Friday, June 27, 2008

6/26 - Bent rods, from start to finish.

Had Dale H. aboard today. And I've been really looking forward to having him too. I had BIG plans for Dale. He fishes all the time, and has done several 2 trips per month with me. And we've covered everything from big fat GATOR Trout at the jetties and way up river, and now since it's the depths of summer it was time to take him out for some brute fishing versus the finesse fishing with a float-rig inshore.

And since Dale is an experienced angler.
I can really step it up a notch, with Dale.

With him on board it gave me the chance to really take some photos, which will help tell the story about our day. We departed the dock before 7am and headed straight through the jetties. Dale recently caught a good sized Cobia on a friend's boat. But I wanted to show him the "man in the other brown suit." Because if he thought that Cob could "pull". Wait till he felt what I had in store, for him.

We ran, straight to a shrimp boat. I grabbed the big tackle, pitched out a bait. And I.G. - instantaneous gratification!!!!

I handed Dale the rod, and he was hooked up.

It was just that simple. Dale was into a Blacktip Shark. Turns out, it was a smaller one than we've had lately. Only around 50-60 pounds. But none the less, super strong!

The fight didn't take as long as the larger 100 pound plus sharks. But we weren't done yet!

And neither was Dale. This fish was just a crack of dawn warm up tug of war. It was a really beautiful morning. And what made it really great is there wasn't a soul around. Just three shrimpers and us.

Then we went for round TWO. And it was as simple as pitching a bait up to the shrimp boat, waiting for the line to come tight. And HANG ON! But this time it was a big Blacktip. And we got the full show. From 100 yards away, the shark would jump and cork screw through the air. I'm not talking half hearted little jumps, but rather 10 feet in the air leaps while twisting too. And this is where you have to keep a super tight line, or the shark will spin up in any slack and break the line. I tried my best to get a photo of a flying shark during that battle. But we all know how slow a digital camera is when trying to catch the action.

After two arm straining battles, Dale was in need of a break. And the second half of our day was to commence. So while 'shakin it out', Dale got a rest while we headed to a close in reef to jig up some live baits. But when we got there, the water temp. seemed low at 78 degrees on the surface. The baits, Spanish Sardines were really tiny and very hard to catch. So we broke out the Butterfly jigging rods and gave vertical jigging a try over a few reefs. And the bites and only hook up was a big Blue Runner. So, we came this far and only caught maybe 5 sardines. So I had a plan. Run out a bit further offshore, get on top of some big structure maybe find better bait, or just work the jigs. So that's what we did.
The Ocean was slick. And even passed a Submarine on the way to the next spot.

Drawing from my experience from years ago when I fished offshore as much as I did inshore. We pulled up to a spot, that should have just what we were looking for, on the butterfly jigs.

And as we tried for live baits, we still came up with none and never really saw much activity on the surface either.

Butterfly jigging or Free style jigging is when you use specialized rods and tackle, and jig flat sided heavy metal lures vertically, imitating a wounded bait fish. It's not easy, and you have to acquire some rhythm and technique. Plus, be able to see on your bottom scope right where the fish are, over a natural or artificial reef. Then send the jig straight to them. Hoping that the most aggressive fish can't stand to see the sight of the lure right in their face. And when hooks up occur. You end up going toe to toe with them on extremely light but unbelievably durable rods, reels, leaders, hooks and line. So to keep the fish out of the structure. And one of the most aggressive schooling fish on a reef is usually an Amberjack! Known for being a fish that schools, chases lures, and is the MULE of the reef. An Amberjack of any size is a blast, unless you hook into a really big one. Many years ago it wasn't uncommon to catch 100 pounders. But over the years of excessive commercial harvest, the fish sizes have dwindled. Today, a really big one seems to be 50-60 pounds off Jacksonville's coast . My personal best is about 5o pounds or so, many years ago. Amberjack's can be teased to the surface, and are curious fish, willing to eat about anything, any time.

I was the first to hook up, and quickly figured out the rhythm the fish were wanting my jig to do, so to stimulate viscous attacks from atop the reef. The first hook up was really big, and this fish was handing my my butt on a silver platter! After several heated minutes, the hook pulled. But I was ADDICTED INSTANTLY! I knew I would be. And I have dreamed about this moment. I had made a pretty big investment in Jigging rods, jigs, hooks, and leaders over this last winter. And today I was finally using what I invested hundreds of dollars in. And it was down right exciting as hell! This was like hooking up the Blacktip sharks like we did this morning, over a reef and on much, much lighter tackle, which makes it so fun! But I would have loved to see what I hooked.

I of course now figured out what kinda of jigging action the fish preferred. And then it was Dale's turn for a complete knock-down drag out battle. Which ended in a broke leader and lost jig, too.

They say, watch out! Because the biggest and meanest and most aggressive are the first fish to strike, when the jig goes down for the first time over a reef. And Dale and I soon learned that. Holy smokes we got "schooled".

But after a very quick learning curve, we started hooking up Amberjack's left and right. And man was it fun. I was so happy. You may have read in prior reports about how "into" this I could be, if I could just find the day to get out there and do it. Well, today was the day. And I was so glad to share it with Dale.

Besides the "AJ's" we had Barracuda's lurking under the boat, along with Spadefish, and Remora's (shark suckers). The Cuda's are there because they are smart. They know hooked fish will show up at boats. And like the Pelican's, Seagulls, Herron's and Egrets back at the boat ramp. Have learned boats mean a free meal. Or at least like to wrap their jaws with those snaggly teeth around a fishes tail at boat side. Dale and I had numerous double hook-ups on AJ's so one cuda got the taste of an AJ at least. But later met his demise, via my gaff hook as he thought it was safe to go for a second bite. But not really. Because I free-gaffed that dude, right at the side of the boat. It thought it was sneaky, but not nearly as sneaky as Capt Dave is.

We whooped up on these Amberjacks, in the 31" range. Hooking and loosing, becoming entangled with fish crossing each other. It was pure mayhem for several hours. When you get back to back on hook ups like we were the size of the AJ's wasn't a concern. They weren't the big ones of yesteryear. But provided plenty of action. Dale and I both think we might of had some Grouper or Snapper hooked up. Because we both lost several fish when jigging just off the bottom, and only got them when concentrating our efforts just off the bottom. All the AJ's came between 10-30 feet below the boat. We were also hoping for a possible King Mackerel, and made casts out away from the boat, to cover as much water column in hopes of snagging a king. But it never happened.

The bite seemed to just stop around 2pm, so we packed it in and headed back to the dock to clean fish.

With arms and backs sore. With a really good feeling of accomplishment. This is the kind of ache, that makes anglers happy!

And this is the kind of trip I don't mind doing when I have one person who has shown me that he has what it takes to last through bent rod after bent rod. The kind of trip you usually see on a cable TV fishing show. It was one heck of a great day.


But I got home and cleaned up the boat and put all the tackle away. Had my dog, Dusky out in the yard with me, like I always do. And when I was done we both went inside to have a cold drink and make something to eat

But as Dusky came inside, I could tell something was wrong with her. She was disoriented, and wasn't acting her spunky self. Spunky, for a 15 year old dog, I mean. I took some of the Amberjack, sliced it into thin pieces and her and I went to the back porch so I could make some Blackened fish, to add to my usual "big" salad, for dinner. When she was in the back yard with me, she just didn't seem right. So after I was done, I called for her to come back inside the house with me. And she acted as if she couldn't see. And was falling over. I quickly picked her up and laid her in the kitchen.

She was shaking and her eyes were twitching with her neck all bent to her side. I thought she had a stroke. I called my dad for help and he and mom came over. We rushed her to the emergency Vet clinic, and they were so busy being after hours that we sat for 4 hours in the car, waiting to see the doctor....reminds of a human emergency room! The place was so busy, we were shocked. Dad and I sat with her in the car, hoping she was going to make it

We got there at 6pm and by almost 10pm we finally took her in to see the doctor. The Vet told us she had Canine geriatric vestibular syndrome, basically called "old Dog" vestibular disease.

Which is cause by a lesion in either the brain or inner ear. And within 72 hrs and up to a week, the dog will return to normal, with maybe only a slight head tilt still present. We arrived home at nearly mid-night. I was so tired, but so upset I couldn't sleep. But Dusky slept through the night, not being able to get up and move.

As I am doing this report, I go check on her every couple minutes. If she doesn't return to normal with the help of a prescription in a week. Then comes the decision, that will hurt me the worst.

It was one hell of a day. With a terrible finish.

It's been just me and her for so long. And she's such a great dog, that's even named after a Shark.

This is going to be a long hard week!