Friends came down from Miami yesterday and we went out yellowtailing at the reef. That's fishing talk for we went out to the reef to try to catch yellowtail snapper. A couple of us had fished before. A couple hadn't. An excellent charter captain took us out on his 28 foot boat on a weather-perfect day. Depending on depth, the ocean colors varied from sparkling London Blue topaz to deep sapphire. A light breeze kept us cool under the glowing sun.
On the surface, fishing is pretty basic. You bait a hook, drop it in the water, and hope a desirable fish takes the bait so you can reel it in. Humans are the big brains in this situation so we ought to be able to figure it all out and fish the limit no sweat.
What happens is often vastly different from what ought to be. Even though I've yellowtailed before, if I'd rented a boat and taken out my friends, we could have soaked bait and lines for hours and never caught a fish. Even an experienced fishing captain is no guarantee. Fish might not have humongous brains, but they don't exactly line up to jump on your hook just because you choose to show up in their territory on any given day.
The captain had all of the tools. A good boat, his experience, his knowledge of the habits and habitats of this particular type of snapper, his fish finder, etc. He found a likely spot, anchored us up and put out a chum line. He instructed us on the technique of fishing with the bales open on our reels, constantly letting out line so our shiny bait drifted out like any other bit of chum. We'd know we'd hooked a fish if the line began to zip off the reel, at which point we were to close the bale and start winding it in -- quickly.
So. We went to work. We waited. And fished. And waited. And fished.
There's a question you'll hear around here from time to time. Did you fish or did you catch?
At that first spot, we fished a lot but caught very little. The one keeper sized yellowtail that one of us eventually hooked, we almost lost. A hungry barracuda can swim faster than a human can reel in line. The water was so clear, we saw the predator snap at the fish! Luckily, he only got the tail before my friend brought the remainder of the fish on board.
For whatever reason, the fish did not cooperate. With so few strikes, after awhile, the captain decided to move us to another spot. He found a promising one that the fish finder indicated was loaded with fish. We chummed again, put out a couple of lines and waited. Before long, one of our lines took off. Gus flipped the bale but, in his excitement, started winding in the wrong direction. Another lesson -- It's difficult to reel in a fish when you're really letting out more line.
Zip! Zap! The fish began to hit, and the anglers discovered new ways to screw up. Some of us are accustomed to setting the hook. The captain told us that ripped the bait out of their mouths. I apparently didn't lift my rod fast enough or high enough, but let it point to the fish's head for too long and he escaped into the reef rocks.
Vicky was taking a turn, when a monster fish hit her hook. She squealed like a, yes I'll say it, like a girl and said it was too strong, so I grabbed the rod from her and reeled in like crazy. The captain gave me incredible coaching -- fight it with the rod, now reel. Lift the rod, get him headed in your direction. Keep winding!
This was both fishing AND catching. I've boated a fair number of yellowtail in my life, but never fought one like this. I also felt just how much more strengthening I need to do with my left wrist. The surgery in April left me with some residual weakness. Let's just say I'm glad that I managed to get the fish to the surface before my wrist gave up. I would never have survived the humiliation!
The fish looked to be about 25 inches long and weighed nearly 5 pounds. Considering the average is 1-3 pounds and the Florida record is 8, it was definitely big.
The biggest fish of the trip also set off the biggest debate. Vicky claimed responsibility but I maintained that I caught it since I did the hard work. She says that if she hadn't hooked it, I'd have had nothing to catch. We finally decided in favor of teamwork and are now sharing the claim.
We could actually see the fish flashing beneath the clear water off of our stern. For a good chunk of time, we continued to catch fish. Some were keepers; others didn't make the size limit. We continued to lose fish through the occasional boneheaded error in technique. (Captain Chris, must have mentally been tearing out his hair.) We also saw other interesting things -- like large remora swimming up to attack the chum and a gigantic leatherback turtle swimming several yards off of our portside bow.
All of a sudden, Gus's line took a big hit. He flipped the bale and, this time, started reeling in the right direction but to no avail. Line screamed off of the reel and there was nothing he could do. Captain Chris exclaimed that a shark must have grabbed the yellowtail. He took the rod from Gus and tried to help. All of sudden, we saw a dorsal fin surface. That was no shark that had robbed Gus of a big fish. It was a dolphin!
"There goes our yellowtail fishing," the captain announced. "Once dolphins show up, it's pretty much over." He and I then talked about how opportunistic and smart dolphins are when they happen upon some active fishing. We'd gathered up the yellowtail for them by chumming them up close to the surface. When we caught one on a hook, the fish then became more focused on trying to escape us than on fleeing the dolphin.
Now, I know this must be super annoying if it happens early in your day when you're just starting to catch the big ones, but we were near the end of our trip and had caught enough for a good dinner and then some. It's hard to be upset when yu've enjoyed yourselves and then also got to see dolphins!
The Joy of Fishing probably means different things to different people. For me, I love to catch, certainly, but there is a great deal of pleasure for me in just being out on a boat on the water with good friends enjoying the adventure and whatever it brings our way.
I also view it as a great life lesson. You can prepare to the max, bring your best weapons and strategy to the battle, and success can still turn on what the opponent does, or doesn't do.
You win some; you lose some.
Some days you catch; some days you fish. Any day you can have a great time!
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