Everything is ready. The boat is sitting at the dock ready for boarding. This is no ordinary vessel. This group is going “old school,” Florida style, on an air boat. The boat is 16 feet long with a 500 Cadillac engine. The propeller is a 74-inch Sensenich made of Kevlar and carbon fiber–it is a sight to behold. At a distance, she seems to glow with her massive halogen lights pointing downward into the water. These lights, so illuminating, will prove invaluable in the experience that awaits.
The adventurous crew begins to board. The first two climb to the top seating and the third into the lower seating nearest the bow. The owner/operator climbs into the position of responsibility–nestled in the middle. He will be maneuvering the boat through the darkness of the night. All but one member of this “night stalking” team are experienced in their upcoming endeavor.
As the boat leaves the dock into the night, the sound from the giant “fan” is much quieter than one would expect. They move slowly–no need to hurry. The tide is outgoing, and they know just when they need to get to their destination. The crew consists of a husband and wife team (the owners of the boat) one of their friends (the newbie) and a young captain that has made this trip many times.
The vessel decreases in speed as they have reached their “hunting grounds.” The visual is eerie, with the lights reflecting off of the water into mangroves, it is something very few have ever seen. The waxing moon in the night’s sky will assist these hunters in navigating the waters. Two of the experienced members move to the bow of the boat. They reach down and grab what looks like handmade “Poseidon Tridents” with 10-foot-long poles. They lean over the bow and peer through the luminous, green water with their weaponry at the ready. This is fish gigging!
The right conditions for successful gigging are imperative. Water clarity is a huge factor to find the mullet, black drum, sheepshead and flounder that will be their reward for this hard work. Mangroves and oyster beds are great locations to find this elusive prey. The first gig is lunged into the water–a fish, first throw. The pole of the gig is wiggling as the fish attempts to escape, then it is swept backwards into the boat. The first fish of the night is a beautiful black drum. The trick to gigging is to predict where the fish is going to go.
Potholes, tree limbs and oyster beds are a few of the structures in which the fish hide. As the hunting proceeds, some fish are gigged while they are stationary and some while on the move. The giggers must know their fish and identify them to ensure a legal fish gig (size and species). As the two in the front continue to gig, they decide to switch and let the “newbie” give it her best shot. Throw after throw, she just misses. This is tougher than she thought, but she finally gets her first gigged fish. Once again, the crew switches positions so that everyone has an opportunity to bring home some “meat,” and they all do.
The cooler is filling up nicely and the weather is turning for the worse. The cloud covered sky lets loose–it is time to head home. The engine sounds like a jet turbine as the vessel moves swiftly through the water. The rain is pelting the already weary crew, but this has been a successful mission and nothing can dissuade the happy mood. They pull up to the dock and unload in the deluge. As soon as they are under cover, they all look into the cooler to see the spoils of the trip. Beautiful black drum, sheepshead and mullet are their bounty for the evening. The trip has been a complete success. Nothing but legal fish gigged all evening and the crew only takes home what they need, they are well under their limit.
As far as adventures go, gigging fish from an air boat is really something special. To be out on the water at night, hunting elusive prey, is an experience of a lifetime. These are “old school” Florida outdoor individuals–these are the “Night Stalkers!”
A special thanks to: Mike & Michelle Bick (owners of the boat), Captain Joseph Brandenburg (Capt. Joseph Charters), and Janet Jordan