Conditions just right for a picture-perfect day offshore

June 13, 2011 

In last week's column I wrote about a trip to the Betsy Ross artificial reef, where it seemed cobia were lined up to buy tickets just to bite on our hooks. It was insane how many fish we hooked, landed and released.

In that story, I also wrote that I was not going to target cobia again this year simply because that one day provided me and the crew I was fishing with enough meat to satisfy any cobia urge we might have for quite some time. So, true to my word, this past Thursday, Don McCarthy, Harry Morales, C.J. Paszek, Fuzzy Davis' son Drew, and I loaded aboard the Manatee Mac and headed offshore to do some bottom-fishing for grouper, triggerfish and black sea bass.

The ocean was picture perfect with long, sweeping swells that made the ride out a delight. I guess we were about 25 miles out when we ran smack dab into a school of bonito in a feeding frenzy. We stopped the boat and just watched. The bonito had pushed up huge schools of baitfish to the surface, and, for about 300 yards, the water looked as though a giant egg beater were foaming the water as the tuna-like fish went crazy trying to get their fill. Then, almost as quickly as it started, it was over, and the only sign that a massacre had just occurred were the drifting scales from the riddled baitfish, giving the water a sparkling appearance.

The farther we got offshore, the smoother and clearer the water became. Unlike the greenish tint you see in the creeks and along the beach, out there the water is a vibrant blue. I particularly liked watching Fuzzy Davis' son Drew, as this was his first time bottom-fishing. At 17, he gave off that youthful enthusiasm as he soaked up the entire picture. I had a feeling it was going to be a good day of fishing, and boy were my instincts right.

After finally reaching our first spot, down went our baits. Immediately, every person on board was hooked up. Drew and C.J. used rigs that targeted triggerfish, while Don, Harry and I tried for grouper with live pinfish. I can say for certain that the moratorium on black sea bass was a good thing because we all loaded up on some of the largest sea bass I have seen in years. Since I can't reel in big fish anymore, Drew was my "go-to" man whenever I would hook something big, which didn't take long at all. Big red snapper were intercepting the baits before they could get to the grouper, and Drew had a ball catching these fighters. Unfortunately, the moratorium on red snapper is still in force, so back they went. But one thing is certain, there are a whole lot of red snapper out there, and when the moratorium is lifted it's going to be a snapper-o-rama for sure.

In the thick of all our fish-catching, I looked behind the boat and there came two cobia -- and one of them was a real stud. They didn't seem interested in anything we pitched to them, but wouldn't you know it, the big one decided to take a live squirrel fish I had dropped down for grouper. I had seen that cobia and there was no way I was going to do battle with that monster, so Harry took the rod.

Fifteen minutes went by, then 30, and that fish was just kicking Harry's you-know-what. Several times it would come up just out of gaffing range, and the other cobia stayed right with it. We probably could have caught the other one too, but decided that one fish was all we needed. Finally, Don stuck the big fish and flopped it onto the deck. Though we didn't weigh the fish, I know it had to have been somewhere in the mid-70s.

It was just a perfect day in every way. Schools of spotted oceanic porpoises would visit us and swirl around the boat followed by giant loggerhead turtles, massive sunfish (mola-molas) and giant remoras. It was like being at Marineland. And because the water is so clear out there, the viewing is unbelievable. It is like you are looking through a glass window, since there was nary a ripple on the water.

I have said it once and I'll say it again. I have fished in Mexico, Costa Rica, the Gulf of Mexico and all points north and south, and I still feel that our waters here are by far the healthiest. There is just so much life out there. Maybe it's because we have to go farther to catch fish and because of that there isn't as much pressure on our fisheries -- with cobia being the exception to the rule. But I'll go that extra mile every time when the fishing and the scenery is as good as it was this past Thursday.

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