By: Capt. Joel Brandenburg
Happy holidays to all of our Florida Keys fishing friends and family! I’ve just returned from a month-long deer hunting trip. I fish 300 days per year so I can afford to hunt the other 65 days. We started out in Sparta, Georgia and took a nice 8pt buck. Then went to Berring, Missouri and harvested a beautiful 10pt buck and from there I traveled to Osgood, Indiana.
I had an encounter two days in a row with a monster 10pt buck. I was bow hunting and he was just out of range both times to make an ethical bow shot. I felt strongly he would show up in the next few days after those encounters and I would get a better chance at him especially since rifle season had started and I had switched from a bow to a rifle. Even though I had him patterned and played the wind right on each sit in the tree stand he didn’t show up for five days.
On my last evening hunt thanksgiving afternoon, I took my late buddies 14-year-old daughter Jaelynn hunting. She always hunted with her dad, and he passed away in a tragic accident a few years ago and I promised her I would take her hunting. On thanksgiving evening about 15 mins before dark from our two-person ground blind we see a giant buck step out of the woods and onto the edge of a cut corn field at about 250 yards away. I told her to lift my 30-06 rifle slowly and put the cross hairs on the buck. She said, “I can’t shoot that buck from this far away!” I said, “I can” and grabbed the gun, aimed, and pulled the trigger. The buck jumped straight up, hit the ground flat on his back and flopped around like a fish out of water. Legs in the air like a sprayed roach.
I tried to make a second shot and click, third shot and click and forth shot boom and missed the buck as he was crawling back into the bush. For whatever reason two bullets misfired. To make a long story short, we drove up to the spot that I hit the buck and found him. Being the biggest buck I’ve ever shot, along with the pressure I put on myself to be an ethical hunter who makes ethical shots, there was a lot on the line to find this buck. Once I realized this buck had enough strength to jump the tall fence, plus it was getting pitch black dark and I didn’t want to spook a crippled buck further back into the deep woods, we backed out and phoned a friend.
I called my hunting/fishing buddy Jeff Foster who owns a local bait shop in nearby Versailles, Indiana and ask him to bring this special blood light and come to Osgood, Indiana and help us track this buck. Now that’s a great buddy who will leave his family on Thanksgiving night to help a friend in need. We tracked the blood trail another half mile back in the woods and the blood trail ended on the bottom of a riverbed. We walked around in the woods for hours looking for that buck but didn’t find him. I had to fly back to the Keys the next morning.
The next morning, I jumped on my plane and my buddy Jeff joined up with another buddy Todd and the farmer/landowner Dave put together a search party for hours and miles with no luck finding that buck. Last time I felt even close to what I was feeling is when we lost a giant Blue Marlin last year off the coast of Marathon in the Florida Keys. Before I left, I gave Jaelynn my 30-06 Ruger riffle with Vortex scope, hard gun case and ground blind. Even though it was a story of the one that got away that hunt was very sentimental for both Jaelynn and I in honor of her late father and maybe that hunt will help assure that Jaelynn won’t ever be the kid who gets away. Most kids who love to hunt and/or fish stay out of trouble. I hope her dad was looking down smiling at us. Hunting and fishing are unpredictable, with a lot of luck and lack of luck sometimes. There’s no guarantees except our “No Fish No Pay” policy. Captain Joel’s Fishin’ Holes is usually about a fishing adventure and not about hunting.
However, while I was away hunting, my 25-year-old son was chartering most every day, and between him and some other fellow captain colleagues here is what I hear: the yellowtail bite is on fire between 50ft deep and 70ft deep at the reef and the sharks have settled down so you can land most of your gamefish rather than half of your gamefish.
The Mahi bite is good at around 650ft. This time of year, the mahi bite usually slows to a halt, but since they started late this year, I guess they’re ending late too. I also think it’s good because we haven’t been hit with any major cold fronts yet.
Mutton and grouper bite is ok. Tuna bite is ok, and the Marathon Humps have been very unpredictable lately. The bridge and back country action is heating up with quality mangroves and yellow jacks. The wahoo bite has been great during full moons in the early morning and late afternoons around deep wrecks. Best bait for wahoo is live baby bonita. Anglers have been catching billfish, sailfish shallow, swordfish deep.