Back in the misspent days of my youth – the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s (yes, I really am that old!) – one of the first risqué “adult” jokes I remember hearing involved someone looking for a specific place to stay for the night and asking several people the same question: “How far is the Old Log Inn?” I’ll let your own imaginations fill in the rest of the scenario for that joke but, suffice it to say, it stuck in my mind. (Some of my friends will tell you that there is probably no joke I’ve ever heard – good or bad – that hasn’t stuck in my mind, but that’s a story for another day!) A couple of trips we had in early October, and my own convoluted way of connecting ideas, brought that joke back from the deep, twisted recesses of my mind and I’ll try to explain why as best I can.
October can be a slow month trip-wise because it also tends to be a slow month tourist-wise. Weather is still relatively nice up north; it’s “hurricane season” here; and the kids are in school. However, the boats that did go out early in the month saw a familiar “feast or famine” pattern. If you found a nice “floater” (i.e., a piece of debris, such as a log that had been in the water long enough to develop marine growth and an ecosystem underneath), you loaded up on fish, especially mahi mahi. If you didn’t, you struggled. On a couple of occasions, people found logs in near-shore waters with more fish on them than they could handle and were nice enough to call other boats in the area over to join the fun. Hearing the multiple sincere “thank you’s” being expressed on the radio between fishermen working those floaters reminded me of something else from my younger days – the “love-ins” back in the ‘60’s. If you’re not old enough to remember those days (or if old age has caused you to forget them, perhaps intentionally), the internet’s “Free Dictionary” defines the term as follows: n. Slang A gathering to engender and promote love, as for the satisfaction of the participants or as a form of social activism.
As I thought about that, the weird side of my brain realized that the chatter I was hearing described a situation that might be more properly called a “log-in” - which is now defined in Capt. Gene’s Fishing Dictionary as follows: n. Slang A gathering of fishermen around a floating piece of timber to engender and promote the catching of as many fish as possible as a form of angling activism.
We, ourselves, were fortunate enough to find those kinds of floaters on each of two trips in early October. The first one, on the 7th, was a log about 5’ long we found 27 miles offshore. The second was a pallet and a nearby shorter log on October 10, about 20 miles closer inshore, just outside the reef. On both occasions, we were straight out - due south - from Key West and we announced our find to the rest of the fleet (after catching a few for ourselves first, of course.) Also on each occasion, the first question often received from other boats hearing of our find was something like “how far away are you?” In other words, at least in my twisted mind, “how far is the old log-in.” (Admit it. You were wondering how I was going to connect the dots on this one, weren’t you? Well, to be honest, so was I until just now!)
Both of those trips, and the finds made by other captains on other days around that time, bring up a couple of good points to remember when you are booking a fishing charter. First, every day is different, especially down here in the Keys, where everything we catch is here year-round in some number. You can have the best fishing day of your life even on a day you wouldn’t expect to do so and even when other boats aren’t catching. You just have to get to the right place at the right time. That might be 27 miles offshore or it may only be 6, depending on conditions. Further, the first of those trips shows the benefit of booking more than a half day and of having patience. We wouldn’t have been 27 miles out catching fish nobody else was if we only had 4 hours to do so. Hell, we didn’t even find that first log until we were more than three hours into the trip! On that same point, patience goes hand-in-hand with giving your captain adequate time to find the fish. In that regard, we owe a big round of thanks to our customers that day – Jamie Jernigan, his wife Lindsey, and their friends, Brad France-Kelly and Vernell Blanton. Not only did they book a full day, they were champs at waiting for their opportunity, allowing us to keep going deeper and exploring, rather than having to consider running back inshore to the reef area just to get bites from snappers, barracudas, etc. Their reward, and ours, was a big one – 20+ mahis, two tunas, two rainbow runners and a teeny wahoo we threw back! They were definitely “dock heroes” and “Capt. Gene heroes” when we got back to the marina and displayed their catch!
The second trip, on the 10th, falls into the “best laid plans” category - for a good reason. Again, we had the right kind of customers – NJ guys Steve Morrison, Alvin Ong, Bob Chang, Paul Riotta, Clay Pierce and J.R. Thomas. They wanted bigger fish; booked 6 hours to give us time to run deep if we had to do so; and were willing to be patient, or even stay out longer, until we found them. That takes the pressure off the earlier part off the trip and encourages a captain to burn a little extra fuel to try to make things happen! So our game plan was to run deep early. Much to our great joy, we didn’t need to go very far or use that much time/fuel to get things going in a big way. One of the great assets on our boat is that our mate, Jerry Pope, has as good a set of eyes as I’ve ever seen. He routinely spots things that I don’t see until long after he alerts me to them. Jerry also has a passion for finding big fish. So, on days he can safely do so, he loves to go up in our tuna tower on the ride out to look for fish, birds, current rips, debris and/or weed lines - to put us on the best fish the fastest way possible. That’s what he did on this trip. Just after we crossed the reef, he climbed up into the tower and almost immediately spotted a floater – a 4X4 pallet in weeds about a mile outside the reef. He yelled down; I slowed; he climbed down and put out a couple of lines; and we hooked up to a couple of “gaffer-size” dolphin instantly. They pulled us far away from that pallet during the fight, only to lead us to another even better floater – a 3’ log with fish all around it. An hour into the trip, our day was already made. The guys did a super job bringing in the fish – I don’t think we lost any we hooked – and we came back to the dock with double-digit large “schoolie” and “gaffer” dolphin in the box. We even successfully caught and released a full-grown sailfish as well! “Dock heroes” once more! Again, we had alerted the fleet to our find – after we put a serious dent in the fish population around that log – and other boats got to benefit as well! A perfect charter fishing day! Great customers, great catch, didn’t burn that much fuel, and we got to share with others. As they say: “It don’t get no better.”
The one big lesson you can probably take from all of this – other than never try to figure where my train of thought is going from the title of these articles -- is that it’s always good to strategize with your captain prior to the charter, preferably at least the day before, to discuss what kind of trip you want and what he recommends. Maybe discuss booking a longer trip than you planned with the option to come in early if the fish cooperate quickly. It’s your trip and the more time you give your captain, the more options he can consider and exercise, greatly increasing your chances of maybe becoming that day’s “dock heroes.”
Hopefully, on your day, that floater will be out there and the answer to my version of that age-old joke question – “How far is the old log-in?” – will be: “Not that far at all!!!”
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