A swell day fishing

One of my workmates is a keen fisherman, and he organized a charter boat yesterday for a few of us to go out and enjoy a day on the water doing manly things (or further deplete the already overtaxed fishery depending on your point of view).

It ended up being just four of us plus the captain. The boat, called the Westicles, was not the kind of big luxury fishing boat I sort of imagined. But with just us, a big boat wasn’t economically viable, so away we went.

Ah, the feeling of the wind in your face. And in your back and butt and shoulders as you hold on for dear life in 4-6 foot swells during the hour and a half trip out to the supposed magic spot.

Just before getting there, we spotted a bunch of birds who had obviously found the fish already. The shearwaters fish busily on the surface, while the gannets hover and then dive… quite a sight.

We pulled in close and deployed a drogue — which probably has a different name — to keep us drifting in a more controlled way.

The actual fishing was different than anything I’d ever done. The wonderfully light rods are rigged up with a big round weight painted like an eyeball, which slides freely on the line. There are a couple of hooks camouflaged in a sort of plastic hula skirt. You plop that into the water and let it drop to the bottom. Then you slowly reel it up just a few feet. If you get a bite, you just keep reeling… no yanking to set the hook. And if they haven’t bitten within a few cranks of the reel, you drop it down again.

At that first spot, we mostly got bites as soon as the lure hit the bottom, but many of them were too small to keep. And then after a while they just stopped biting… the whole group must’ve moved on.

We tried another spot, and another, and another, with little success. Now it’s getting onto 2 o’clock, meaning we should be heading in soon.

We tried one more spot, and it was marginally more active, and then we saw another group of birds not far away. Fish jackpot! We were pulling up fish as fast as we could… which is saying something because we were in about 150 feet of water.

We all got our limit of 7 snapper. I was King of the Boat for the 51cm fish shown above. By next week I will remember that length as 61, or was it 71? The captain kept saying it was an unusual day for the small size of the fish we caught. Supposedly that large eyeball jig should really appeal to big fish and less to small ones.

But, as John Bunyan said in Pilgrim’s Progress, “Behold how quickly Man’s triumph turneth to Guts.” OK, actually I just made that up. Remember that big luxury boat I wasn’t on? Well, on that boat, while you’re sipping Prosecco and nibbling on canapés , the hardy crew of islanders fillets your catch and gives it to you wrapped in butcher paper. Not so on the Westicles.

I haven’t cleaned a fish since living in Missouri 25 years ago. These ones were cold and slimy and had sharp spiny fins. At least now there’s YouTube, so I got some tips that helped a bit. Note to self: sharper knives.

Lee roasted a couple of the fish while I took a long hot shower. They were actually really tasty! And then moments after dinner was done I was asleep in front of the TV.

All in all, it was a good day, but if there’s a next time it will be on that other boat!

3 thoughts on “A swell day fishing

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  1. Whoa, John, one of my favorite things!. What a beautiful fish. I have to drive 14 hours to Islamorada to fish like that – but you know, maybe fishing dreams are about that far away. I seem to remember that USA to NZ was close to 14 hours on a 747.


    1. Plus two weeks of quarantine… we are pretty lucky when a bad day means you don’t catch your limit until after lunch.


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