecosystem under it. As we approached, we saw lots of tripletails and jacks hovering around it – a good sign. We got a strike as the baits went by the first time- a “gaffer-sized schoolie” dolphin. I also noticed that the object wasn’t a pallet but, rather, what appeared to be a 6’ X 4’ wooden door off some type of a cargo crate - totally covered with the type of long-term marine growth that attracts dolphin and wahoo to make it a home. I guess you could say that it instantly went from being just a “palletable” fishing spot to being “a doorable,” and we just needed to barge through that “door” of opportunity. Adorable it was! For about an hour and a half, every time we figuratively knocked on that door, another beautful fish or two answered. Pass after pass yielded nice fish – 15 dolphin ranging in size from nice “schoolies” to “teenagers” and one small but extremely edible wahoo. We lost two of the bigger dolphin just as Jerry was lifting them over the gunnel into the boat. Jerry could never seem to get more than a line or two out before we got another strike and the action was virtually non-stop. Monte Hall himself couldn’t have picked a better door for us. Kate got to have a “multiple episode” first time experience and seemed to enjoy every second of it, getting even better at it each time. Laura, Jake and Luke had a blast, too, especially when we handed the guys spinning rods, giving them the unique experience of catching large jumping dolphin on light tackle and multiple jacks as well.
That excitement was followed by a nice but quiet 30 mile ride home, trolling the first 20 miles and running the rest. During the trolling, we had only two bites, losing both, but also had one of the more bizarre trolling events we’ve ever seen. The last bite was on the downrigger and the fish spooled line very rapidly then “pulled the hook.” When Jerry retrieved the line, the bait was gone, replaced by a very large fish eyeball. We assume the predator, likely a wahoo, had the misfortune of having the hook catch that eye after it came out of his mouth. Wahoos can travel 60 miles an hour then turn and stop on a dime. This one obviously zigged when he should have zagged. There’s probably a lame joke there about “keeping an eye out for him” but I wouldn’t stoop that low! (Obviously, yes, I would!!)
The really nice thing about the whole experience was that not only did it take place with great people but that they also had a great need/use for all those fish. One of Jake’s co-workers was leaving the area and Jake and Laura were having a big “fish fry” for him. The menu was now complete and fully provisioned - wahoo and plenty of dolphin. All because Jerry was kind enough to “show us the door “at the right time and because we took full advantage of that opportunity after getting our foot in it. Fishing, and life, can really be great when things work out that way.
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