BUCKETLIST

Be Prepared for the Unexpected…
Especially on Your Birthday

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

By Capt. Scott Fawcett

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On May 8th 2013, repeat Off the Chain charter clients Tony Dilworth and Brian Perryman introduced me to their friend Andrew Aristotelis as we all headed out of the Saint Lucie Inlet for a full day reef and wreck fishing charter out of Stuart, Florida aboard my 32’ Contender. Tony and Brian have fished with me a handful of times over the last year and have always had extremely good luck. Little did we know that this trip would make no exception.

A few months, back during a slow day of trolling and only catching one sailfish and a couple of small dolphin, I stopped on a couple of bottom spots and introduced Tony and Brian to Stuart’s local amberjack population. We also were headed for a spot known for huge ‘cuda. Tony and Brian are big catch and release advocates and wanted Andrew to get a taste of how strong these amberjacks are, and, if possible, go back to the ‘cuda spot, or try for permit if conditions allowed.

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Bait was difficult to catch that morning, so I was glad that we brought a few dozen pilchards and some crabs. The first half of the day was spent jumping from bottom spot to bottom spot with little to no luck. We made our way inshore from The Peanut (175 feet of water, about 10 miles north of the Saint Lucie Inlet), and were headed to another bottom spot when we past a huge black plastic mat, and what at first I thought was a sailfish under it. I spun the boat around and grabbed our Blackfin spinning rod with Fin-Nor Bait Runner reel and quickly cut the cobia jig off and tied a 6/O Mustad circle hook on and hooked up a live bait. As we made our way back to the fish I knew it was awfully big for a sail, but didn’t want to say “marlin” and be wrong. However, I knew it was a big billfish for sure.

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I pulled the Yamahas out of gear and we slid right up to it. Standing on the bow deck I pitched the bait to the fish, put the Bait Runner on and handed the rod to Andrew. At this point it was very obvious that it was no sailfish! We all saw the 400 to 500 pound blue marlin follow our bait half way back to the boat before it ate. I told Andrew to slowly reel. We came tight and the fish just lay under the boat for a few seconds before starting to make a slow run offshore. With only 16 lb. test line and a 50 lb. leader, we played the fish extremely light in order not to chafe it off. It took Andrew about 20 minutes to get the leader on the rod (which makes it an official catch), but instead of cutting the leader we decided to tighten the drag to see if we could get the fish to put on a show.

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It worked. As soon as the extra drag was applied the fish made a number of unbelievable runs and jumps. She “grey hounded” away from the boat in a series of 30 jumps or so, with us in hot pursuit, and never more than 100 feet away. She was so big she never even got her whole body out of the water. We were so close to her that you could hear the water being thrashed as she tore it up. It felt as if you could reach out and touch this amazing fish as we were almost on plane running along side of her, chasing her down for the release. It was the perfect fish, and it could not have performed any better for us. From seeing it laying under the piece of plastic like a dolphin, to watching it inhale the bait so slowly, to watching this huge fish loafing along the side of the boat, to backing the drag off to virtually nothing when we couldn’t gain line, and having the fish come right up under the boat again so we could get the release, every aspect of this release is what all anglers dream of. To watch it unfold before my eyes was nothing short of the adventure of a lifetime. It was way cool from start to finish, not to mention, it was my birthday! What a present!

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After Andrew’s epic battle, an easy 20 to1 fish pound / line pound ratio, we got back to the task at hand. We headed back to the reef, using jigging rods with Williamson Jigs and meat stix with big live baits. We caught a few 40 to 50 pound AJ’s and lost a few more. When the guys said “uncle” we ran inshore to look for the permit. I hopped up in the tower, and it didn’t take long to find two huge schools. With two ultra lights baited with live crabs we sight casted to permit on the surface for the last hour of the day. There were some nice fish in there, too. We weighed one 35 pounds before the release.

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I can’t believe it! Catching blue marlin and permit in the same day, right here in my back yard. It just goes to show; when you’re fishing the waters of Stuart and the Treasure Coast, you need to be ready for everything. I know I’ll never forget it, and Tony, Brian and Andrew say the same thing. Man, I love my job.

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Capt. Scott Fawcett a veteran tournament winning captain, operates a successful charter operation in Stuart, Florida. He can be reached at: Off The Chain Fishing Charters
www.offthechainfishing.com. Email: fishscottyf@bellsouth.net. Phone: 772-285-1055.

A Key West Carnival Ride

Friday, March 1st, 2013

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“In the spring a young man’s fancy turns to love.”

Schools of spawning permit join the procreational pursuit at a most spectacular of gatherings. In multitudes of silver and gold they mass, holding over a few picturesque spots suspended in crystal waters of the outer bar. Trinity is one such site, a name coined by divers in deference to three coral peaks rising 20-25 feet above a white marl bottom.

Located on the outer reef or bar, this ridge of coral disappeared beneath the waves at the end of the last Ice Age, millennia ago. Running east to west, with an average relief of 10 feet, this outside reef is a phenomenon, occurring nowhere else along the Florida Keys chain. Trinity is a deep spot, 55 feet, and sits inside the Atlantic drop-off due south. Bathed in nutrient rich currents, often by the Gulf Stream itself, the ledges, walls and sea-fan forest of Trinity draw resident fish and traveling schools, layered at times from surface to sea floor. On clear water days the sandy bottom reflects the tropic sun, lighting an outdoor aquarium.

By the second week of April, on rare calm days, spawning permit rise above the corral pinnacles bathing their egg-laden bellies in the warm sun. Often, pinprick fins spike the surface giving up the school. In sun, the mother-permit flashes golden, ripe with the next generation. When flushed, they file beneath the boat matching numbers and moving with the herd mentality of buffalo. Seen from below, they flow over submerged ridges like Hollywood Indians sweeping down on circled wagons.

We’re aboard a powder blue Yellowfin 42 with four high horsepower Mercury’s strapped to the back. Eight minutes out of Key West Harbor, a new Trinity record. Only Popeye’s fried chicken boat made this run faster, and he was on the outward-bound leg of the world powerboat championships.

As one friend Jim Butters put it following a furiously fast ride in the behemoth center console, in less than calm seas, “This isn’t a boat, it’s a carnival ride.”

Captain T.J. Ott is at the wheel. A young man, mid-twenties, T.J. is beyond his years in fish miles. T.J.’s a professional tuna harvester, a skill learned from his dad. Six months of the year he battles thousand pound blue fins with rod and lance. Winter months he’s at the family home in Key West, ranging his ocean rocket west to Dry Tortugas then east to Cay Sal Banks, relentlessly pursuing a tug on the line and fish in the box.

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An early morning phone call from Key’s captain Steve Rodgers was short and to the point—permit on the bar. Rodgers, a native son conch captain is privy to inside info, always one of the first to know. We’ll have a day or two before word spreads and boats flock to the site. Secrets don’t last in the southernmost city.

Nikie and I join T.J. and Diesel, a fish hound black Rottweiler weighing in at eighty pounds. Constantly in the shadow of our captain, Diesel stakes out a spot at his master’s feet, daring any challenge. He’s veteran crew and knows where the ride is softest and dry.

The spa-size live well teems in crab. Some, half-dollar size baby blues imported from Miami, others corral colored sand crabs caught this morning by Nikie, wading a shallow bar. All are declawed.
We’ll hook these squiggling crustations thru the pointed end of the carapace on a half-ounce plain lead jig. Thirty pound leader connects the weighted offering to twenty pound braid spooled on Shimano spinners, Flora-carbon of course. Seven-foot Star graphite rods, in tandem with the lead jig provide casting range with backbone enough to muscle a fish. Unlike wreck or tower fishing these permit have no close cut-off place to flee to, a common occurrence around structure. Given enough head they will scrape the hook across the sand bottom or dash under a sharp edge overhang, attempting to rid themselves of the bothersome tug.

There is reason to horse these hard fighting members of the jack family in. Sharks, most often the great American hammerhead, lurk just out of sight. Shadowing the schools these anvil-headed monsters run large, over 10 feet, some eight hundred pounds.

While conjuring a plan for a first drift a shout and splash turns every head. Our informant Steve Rodgers, leading a charter has been fighting a fish since our arrival. Now, the tan tail of a 12-foot shark slaps the side of his Conch 27 while the other end devours his angler’s twenty-pound permit. The fisherman freaks. Not used to seeing a tail the size of a grown man waving at eye level he seems convinced the shark wants him.

With engines at a quite idle, T.J. eases up to a school. We cast our crabs into a group of tiny points directly above a cloud of milling, flashing shapes. Reacting to the splashes, the fish move forward and down. Free-lined off the spools our baits sink with them. Two of the three crabs are eaten. I strike and miss; Nikie’s reel is whining her rod bent double.

The bent rod sends Diesel into frenzy. He covers the length and breadth of the Yellowfin barreling by any unfortunate bystander, barking his excitement, cheering Nikie on. Paws on gunnel, Diesel watches for the fish, if he’s disappointed not seeing a giant tuna it doesn’t show.

Nikie fights this fish like the seasoned pro she is. She holds the spool and lifts the rod smooth, never jerking, and then winds down even and fluid. With skills honed hoisting Halibut in Alaska, this beautiful bartender-angler is a fish-in-the-boat kind of girl.

The action is fast with multiple hook-ups and our luck with the sharks holds through a few close calls. We release nine hard fighting permit, missing a dozen more. Low light brings our slugfest to a halt when wispy clouds gather blocking out the lowering sun. Fueled by cooling air over warmer water these late afternoon formations are common in the spring, the fish disappear with the light.
Another eight-minute ride, then a slow swing by the Mallory Square sunset extravaganza ends the day. We watch “The great Rondine” wiggle in chains. A high wire artist balances on one leg and twirls plates. Cat man directs a pride of felines thru circus routines climaxing with a leap thru a flaming hoop. Nowhere else on earth does this land and sea dichotomy exist. But what to expect when one boards a Key West carnival ride?

Kentucky Lake: The Most Diverse Bass Lake You May Ever Fish

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

By Mark Adams

Russ and Russell Morris on Kentucky Lake

Much has been written about the best bass lakes in the country and they all include one of the biggest and most diverse, Kentucky Lake. Spanning from Kentucky through the entire state of Tennessee, this lake has it all, from accessibility of ramps to tremendous fishing to small towns dotting the shorelines with charm and hospitality. It is truly an outdoorsman’s paradise and a great family retreat. There are marinas up and down the lake to meet the needs of any visitor as well as cabins and chalets to rest in between trips to the water. The towns embrace the great fishery they have and it’s obvious that the community welcomes its visitors who want to experience what it is like to fish here. Every year the biggest tournament trails come to visit, showcasing the lake’s potential and bringing attention to this great fishery. However you don’t have to be a pro to unlock Kentucky Lake. It truly is a lake where you can fish to your strengths and use your favorite techniques, with your next cast capable of producing that bass of a lifetime.

There exist three distinct areas of the lake; New Johnsonville to the south, Paris in the middle and Kentucky Dam at the top of the lake. These areas are all very different in the types of cover offered to different species but the main areas you are seeking will be similar. The Northern end of the lake has a cleaner bottom without the heavy matted grass found to the south. The creeks and pockets have quite a bit of buck brush while the river and creek ledges have mussel beds. The middle of the lake is a combination of the southern and northern areas; there are grass beds as well as clean river ledges. Some of the biggest creeks are located in this section of the lake. Creeks, like Big Sandy, are often as big as most lakes people get to fish on at home. As you move south the grass becomes more prominent with a mix of milfoil and hydrilla. At its peak, the grass will come all the way to the river ledge and make for some fantastic frog fishing. Once you pass New Johnsonville, you hit the section of the lake that is more riverine with creeks feeding into it with a lot of sloughs and shallow backwater areas.

Kentucky Lake is known as a ledge fishing lake during the summer; it is the predominant pattern on the lake and most times that is synonymous with a deep crankbait, heavy jig or worm. Alternatively, during the same time of year you can throw a buzzbait and catch topwater bass all day or swim jigs around docks to land a lunker largemouth bass. If you like to finesse fish, luckily, a dropshot and shakey head will also get them to bite. What determines your techniques will be the time of year, where you are located, and what you like to cast.

Mark Adams with a Kentucky Lake catch

A great fishery is distinguished by the relative ease with which a newcomer can catch fish. Kentucky Lake, renowned for crappie, shell crackers, bluegill, and the thriving bass population, produces for the novice to the most experienced fisherman. In the fall, our local Tennessee lakes experience water fluctuations and turnover that can make the bite iffy, yet Kentucky Lake still produces even in these times of transition. I have fished all over the country at lakes like Guntersville in Alabama, Toho in Florida and Lake Champlain in New York, and by no means are they equal to Kentucky Lake in its ability to fit into your strengths as a fisherman. I choose to fish here whenever I have some free time because of its vast potential and its willingness to let me fish the way I want to and be successful. I hope you take a trip to Kentucky Lake and see for yourself the resource and fishery it is as well as enjoy the people and hospitality that the communities deliver.

Adams Guide Service is Nashville’s Premier Fishing Service for Old Hickory, Percy Priest, Center Hill, Kentucky Lake, and other Middle Tennessee Waters. Come reserve your day by visiting www.adamsguidesvc.com, email at mark@adamsguidesvc.com, or call (615)829-3902.

Tiny Tuna at the Hooter off of Martha’s Vineyard

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

By Capt. Casey Allen

Joel Swan with a stunning bonito.

Joel Swan with a stunning bonito.

It was late August and I still remember the phone call like it was yesterday. My pal Capt. Corey Pietraszek called me up with an invite to fish the following day. Corey runs Plug n’ Play Charter Group, and since both of us are usually very busy and rarely have free time to get out on the water together I readily accepted the offer, especially since the plan was to target the bonito that had been giving his charter customers their money’s worth in the preceding few days. The bonito were appearing off the east and south of Martha’s Vineyard, especially from East Chop south to Cape Poge, and rumors of false albacore were now beginning to trickle in as well.

In case you’re unfamiliar, bonito and false albacore are, pound for pound, some of the strongest and hardest fighting fish the Atlantic has to offer, so light-tackle and fly fishing enthusiasts in the northeast eagerly await their arrival each season. The tenacity of either species is rivaled only by their beauty, certainly making them a fine example of nature’s work. Capable of reel-ruining speeds and possessing the visual acuity of a hawk, bonito and false albacore are known to be a challenge, but as the line melts off of your screeching reel you’ll understand why so many anglers are willing to risk their sanity for a shot at these creatures.

My first false albacore of the season. What a fish!

My first false albacore of the season. What a fish!

I awoke in the morning with as much gusto as a kid on Christmas, aside from the fact that I could barely sleep the night before. I pulled into the lot at Leisure Shores Marina in Mattapoisett, MA to find Corey and his good friend Joel unloading their tackle from the car. After exchanging hushed yet excited “good mornings,” we proceeded to get all our gear on board and cast off. The sky began to blush on the horizon as we made our course for the east of Martha’s Vineyard, and it was clear this was going to be a beautiful day to be on the water. Corey informed me that we were headed for a location south of the Vineyard and due east of Nantucket known as The Hooter, named for the hooting navigational buoy that marks its location. A veritable fish magnet, the hooter marks a shoal that abruptly ascends from over 100 to less than 20 feet of water, where the bonito, albies and even bluefin tuna feed all along its edge.

Capt. Corey landed this bruiser after a serious tug of war.

Capt. Corey landed this bruiser after a serious tug of war.

We arrived at our destination shortly after sunrise. To our delight, the wind had diminished to light and variable and there was only one other vessel out there. For the moment we nearly had the place to ourselves. Since there were no apparent signs of surface activity, we began to drift and blind cast into the rip. I don’t think I even had my line in the water before Joel hooked into a fish. The thing had a foul disposition and dumped nearly 100 yards of line before the line parted at the backing knot. Each of us stood for a moment in bewilderment at what may have had the ability to pull such a maneuver. We may have found out on my next cast as a 15-pound bluefin completely cleared the water as it attempted to annihilate my Rebel “Jumpin’ Minnow”. I missed the fish and my heart nearly exploded, but immediately after I hooked a bonito and the fight was on! We had no other bluefin encounters that day but the bonito put on the ultimate show, leaving little else to be desired. Although my arms were like noodles, listening to the whine of my reel as a fish would rip off 50 yards of line was something I could never tire of. This was turning out to be the best day of saltwater fishing I had ever experienced, and that’s saying a lot.

The chatter on the VHF radio indicated that a few lucky anglers had managed to tie into false albacore, but we had yet to land one. We began to question the validity of these claims, but on the last drift of the day we got what we wanted. I cast out my yellow/red head Tattoo “Sea Pup” and cranked it in feverishly when suddenly it disappeared in an explosion of white water. The initial run clearly indicated I had a fish of considerable strength on the end of my line, and not wanting to lose it I gingerly battled the beast to the surface. In the gin clear water I could see the fish’s turquoise back and distinguishable mackerel-like striping and shouted to Corey that it was a false albacore. Finally! The fish must also have seen me because it bolted off once again, taking another 20 or 30 yards of line with it. We were holding our breaths as the fish neared the side of the boat, but Corey got his hand on the tail and hauled it aboard. That chrome beauty made an already epic day even more unforgettable.

Casey Headshot

Corey, Joel and I were exhausted and the time arrived to head back to the marina. With a shared attitude of absolute satisfaction, we rambled to one another about what an unbelievable day of fishing we had. It was an idyllic summer afternoon and the ride back along the shores and bluffs of Martha’s Vineyard provided the perfect backdrop as we recounted the events of the perfect day.

Kayaking Adventure in the Chandeleur Islands

Friday, October 19th, 2012

By John Williams

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The deep rumble of the engines aboard the Double Trouble made me realize that one of my long-time kayak fishing dreams was finally coming true. We were headed out for two days of kayak fishing at the Chandeleur Islands. Located 35 miles off the coast of Biloxi, Mississippi, this fast disappearing chain of barrier islands has attained an almost mythical reputation for fantastic fishing. Capt. Troy Fountain’s 65-foot trawler would serve as mother ship for us and for our kayaks as well as being our home away from home. Our group, made up of members of the Lafayette Kayak Fishing Club, cracked open cold beers on the deck and watched the sun go down as Capt. Troy navigated out to the islands.

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The next morning dawned to rain pelting the top of the boat. We could smell breakfast and hot coffee brewing up in the galley. While on weather delay, we spent some time with Capt. Troy looking for advice on how to fish the area.

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“We have a wind out of the south, so I would head up close to the island, then drift back downwind towards the Double Trouble,” he said. “You’re likely to find Specs, Spanish mackerel and possibly some reds on any of these drifts. Most fish plastics or topwaters. Just vary up your presentation and color until you find what they like.”

After a two-hour delay to let a squall pass, we were launched and ready to fish.

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The rough weather had made the water fairly dirty, so after a couple of unsuccessful drifts, I decided to head up close to the island to see if I could find any redfish. Approaching the island, I saw several inlets that created a marsh. Soon I was working the grass lines with a ¼-ounce jighead and a black and chartreuse cocahoe. After half an hour and no bites, it was time to change tactics.
I had noticed that the bottom was firm and sandy even though I was inside the marsh. I climbed out of the kayak and into the water to wade fish. It felt very different to be wade fishing a marsh area. This allowed me to fish slowly up the grass line. When I came across a point located near a trenasse, it wasn’t long before my first Chandeleur redfish was tearing line off my reel. The fish seemed to be focused on the points and I was able to catch several more reds in this inlet. With threatening skies and a stomach that was grumbling, it was time to head back to the Double Trouble for some lunch.

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Several members of our group were on board, swapping fish stories as they downed huge sandwiches in the galley of the boat. After lunch, I decided to try drifting the grass beds again throwing some top waters—hoping to catch some of the specs that the Chandeleurs are famous for. I tied on a big Chug-N-Spook since the wind had picked up pushing the chop to about 1 foot. My mind wandered as I drifted—working the big topwater across the swells. I made a long cast to the south and after a few zigzags, my lure was hit harder than anything I’ve ever caught on a topwater. A huge explosion followed by my rod being jerked parallel to the water and line tearing off the reel so fast I thought I was going to see smoke soon. This had to be either the biggest trout I’ve ever caught or a bull red. It turned out to be neither. What I was connected to was a big jack crevalle.

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Over the next 45 minutes, the jack proceeded to give me a sleigh ride all over the grass flats. Each time it would tire, the fish would swim on its side near the boat for a few minutes and then take off again. A deck hand had noticed my dilemma about how to handle the big fish and came out to help in a skiff. As soon as he arrived, the jack wrapped the line around my rudder and broke it off. I had always wanted to catch a jack crevalle. Now I believe that I’m cured of this desire. My only wish is that I could have gotten a grip-n-grin picture with the fish before I released him.

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After another great night of food and drink on the mother ship, it was back to fishing the next morning. I headed southwest—out to a large cove I had spotted the previous day. The wide shallow flat leading back into the island was packed with gulls. The birds turned out to be nesting in the area. Their raucous voices filled the air in a way that was inspiring and humbling at the same time. I fished my way up the flat without success. The show that the birds were putting on more than made up for the lack of fishing action. As the squalls began to move back in from the south, it was time to fish a little closer to the Double Trouble.

As I drifted past the boat, I kept an eye out for bait and for moving water. A quarter mile downwind of the boat, I noticed a current line and started working this with a Marsh Works Killa Squilla shrimp. Before long, BANG, fish on! It wasn’t huge, but when I got it to the boat it turned out to be my first Spanish mackerel. I dropped anchor and continued to fish the current line. The next fish was a nice 19-inch spec—my first of the trip. Over the next hour, I caught 10 more trout between 15 to 20 inches. The squall line got closer and the rain started to fall in buckets. Since the fish were biting, I just stayed put until the fish quit biting.

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When I got back, the rest of the group had already arrived at the boat. The day was almost over as was our trip. Capt. Troy decided that we had better get back to port with the weather degrading by the hour and a four-hour boat ride ahead of us. In dry clothes and warm inside the cabin of the Double Trouble, I thought back about my adventure. Even though we had very marginal weather, the fishing was amazing. The remoteness of the area, variety of species to catch and the adventure of living aboard the mother ship with nothing to do but eat, sleep and kayak fish was something I will most definitely do again.

Hooking Blue Marlin in the Gulf off Venice Louisiana

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Ben's swim, after his first blue marlin!

Ben’s swim, after his first blue marlin!


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If you are saltwater fishing in blue water and live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast there’s two choices. Either you ride or drive to the blue water. Obviously, if the vessel is a sport fisher the choice has been made in advance, but if your boat can be trailered, well then I believe the term is road trip. In most cases, either way, the trip is going to cost about three hours of drive/ride time. So when Capt. Mark Smith of Subdude Charters invited me to be the sixth member of the motley crew, the instructions were to pack light and to be at exit 53 at 3 a.m. The choice was to trailer the boat down to Venice, LA. Having had completed the trip the other way in a center console I was relieved with the choice of driving.

Danny "Reef Donkey" Peterson, Capt Mark Smith, Wade Wells, Shannon Pyle and Tim Kennedy celebrate a 30+ mahi caught by Tim.

Danny “Reef Donkey” Peterson, Capt Mark Smith, Wade Wells, Shannon Pyle and Tim Kennedy celebrate a 30+ mahi caught by Tim.

Our destination: Venice, LA. The southeastern fishing grounds of Louisiana are a special place. If someone has never used Venice as a jumping off place for either inshore, offshore or bluewater then this is definitely one of the places that should be put on your bucket list. Every species of fish that can be caught in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico can be targeted out of this village. Although, I’ve never been to Venice, Italy I can see why they are similar. There’s really no need to get in a vehicle except when you’re arriving or departing. The rest of the time you can step off the dock and do the most important thing to do while in Venice—fish.

Arriving basically at first light, we launched and started the one-and-a half hour ride to our intended fishing grounds. Heading southwest, our first targets was the Mars-Ursa floating platforms about 35-40 miles south of Port Eads. However, this day we would never reach our destination. The weather and seas couldn’t have been more perfect. By the time we were 20-plus miles out, the water started turning colors and before long we could see that beautiful sight of water so blue it was shaded towards purple.

After a completing the leader and bill grab, Reef Donkey survives a near miss with the very lively blue.

After a completing the leader and bill grab, Reef Donkey survives a near miss with the very lively blue.

Soon, the serenity of the trip was broken by the release of pent up excitement. The feeling of flushing a covey of birds and having to make a decision of which one to take first is probably the best way to describe the atmosphere of spotting a school of tuna striking the surface around a platform. Capt. Mark began the process of positioning the boat based on the current and location of the school. He barked orders setting up the rigs in a fashion suited for the situation and everyone jumped into action. Having made our passes and coming up short the crew commenced to scanning for another target of opportunity: another school, any floating structure or a grass line. Advanced scouting reports had the crew hyper alert for grass lines, however, most reports had the grass lines well south of our location.

CAM Publisher- Ben Bloodworth fighting the fiesty blu marlin with wireman Reef Donkey as acting coach.

CAM Publisher- Ben Bloodworth fighting the fiesty blu marlin with wireman Reef Donkey as acting coach.

Tides, currents and other factors having changed over the two to three days lapse between our trip and the scouting reports, we met the grass havens sooner than expected. No one on board needed any reminder once we hit what looked like acres of grass flats broken only by intermediate spaces of the deep blue-purple hued water that was so clear that the only limitation on visibility was how far down your eyes could capture the light of the sun. Top water action was going off. The flying fish were skying constantly in what seemed to be every direction at once. Chicken dolphin could be seen skirting the grass beds using the cover to dart in and out of the light. This is exactly why we made the trip from Mississippi. We knew that this was our chance to have a really special day. All the ingredients were perfect, we just needed to properly present our bait across the spread, manage the strikes and put our time into trolling the rip. It didn’t take long for our efforts to be rewarded. Strikes from mahi and wahoo made the trip interesting, however, we would soon discover they were just the icing on the cake.

Experiencing a slight calm, doubt began to surface if we were truly in our spot and spending our time wisely. As quickly as these thoughts surfaced they disappeared with the sound of the reels having line burned off like a freight train. We were hooked up and it wasn’t a fish south of 100 pounds. Before the captain was able to disengage and the decks were cleared, there was a second strike. The prevailing thought was that we had one yellowfin tuna and one blue marlin—mainly because the blue breached less than 20 feet from the side of the boat. It was a beautiful blue, breaking the water in atypical fashion with the head high and landing belly first. The picture is still engrained in my mind because as I was leaning down to secure the opposite rig I caught a completely unobstructed view of the marlin. Time seemed to stand still in slow motion, but was quickly snapped back into the moment with the reality of the situation. We were on a 30-foot center console and had two very angry fish hooked up at once.

Tim Kennedy boated this yellowfin as the sunsets on our perfect day.

Tim Kennedy boated this yellowfin as the sunsets on our perfect day.

About 30 minutes into the fight we caught color on both; confirmed—two blues! I was hooked into my first ever blue marlin, which was estimated to be around 250 pounds. What this fish lacked in size it made up for in fight. The fish attempted to spear my wireman, Danny “Reef Donkey” Peterson twice. Initially, when we brought the fish to the boat, the fish skied in the air sending everyone scrambling beneath the t-top for fear that she was joining us in the boat. The other blue was a bit larger, estimated to be in the 450-pound range. She was being fought by Angler Wade Wells. Trust me when I say the dance that ensued was nothing short of spectacular. Do the math—6 guys, two blues and all this on a 30-foot Contender. The saving grace is that we had some knowledgeable guys that were choreographing the experience.

Capt. Mark kept the dance alive by his master boat handling while Wes and I switched positions from bow to stern following the whims of the fish and attempting to keep them out each other’s lines. In the end we had an official catch on the smaller blue and a “would be” catch on the larger blue. Shannon shot some amazing photos. The photo of the marlin dancing on the water with Reef Donkey holding the leader was shot as Shannon fell backwards. The marlin had just tried to jump in the boat, sending all of us backward and Shannon shooting from his knees (notice the position of the horizon versus the angle of the fish).

To top it all off we returned to the dock with a nice mahi-mahi, a respectable wahoo, several blackfin tuna and a very nice yellowfin tuna. Tim fought the yellowfin for what seemed like eternity. Just as the sun was setting he landed the tuna and we snapped some great photos. All in all the trip was described as epic, without Capt. Mark Smith, Danny “Reef Donkey” Peterson, Wade Wells, Shannon Pyle and Tim Kennedy this experience wouldn’t have been possible. I would like to publicly thank the five guys that helped me cross one more thing off my bucket list!

Trout Fishing South Island New Zealand

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

South Island New Zealand: A Must for the Well-Traveled Trout Fisherman

By Dave Lambroughton

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I will fly to New Zealand in early November and return home in April. After following this routine for the past 33 years, I will still come back totally amazed that such a place even exists. For the well-traveled trout fishermen who love clear, clean water, beautiful environments, and large wild fish, New Zealand tops the list of the greatest places to go.

Besides, it’s the kind of freshwater fishing we most like to do; light, four to six weight rods and floating lines, casting dries and small nymphs to sighted fish. It’s also the kind of fishing that rewards anglers who have learned to wear drab colored clothing and use olive fly lines, with the first 10 or 12 feet dyed dark brown, quietly fishing their way upstream, making good accurate casts. There’s a reason herons are grey and quiet. Another big reason to always fish upstream, besides being less visible, is not to scent the water. The trout are very sensitive to our smell, especially with our wet wading (about 90% of the time) on days that can often include lots of walking, as well.

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So if you have not been to New Zealand before, I can see how planning a trip could be a bit daunting, with over five hundred trout rivers that flow through a five month long season. My advice would be to focus on the South Island. The North Island has some wonderful rivers and lakes, and I spend about 25% of the season there, but for great variety, wide open spaces, and wonderful river valleys that disappear into snowcapped peaks, the South Island is hard to match.

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As for your seasonal timing, you have two choices really. The early season (early November to Christmas) is hard not to love. There could be some rainy days in the mix, but the well-rested fish will never bite better, and this is my favorite time of the year for photography. My annual Fly Fishing Dreams calendar, available now, is usually loaded with these shots. The second half of the season are the warmer summer months of January, February, and March, as the water gets lower and the fish get smarter, but these are the most popular months for anglers from North America to shorten their winters with.

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But regardless of when you arrive, it would be wise to hire a good guide for a day or two to speed up the learning curve considerably, and the two that would top my list would be Nigel Birt (mail@backcountry.co.nz), and Lawton Weber (lawtonweber@gmail.com). Nigel guides in the central South Island and Lawton works all the great water surrounding TeAnau, on the way to Milford Sound.

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No Photoshop Required. New Zealand really is THAT beautiful

Great Fishing at the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

By Capt. Troy Pate

PHOTO: CAPT. TROY PATE

PHOTO: CAPT. TROY PATE

If I had the means, I would charter a boat and enter all categories to fish The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament here in Morehead City, NC. The week begins with the huge welcome party and captains meeting on Saturday evening. Good food and free drinks are plentiful. All the crews are excitedly discussing the approaching week of fishing. Go upstairs and listen in on the Captains meeting and then spend the rest of the evening enjoying the band and party. Sunday is the final step of preparations for the boat and tackle checking knots and crimps, sharpening hooks, rigging pitch baits, verifying leader lengths and setting drags on the 80 and 130 class tackle. Take a final look at the weather and make a decision on which way to head out in the morning, then turn in and try to sleep despite the high anticipation of the morning. Monday morning finally arrives and you board the boat to begin the weeks fishing.

You fish four out of six days and most every day begins the same. Fishing tournament boats enter the channel and push the throttles up to head out the inlet, their cockpits and bridge rails all bristling with that huge tackle everybody loves to see. The captain points her towards your starting destination and you sit back to anxiously await the call for lines in. During the ride the VHF gets tuned to the tournament channel to listen to Capt. Omie Tillet give the daily prayer, which is a special treat to those that appreciate the history of our sport and boats. You finally reach the spot and get set up, then at 9 a.m. it all gets quickly placed into the water and the fishing begins.

PHOTO: CAPT. TROY PATE

PHOTO: CAPT. TROY PATE

The fishing is completely different for every boat out there. Someone will almost always hook up early and get a quick white marlin or sail to claim the daily first fish prize. There will be some game fish caught and also some blue marlin hooked up, and all too often lost. Early or late, first day or last day, eventually it will be your turn. Just as you begin to wonder what you are doing wrong, are you in the wrong place or pulling the wrong baits—BAM— “There she is, big blue marlin!” Everybody is yelling and frantically clearing teasers and rods, your heart races as you get yourself into the chair and hook that big reel into the harness—all the while the line is peeling off at an incredible rate! You finally get the fish stopped, the boat starts backing down, water is coming into the pit and you start gaining line… And this is where I stop and you have to write your own ending. Blue marlin fishing is nuts—fish jump off, pull off for no reason, come to the boat, but are too small, or you could manage to land a huge fish to weigh in and win it all. Win lose or draw it is an awesome four days of fishing.

PHOTO: CAPT. TROY PATE

PHOTO: CAPT. TROY PATE

The Big Rock tournament here on the Crystal Coast, Morehead City NC, is a great event and a lifelong memory maker—regardless of where you finish. The stories of the one that got away are often more memorable than the ones you kill or release. This has been added to my bucket list, you may want to consider it too.

Already crossed Morehead City off your fishing bucketlist? Check out this month’s additional featured locations: St Marks, Banana River, and Arrowhead Lake!

Capt Troy Pate is the operator of the James Joyce II, a 51-foot Custom Carolina from the Morehead City NC Waterfront. He has been at the helm for several years fishing the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament for the owners of the boat and captained a win for the Kelly Wagner Lady Angler tournament. He can be reached at www.moreheadcitycharter.com.

Stalking a Fish Called Walter on Arrowhead Lake

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

By Wayne Hooper

Wayne Hooper hoists a bass from Arrowhead Lake in Maine.

There is a big bass known as “Walter” in Arrowhead Lake in Southern Maine and only Clyde and I know where he hides. Much to my dismay, I had to call Clyde to join me when my fishing partner for a tournament there cancelled on me at the last minute.

As we reached the lake, the sun was just starting to shine through the trees and it was beginning to warm up. At the mandatory tournament meeting we listened as the rules of the day were read and then we drew for starting positions. I eased the boat off of the beach, started the engine and proceeded to move through the channel markers and out into the deeper water. As our boat number was called, I pushed the throttle forward and the boat jumped up on plane and we headed to where Walter made his home. When we neared his home area, I shut off the boat and flipped the trolling motor over the side. I set the speed on slow and crept to a distance that would enable us to cast to his hiding spot without him seeing us first.

The shade that was covering the other edge of the bank was starting to disappear as the sun rose and I could see his big, dark stump lying close to shore. I nosed the boat so I could get the first cast without Clyde thrashing the water. My jig/pig hit the side of the stump and I got hooked on it. After a few expletives, I told Clyde to cast his lure to the stump. Clyde’s lure hit the water like a ton of bricks, as he didn’t release his thumb from the spool quick enough. When the splash occurred the stump moved!

For what seemed like ten minutes, I jerked on my pole moving back and forth trying to get it dislodged from the stump. I was able to see my lure but it wouldn’t budge. I gave it one, last, desperate giant tug. My lure jumped off of the stump and immediately came to life.

“Oh baby, it’s Walter!”

He was running for deep water and I couldn’t turn him. He was as strong a fish as I have ever had on the end of my line. The only thing I could do was to hang on and wait for him to tire. He jumped and thrashed his head in a desperate attempt to throw the metal that was in his mouth but the hook was strong and it didn’t give. Walter was running back and forth as I kept reeling, trying to turn him towards the boat but he just kept taking me on a trip around the boat as he tried to dive under it for safety. He leaped again and made a tremendous splash but I held tight. Walter was in a panic mode but tiring fast. His quick jumps, dives and power tugs had worn him out and he slowly gave up and I reeled him closer to the boat.

As he neared the boat and saw Clyde’s face he took off once again in a powerful dive in one last attempt at freedom. I held on and survived another power surge. I brought him back to the boat and Clyde finally got into the act as he got the net and scooped the fish into it and lifted the net into the boat.

I sat there looking at this beautiful fish and realized that it had to weigh all of nine pounds and would likely be the lunker of the day. Every five minutes Clyde was back into the livewell looking at the fish and making cooing sounds to it. I finally told him to start fishing, as one fish would not win this tournament. He got back into fishing and we caught our ten-fish limit by noon. The remainder of the day we caught and culled another limit and with a half hour to go we fired the big Johnson outboard and proceeded to return to the tournament weigh-in location.

When our number was called, Clyde got a weigh-in bag and began to unload the back livewell while I retrieved the fish that were in the front livewell. I heard a groan from the back of the boat and turned to see Walter swimming off with four other fish.

“What did you do?” I asked Clyde.

“Nothing,” he said. “I just put them in the bag.”

I grabbed the bag and there was a big hole right in the bottom.

“Didn’t you check the bag?” I screamed.

“No, I never thought there would be a hole in it,” he said.

Do you know what this means?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said as he jumped off the boat into the water.

The guys in the boat next to us were holding their sides and laughing so hard I thought they would cry. I wanted to cry but not so much for losing Walter for the second time but for being stupid enough to take Clyde fishing again.

Monster Redfish In Brevard’s Banana River

Thursday, September 27th, 2012
monster redfish

A true NMZ beast at over 45 inches should be to on the Bucket List of any adventurer.  Alex(dad) taking that notch here.

The concept of a bucket list is a grand idea even at a young age. With just a bit of self-reflection and a piece of paper, some of your most amazing Imaginings can start to take shape. Just the thought of all those far off lands send my brain swimming with silvery tarpon, majestic leaping sailfish, grand marlin within sight of land, or even monster redfish in the shadows of America’s space program. You see, I have a unique birthplace, which I share with a part of our nation’s history. Cape Canaveral doesn’t just come into focus in those cool looking-back-at earth pictures from launched rockets. It also comes into focus in many publications, T.V. shows, and bar stool hero stories of monster redfish. “It was the size of my boat,” they’ll say. That very well may be true in my hometown.

Many years ago NASA started collecting land in a sparsely populated and mosquito infested marshland now known as Cape Canaveral/Merritt Island. The subsequent secure areas that closed large sections of the North Banana River had an unintended consequence. In the closing of these areas our local schools of redfish were able to flourish with little to no human pressure, and the lack of development created optimum breeding grounds. A little known Space Coast fact: lagoons and rivers around here play host to special redfish that spawn inshore, and that is not commonly found in their range. Those who have seen the reds that lurk these waters year round affectionately call this amazing closed area Jurassic Park.

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In the early days boats and anglers were able to ply the waters in search of fish, stopping only at the Banana River’s secure area boundary (NASA Cswy/405). But an early 90s call for manatee protection and increased security gave birth to an extension of limited access water called the Banana River No-Motor-Zone (NMZ). Access to this manatee area was limited only by one’s ability to paddle, push, or sail. The pristine waters that lined NASA’s secure zone were now free of motors and boy did the fish respond. Many types of common and not so common vessels have been poled (pushed), paddled, and sailed into the farthest reaches of the NMZ. You may see a paddleboat with so many rods it appears to be a floating porcupine, or come across four big guys in one little johnboat, and the obvious combo package of a canoe with a sail has certainly been spotted.


I cut my teeth in the NMZ with my trusty canoe. My father would drop my fishing buddies and me at KARS Park on his way to work. He worked on the Space programs my entire life, not to mention everyone else in my family— including me—we accounted for about 200 years of combined service. So this gave us access to KARS Park, the NMZ front park which only NASA employees could use. KARS, as it’s commonly called, not only has camping and a marina, it also serves as the best NMZ launch on its western shore with monster redfish caught frequently right off the camp site docks. These playful fishing missions that lasted for hours with my fish minded school friends was only the beginning of my lifelong love for the NMZ’s huge resident redfish.

Beautiful scenes that frequently get interrupted by giant redfish.

Beautiful scenes that frequently get interrupted by giant redfish.

Several years back I retired that trusty old canoe. These days my fleet of fully rigged fishing kayaks get us around the NMZ with a bit more efficiency and style. But my launch spot has remained that same old KARS Park. The stunning backdrop of tree lined shores and towering launch pads have witnessed broom sized redfish tails appearing from the mist of a foggy central Florida mornings for many a year. And countless times I can recall the heart-stopping crush of a three foot redfish eating a topwater plug on a still, predawn morning with the flash of Cape Canaveral’s famous lighthouse not yet drowned out by a stunning burst of sunrise color. Or the huge American flag and NASA logo on the side of the massive VAB building adorning the horizon while being towed off by a redfish the size of your leg that ate a mullet chunk the size of you fist. With just a bit of research you could paint yourself into one of these scenes, and KARS helped you in achieving this attainable goal by starting to allow anyone to launch in the NMZ for a $5 boat fee. So come enjoy a trip with a Florida fishing guide, or set out on your own, but this unique Florida destination should top your bucket list.

Low-Tide Redfish Ambush at St. Marks Refuge

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

By Gary Droze
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If there’s angling in Heaven, do you catch a stout fish on every cast there? I propose the answer is no, based on a recent fishing expedition on the Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Florida’s Big Bend. Here’s my hypothesis: much of the excitement in angling derives from some element of uncertainty. If every single cast produced a fish without fail, tedium would eventually set in. And Heaven can’t be tedious, right?

I constructed this hypothesis some 45 minutes into a session on one of the ridiculously productive tidal creeks that perfuse the saltwater marsh in the St Marks Refuge. My fourteenth lobbing cast into a sandbar drop-off had instantly yielded a strike from—you guessed it—Redfish Number Fourteen. Like the baker’s dozen of reds that preceded it, this fellow was an ornery copper muscle with fins, right at two feet long. Finally, I had a confirmed response, in case anyone should ever ask “how many upper slot redfish could you catch in a row before getting just a wee bit bored?” Thirteen.

Supposing you’d like to find your own Redfish Boredom Limit (RBL), I highly encourage an outing on the tidal creeks of Apalachee Bay, which includes over 30 miles of St. Marks Refuge coastline, bookended by the Aucilla River to the east and the rustic fishing village of Panacea to the west. In this area, successful creek redfish anglers employ a variety of baits and lures, but their overall game plans typically fit into just two categories: rising tide pursuit or low tide ambush. The majority goes for a high tide approach, as a matter of practicality. Like most finny inshore predators, Apalachee Bay redfish move with the lifting tide. The rising water grants them access to forage like fiddler and blue crabs, as well as pinfish and banded killifish (although inquiring about banded killifish at local bait shops will earn you a quizzical look; ask instead for bull or tiger minnows—same thing). The other practical aspect of fishing high tide involves angler access. The mouths of these creeks are generally so shallow as to prohibit entrance for most boaters—even some kayakers—at low tides near full or new moon phases. Factor in the hull-damaging potential of oyster bars and rock-strewn bottom, and it’s easy to understand why even the veteran boaters here check the tide charts for fat water before cruising to the creeks. Boosting the economy through spending locally is admirable, but wouldn’t you prefer to apply that disposable income towards tackle, bait or ice, rather than by replacing a cracked lower unit?

A small, devoted cadre of St. Marks Refuge wade fishing anglers has developed an altogether different system for hanging redfish. These ground pounders exploit the very same low tides the boaters studiously avoid. Through seasons of trial and error, they’ve discovered that a number of tidal creeks feeding Apalachee Bay will hold reds (as well as spotted seatrout, sheepshead, and southern flounder) on sharply dropping, and even blown-out tides. The heavenly school of 24-inch reds I described earlier was holding a convention in one such creek. Many of these salty streams are too small to merit names, but the fish don’t seem to care. If you can 1) get to the creeks and 2) make an appropriate presentation, you are likely to come away with stories of world-class fishing. Now, let’s address those two “Ifs:”

Getting to the Creeks
This will be a deal-breaker for couch potatoes. The choice low tide sites all require is some mix of slogging through mud and across sand flats. Make no mistake: you will sweat. However, anyone fit enough for a roundtrip hour or so of soggy hiking (while toting a backpack for gear) will be amply rewarded, in terms of frequent rod bending. Arguably the best tidal creeks for Big Bend foot bound fishing are those reached from the levee trail system off Lighthouse Road, which runs south from the St. Marks Refuge Visitor Center. Check www.fws.gov/saintmarks/ or call (850) 925-6121 for more information. The Visitor Center also passes out free maps which clearly show hiking routes to these creeks, all of which drain into the flats surrounding the landmark lighthouse.

Making an Appropriate Presentation
Simplicity and stealth are the rules here, mostly because you’ll be fishing in tight quarters. The only Big Bend seatrout I’ve caught over seven pounds came out of a Refuge creek that was narrower than a basketball court. Audacious popping cork rigs are unnecessary in these waters. Better to creep up, maintain a low profile, and flick a light swimming jig or freelined finger mullet crosscurrent into a gently draining creek bend. And hold on. For more up-to-the-minute reports on inshore tidal conditions, visit www.bigbendfishing.net

Finally, note that the redfish limit hereabouts is two per person, but the Redfish Boredom Limit varies by individual. I can’t think of a better place to measure your RBL!

Check out this killer kayak fishing footage shot at St Marks from a GoPRO!