Key West Offshore Report July 2010
Traditionally, July is a great month in Key West for running offshore and finding large schools of small to medium size keeper dolphin, with an occasional large bull or cow thrown in; medium size wahoo under floating objects; and the rare but ever present chance of encountering a blue or white marlin. However, this year, tradition has been thrown out the window. Extremely warm water; an almost non-existent current (at least within any reasonable running distance); and the lack of any sizable weed lines have made it almost impossible to find the dolphin schools normally seen. Further complicating that situation were two other factors. One - a greatly reduced number of anglers -- probably due to oil spill fears and bad economic conditions -- meant that the local charter boats were not getting the normal number of attempts to find the fish that may have been there. Two - unusually high summertime winds meant rough seas, making it very difficult for the average customer to tolerate a ride out to and trolling in the deep water if there were no fish to be found in close.
- Capt. Gene's boat - The Fatal Attraction
Hopefully, for boats like ours that love running offshore rather than fishing the reefs and the wrecks, that situation may be changing.
We have been fortunate the last three years (along with “Mr. Z” and “Triple Time” of our same marina - A&B) to be hired by Bacardi as a sponsor boat, hosting corporate guests in the annual Drambuie Key West Marlin Tournament. This year, it took place from July 22 to July 24. Unfortunately, we only had the opportunity to fish two of the three scheduled days. We had to make the tough decision to abort the second day, i.e., Friday, July 23, due to predictions of a tropical storm that was supposed to strike the area early that afternoon. The prediction proved wrong, and the few boats that went out had a relatively beautiful day (although not fish-wise). However, as a charter captain, you always have to put the safety of your customers (and your mate) over any other consideration, even a tournament payday or the possibility of an even bigger winner’s jackpot . I’d always rather be wrong sitting at the dock in such circumstances than to be thirty miles out and realize that I made the wrong choice. Given what we were hearing the night before, and even that morning, aborting the trip was the prudent and correct call.
While the tournament was woefully slow fishing-wise (one marlin caught by the entire fleet of registered boats,) we did, for the first time this month, see a large number of “big schoolie” and “teenage” dolphin just inside “Wood’s Wall” on Saturday afternoon. We had seen about five or six terns working in that area and, when we got to them, suddenly saw large numbers of 7 to 12 pound dolphin all around us, right on the surface. As it was still anybody’s tournament to win, we had our marlin rigs out and didn’t want to waste valuable time trying to catch dolphin that size. So, we trolled the area for about an hour, until “lines in” was called, hoping that a blue marlin was lurking to feed on the fish we saw - always a possibility when there are large numbers of dolphin around. Unfortunately, we never saw one., We did, however, manage to hook four nice “gaffer” dolphin while doing so, even with rigs that were one-third to half the size of the fish.
By the way, for the uninitiated, the terms “schoolie”, “teenage“, and “gaffer” used above are “terms of art” in our biz, referring to fish size. A “teenager” weighs in the teens pound-wise. “Schoolies” would generally be about five pounds up to the teens. (“Chickens” are smaller than “schoolies”.) “Gaffer” is a more generic description, identifying a fish that you thought required using a gaff to land it, rather than just grabbing the leader and hauling it into the boat using the line only.
The good news about the last day of the tournament was that we could see dolphin around us with the naked eye the entire time we were in the area mentioned above. My mate, Run Yuong, and I agreed that we probably could have caught at least twenty 7 to 12 pound dolphin, had we been targeting them.
That theory was proven true the next day. Capt. Jay Miller and mate Cory Robinson, our A&B Marina neighbors on the “Outer Limits“, used that information to catch a double digit number of keeper dolphin in that same general area. Hopefully, that means the fish are back and we can start to see our normal dolphin catches again - if we can just get the chance to go out to find them.
However, if you want a realistic shot at a day like the one “Outer Limits” had, we would strongly suggest at least a six-hour day or, preferably, a full, eight-hour day. That, hopefully, gives the captain enough time to get deep, try to find the fish, and still go to ”Plan B” (e.g., the reef or a wreck) if that doesn’t work.
Until next time then, remember -- recreational fishing, by definition, is supposed to relaxing and fun. Find a captain that keeps it that way, and you’ll never have a bad day fishing.
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