The Fearless Report: Light Tackle Fishing in the Upper Keys
by capt. Joe Hendrix & Christine Hendrix
Capt Joe tells me that March is the month for yellowtailing here in Islamorada and all of the Florida Keys. Who doesn’t love a good yellowtail filet breaded or with one of those yummy sauces Lazy Days Restaurant in Islamorada cooks it up with when you bring in your catch? It is such a good eating fish with it’s white delicate meat that’s not too fishy and not too bland. So when we heard that my parents were coming for a visit from Germany where they don’t get much fresh fish, we jumped up and decided to take the whole family out for some fishing on the reef.
Capt. Joe also thought that it would be a good time for me and the kids to see what he actually does on a daily basis. Here I am thinking, “You don’t just put the rods on the boat and go? It can’t be that hard.” And not that I haven’t been fishing a hundred times before, I guess I just really never thought about all that goes into a day of fishing for him.
So we packed up the family and some lunch and went to the boat at Bud ‘n Mary’s Marina. On the way, we had to stop at the Tackle Center and get a barrel full of ice, a case of chum (which is ground up Menhaden) and some small live bait hooks.
Upon arriving at the dock I took the kids to the boat and it seemed like it took forever before we were ready to go. Capt. Joe had to first load the ice on the boat and into the coffin box and our drink cooler. Then he pulled all the rods out of his shed and put them in their rod holders on the boat. After that he had to get a bucket of sand from the parking lot of the marina to put on the boat as well as a bucket of oats which he stores in the shed. They were in big heavy 5 gallon buckets, same with the chum - lots of carrying. He also had frozen bonita chunks in his freezer which he got out too. They go in the coffin box for cut bait.
Ok, we are finally ready to go! I’m thinking right to the spot, lines in and go… well, not so much. On the way out we have to drag our yellowtail lines to straighten them out. We also have to catch some live bait on the way there which means stopping, anchoring down, putting a block of chum in the chum bag and chumming up the bait, getting the cast net out and waiting. There goes another 20-60 minutes depending on whether there’s bait in that particular spot or not. Thank God it was!
Finally we head out to the reef, close to Alligator Lighthouse and try and catch a few yellowtail snapper. But we don’t just throw our lines in the water because we have to chum the fish up first. So Capt. Joe mixes the sand, oats and chum together and scatters them across the surface of the water. Usually some smaller fish like speedos and ballyhoo start to show up and then after that, with any luck the yellowtails will soon follow…..another 20-40 minutes. We finally see some yellowtail snapper behind the boat, so we tie our little hooks onto our 12 lb. rods, cut up pieces of bonito and hook it on the hook. After that Capt. Joe wraps the whole hook/bonito mix into a chum/sand/oat ball and throws it out….totally gross! Then we let the line go back with no tension into the chum slicks until a yellowtail or some other fish picks the bait up and runs off with it. We then shut the bail, wind tight and hook them. Game on! It really sounds easier than it is because we don’t always hook a yellowtail! Sometimes other fish will eat the bait or nibble it off, but if it’s ideal conditions (meaning that the water is a little dirty or dusty and the current is behind the boat) it’s usually pretty easy to catch the them.
That day we had what Capt. Joe calls a lot of “trash” fish plus a screaming baby so we made it a short trip. We ended up with enough for dinner that night. We headed back to the marina and unloaded our catch and the kids. Capt. Joe then still had his work cut out for him. He had to filet the fish, wash the boat and put all the equipment away which took another 30-45 minutes.
That night my parents arrived hungry and tired. We baked the yellowtail in the oven in a lemon, caper, butter, white wine sauce and made some parmesan risotto and asparagus to go with it. Very delicious!
I guess I have to admit that Capt. Joe does do a lot more than just throw the rods on the boat and go. A day of fishing involves getting up super early, being ready for your charter guests, taking them out and hopefully catching a lot of fish and then doing all the clean up and fish filleting by himself. He has no mate or boat washer or any other kind of help. He is a one man show so I will definitely give him some props and maybe a foot rub here and there!
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