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On The Ocean


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It's all good when fishing in Florida, and the sport out on the ocean is as terrific as the rest.

Group photo at Key West.

Sloppy Joe's at Key West. Watto goes on the pull.

Leaping Sailfish.

And it tries a last desperate bid for freedom...

Before finally deciding to just get in the boat.

Fish offal. Chum. Nice.

Aside from the brilliant fishing on the flats down in Biscayne Bay and the Keys, and the great fun-fishing to be in the docks, marinas and around the bridges, there are, of course, thousands of other species to be tried for in the turquoise waters off Florida. During our stays there we have tried for Tarpon, Rays, Sharks, Barracuda, Amberjack, Sailfish- as well as a multitude of other smaller reef species, and you'd have to say that in most cases the reels have very rarely been quiet!

Of the most memorable days there were perhaps three which really stand out- for differing reasons. Firstly there was the one where Watto and myself managed 5 Tarpon between us, with the biggest being around the 120lb mark. Now that was quite good enough for me, but to put the icing on the cake, right at the end of the day Watto had put out a deadbait which was taken by something very, very big indeed. The hooked fish screamed away from the boat on an amazing run, and finished it off by leaping from the water perhaps four or five times. Watto and I just stood agape as a huge (200lb plus) Eagle Ray hung in the air like a huge spotted tablecloth some 100 yards back from the boat, before crashing back through the surface with the most amazing 'slap'! It took almost an hour to subdue the fish, before eventually it came into view, rising up in the water column like some alien from another world. 

It took both Watto and Bouncer to just to get the fish far enough over the edge of the boat to get a couple of photos. It was certainly never coming in the boat: 1. because it was too big to fit in there anyway..., and 2. because once in we would never have been able to lift it back out!

Another great day was a kind of 'variety day' we decided to have, whereby we trolled tube lures and Rapalas for Barracuda and caught lots of them, which was amazing because the wreck was in 50ft of water, and time and again the 'Cudas would come off the wreck to hit a tube lure skipping right across the surface. We then moved onto some wrecks to drop huge jigs and some live mullet for the stubborn old gits of the sea, the Amberjack, and get some sore forearms (if you can imagine winding a sack of cement up 200 feet of water you might have some idea). The day then finished with a bit of light tackle bait fishing over some reefs to get a few small Grouper and Snapper etc. Great fun, easy fishing, and bites all day. Oh, and the sun was shining too.

Finally, there was a day spent out on the blue water after a bit of everything again (variety is the spice of life, after all). The weather was quite lovely to be out in, with a temperature up in the 90's, and barely a breath of wind. This however, we were told, was far from ideal for our first target species for the day, the Sailfish, since they love a good chop on the water. Still, we gave it a go anyway, and put out some Herrings on flat-lines around the boat, and went on a drift with the tide. Some half an hour passed, when suddenly, not 20 yards from the boat, my Herring bait started to get agitated. It then panicked and swam from right to left a a great rate of knots, rattling the rod tip as it did so. Then there, approaching at high speed was the reason for its angst! A huge sail sliced through the surface film, and for the second it was in full view in the clear, mirror calm ocean, with it's whole flank lit up in an iridescent neon blue sheen, before smashing into the bait with great fury and snapping the line straight out of the clip! A sight and experience that is indelibly imprinted on my memory, and something which wouldn't have been half as spectacular if it wasn't for the flat calm conditions. After setting the hook it gave the most memorable fight on 20lb line and a heavy spinning outfit, giving numerous cart-wheeling leaps before being released boat-side. 

"All rods are yours now", I said to Andy R, and it was great that within half an hour he too was battling it out with a similar sized Sailfish, which amongst other dodges, tried to jump into the boat twice! All good stuff, and so, with our Sailfish under our belts within the first couple of hours, we then decided to target a shark or two.

Again, the calm conditions weren't great for this (apparently), but it was still just lovely to be out on the ocean. Anyway, we found some Bonito and had great fun for a while catching some of those on light spinning rods, before setting up a couple of 50lb class outfits with slabs of our fresh, bloody Bonito on. The baits were set at different depths, and we set about getting a chum lane going consisting of fish offal from the docks and a few pints of fish oil & blood. Jesus- it really is enough to make you gag! 

Unfortunately, we only had one piece of action on the shark rods all afternoon- and that was from a Big Nose Shark (I believe it was called), and perhaps the smallest one in the sea! However, it was far from dull, since the sun shone, the wind never got above a feint breeze, the beer was cool, and we passed our day with some opportunist fishing, catching a few more Bonito on the light spinning gear, and even managing a new species when a school of Cobia circled the boat for long enough to have a couple of freelined live Herring flicked in front of them. Its always nice to get a new species on the list! Couple the great weather, with some good company, some nice fishing and the spectacle of a large school of Dolphin cavorting around the boat for us, you have a really special day out indeed.

The 'Silver King' makes and acrobatic bid for freedom.

But eventually circles the boat a beaten critter.

Hooked into an Amberjack over 200ft plus of water. Get ready for some pain.

A nice Amberjack (AKA Blue Circle Jack!)

Bonito. Great sport on light tackle. Great bait too!

An opportunist Cobia taken on livebait as it circled the boat.

Trying to get a grip...

And Watto has a dip with a prize Tarpon just before it's release.

Florida. Nice.


Returning the prize. Beautiful fish.

A Tarpon surfaces for air near the boat.

Hmmm. A Big Nose Shark. Not quite what we were after. You could say it was a little outgunned on the 50lb gear!

Not the easiest thing to get your trophy shot with. It was just too big to get into the boat! Our guide, Bouncer, estimated it's weight somewhere in the region of 200 to 220lbs.

View of the business end of a huge Eagle Ray caught by Watto. And what a fight! Almost an hour on 30lb Class, and several huge leaps thrown in for good measure.

That might just have been a 'Cuda.

Yup, it was.

Before & after! Tube lure after a little attention from Harry 'Cuda.

Nice 'Cuda taken on a Rapala trolled over a wreck in shallow water. But minutes later its mum put in an appearance, and Watto hooked up briefly. Unfortunately it managed to shake the hook.

Robbie's Dock in Islamorada. "What happens if I fish here?" I asked. 

"Well, son, I gotta shotgun back here that say's you can't". Fair enough.

Taking the strain with a Tarpon down at the Keys. One second, one photo, and she was dropped back over the side before we knew it. And listen, Speedos were in. Once.

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