December 23, 2015

2015 Florida Christmas (Day 5)

We got up to an early start hoping to get out to the patch reefs just as the sun rose. The swell dropped a bit to about 4' and the wind settled at a constant 15kt. George decided to fish at Channel 5 instead so there were only 4 of us on the boat today.

We motored through the lumpy sea and was doing quite well. However, we took one bad wave on the way out that bounced the anchor off the anchor mount. I saw the anchor dropped in and the chain quickly disappeared off the bow. I sprang to my feet and signaled Elijah to stop. Diving forward, I grabbed the rope just before the last couple of links of the chain fell over. With the anchor bouncing close to the side of the boat, I had to get it up before it damaged the boat. Every time the boat took a wave, the anchor pulled against my light body weight just a little more. I was afraid of getting yanked off balanced and slipping overboard, so I called for Michael to grab my belt. I simply could not pull the anchor up with only one hand holding the rope while the other hand gripped tightly to the bow rail.

Michael had one hand on the rail and one hand on my belt. I asked Bartek to get a hold of Michael so he can get a better grip of me. Once I'm well secured, I was able to free my other hand to pull the anchor up. I tried to secure the anchor into the mount, only to realize that the mount was bent. I asked Michael to hold the anchor onto the mount while I move back to inform Elijah.

I asked Elijah to point the boat away from the shallows at a slow speed. I grabbed a couple of zip ties and tried to secure the anchor to the mount, but the zip ties were too short. I passed the zip ties back to Bartek and he connected two zip ties together to make a larger tie. After furnishing three zip ties to the mount, the anchor looked secured enough that we were able to get underway again.

I was really glad that everyone worked effectively as a team in a split second. I may have barked out a few orders and I would apologize for the bluntness of my instructions. However, except for getting soaking wet from the waves, everyone was kept safe and the boat was not damaged. I would say that was a job well done!

We finally arrived at the patch reef and the anchor was set. Since Bartek was already a little seasick from our previous ordeal, he was not felling well at all. Being a trooper, he fished regardless of his discomfort. During one of the first few drops, one of Bartek's fish was chopped in half. There was either a Barracuda or a Shark around. I dropped down a chunk of Jack Crevalle but it was completely ignored.

A few usual suspects show up until I landed a small Graysby to keep things interesting.

A while later, Michael was rocked but a fish. Not too long later, I felt a tap on my dropper loop rig. The fish immediately dug for bottom. I knew I had to get the fish up as quickly as possible or risk getting rocked. Despite putting more and more drag onto my Shimano Baitrunner 4500, the fish continued to pull out a bit of line. At the end, I simply cup the spool and pumped the rod. Finally, I felt the fish giving up and the Red Grouper came to the surface.

We debated whether the fish was over the legal 20" minimum length. We had no ruler on the boat and it was flirting too close to the limit, so I decided to release it in the end. It was probably an inch above 20", but I simply didn't want to risk taking a fish too close to the limit. It was the biggest Red Grouper I've caught to date and it made me happy enough.

After an hour of fishing, it appeared we had exhausted all the fish on this patch reef. We contemplated setting up on another patch, but Bartek was beyond terribly sick by this time. For his sake, we decided to head for Florida Bay yet again.

This time, we looked up a couple of wrecks and reefs to fish. Our first spot was already occupied but our second location was available. It was just a patch of seagrass on a slightly higher hump. Once we sent out the chum, we hooked many of the usual suspect yet again.

This Sand Perch was especially colourful.

Our anchor was not holding on the sandy bottom and we were being pulled off the mark. We decided to fish another shallow bank.

Upon arrival, we knew it would be difficult and even dangerous to fish on this bank as it became shallow very quickly. The sandy bottom around the bank was not holding our anchor so we had to abandon it after 30 min.

While we were drifting off the bank, I kept fishing the sabiki and hooked into a Bluerunner, and then a Grass Porgy.

We had to return the boat by 4:30pm and it was now 1pm. We only had a bit of time left to fish. We decided to head back to Vaca Cut and fish the channel. On the way back, we passed an unmarked shallow bank where a boat was already fishing on the upcurrent side. As we passed slowly on the downcurrent side of the bank, Bartek spotted something swam away from the boat. That was all it took for Elijah to stop and set anchor. Within seconds, both Elijah and Bartek were hooked up with small Great Barracuda. Michael got into the same until one fateful cast he hooked into a Cero Mackerel, a lifer that Elijah had highly coveted on this trip. Cero Mackerel usually feed on the patch reef and they were not as common on the grass flats. It was the one and only Cero Mackerel in the area.

Our chum slick attracted a number of Ballyhoo and a few were snagged on the Gotcha. All of a sudden, we saw Ballyhoo scattered just in front of the other boat. They were being chased by a 4-5 foot shark. I had been soaking a chunk of Jack Crevalle for a while without any action, so I switched to a live Ballyhoo. However, the shark did not come around. That was the closest I've come to a shark on this trip.

Soon, it was time to leave. Michael tried desperately to catch a Ballyhoo but he was not successful. On the way back to the marina, we stopped to top up the boat. At the gas station, we dump out a bunch of old bait and attracted a number of fish to the area. Elijah could not resist catching a few of the large Sergeant Major. He also chased some Needlefish for a while, hoping for one of the Atlantic Needlefish, but only a Redfin Needlefish was willing to bite.

Back in the marina, we cleaned the boat, rinsed our gear and loaded up the car. Luckily, we were not charged for the damaged anchor mount.

We had time to fish Channel 5 a bit before we ran out of daylight. Unfortunately, we didn't find any new lifer within the limited time. By 6pm, we were all hungry and tied. After searching for a while, we settled at Smuggler's Cove for a decent meal.

The ahi poke at Smuggler's Cove was fantastic, but the mahimahi ceviche was quite disappointing. During our meal, the dock light at the marina turned on. I commented that Atlantic Lookdown or Atlantic Moonfish may visit these light. As if on schedule, we saw a couple of Atlantic Lookdown zooming in the light an hour later.

We were quite amazed that the Lookdown were swimming upside down along the surface as they feed. I've never seen anything like it before. Elijah quickly went to grab his rod and it took only a few tries before he was taking picture of his lifer Atlantic Lookdown. Bartek had a turn as well and caught his lifer with a bit more trouble.

When Bartek's Lookdown ripped the little grub off the jighead, our game was done. However, there happened to be a strip of green seaweed left on our ceviche plate...just the right size and shape to imitate a plastic strip. Go figure...we were trying to use seaweed to imitate a plastic strip that was intended to imitate something alive and tasty. I carefully hooked the seaweed onto the jig and left a portion of it hanging. With any slight twitch, the seaweed would dance as if it was a kicking minnow.

As a Lookdown approached the light, I tossed the jig beyond the fish and danced the jig just below the surface. The Lookdown quickly turned and aggressively chased the jig. After a few missed hits, the fish finally took the jig well into its mouth, but I missed the hookset as the jig bounced off its bony jaw. We couldn't get another fish to hit the jig again, but it was super cool to fool a fish on a piece of poke seaweed!

We bid farewell to the Keys and arrived at our hotel in Miami 3 hours later. George had arrived much earlier hoping to check in, but the hotel had very strict rule and the reception would not let George check in since the reservation was under my name.

We went to bed shortly since we were all tired. We had an early start planned for the next day.

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