I had some family visit this time of year last year and the plan was to take all the kids fishing. I thought this would be super easy. There had been easy bait on the beaches and lots of aggressive king mackerel to feed them to. I loaded my standard blocks of chum and a frozen bonito but my plan was to catch pilchards in an attempt to get the kingfish fired up.
We took off from Cudjoe Gardens Marina out of Cudjoe Key and ran up and down the beach looking for bait. After about an hour of looking for fish, pretty much everyone on the boat was looking at me like I was nuts. I hit every spot I knew between Cudjoe and Key West and nothing. I decided to run back east of Cudjoe which met lots of skepticism to say the least by my family. “Let’s just go.” I heard this repeated like a Gatling gun. I persevered and finally found them in super shallow water, so shallow I had to get out of the boat to toss the net on them. “This isn’t worth the effort” was said a lot. I just smiled as I waded out, tossed the net on the bait and dragged them back to the boat and got the family to dump the baits into the live well. It took about 4 trips wading back and forth to get what I thought was enough. I was almost worn out at this point answering the question, “When are we going fishing?”
After climbing back into the boat I notice everything’s covered in mud and dead grass from them emptying the net. Trying to keep the kids occupied, I thought it would be a good idea to give one of them the wash down hose to clean off the boat - not so, because they wet everything and everybody that didn’t need to be wet.
I give my family the whole speech on how these baits will turn a good day fishing into an epic day, as we headed south. I almost had to eat my words. Finding fish proved harder than finding bait on this particular day. The kingfish had disappeared over night. Of all the days I need the fish to play nice this is it and here I am, its noon, and I’ve yet to see a fish let alone bend a rod. I hit all my deeper productive spots with zero to show for it, then I think, why am I out here in deep water with these kids? What’s going to make them happy?
Finally I said, “Hang on, I’ve got a spot!” I ran back up on top of the reef to 12 feet of water to a little rock pile. We tossed the anchor and got the chum bag flowing. I told the kids to start throwing pilchards off the back. I look back to find them with the bait net dumping the well - arrrgghh! I took the net away and they had to catch them by hand. This worked, and kept them all busy while I got their rods ready to go. By the time I was ready to get them fishing, the massive amount of live baits they had chucked over the stern had every fish for a mile down current fired up. I gave everyone a rod and we got busy.
Four kids all with fish hooked up for the next couple hours kept me super busy. I would throw a small net full of baits out, turn around to have four hooks shoved at me to put a pilchard on, then ducked as they cast them out. Time flew by as I repeated this over and over and threw snapper after snapper on top of the ice. When we dropped the anchor there wasn’t much activity but by this time we had a dozen frigate birds chasing ballyhoo, big balls of yellowtails and cero mackerel blowing up pilchards crazy enough to make a run for it from the protection of the outboards’ lower units.
As I chased down the last few pilchards in the baitwell with the dip net all the kids agreed, “We should have spent more time getting bait!” I just smiled and hooked on another bait.
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