It took me a moment to acclimate when my alarm went off at 5am Thursday. WTF? Then I recalled that in a moment of drunken haze at the party last night I had accepted Kelly’s boss’ invitation to join them on an all day deep sea fishing trip. We were in Sandestin FL (on the panhandle dangerously near Alabama) for Kelly’s company incentive, and since spouses had no formal agenda, I had planned to just hit the beach on Thursday. The VP for Kelly’s division cornered me at the reception on Wednesday night and suggested it would be a good idea to join them on their fishing trip the next day. Kelly gave me a look that said I should agree. That’s where it all began.
As I tottered around in the dark getting ready, I quickly realized that my pins were a bit wobbly from the previous evening’s festivities. “This should be real fucking interesting” I said aloud as I slipped into my board shorts and hoodie. Had I ever been seasick? Not that I recalled…and a trauma like that usually will leave an emotional mark. I could already see the whitecaps reflected by the waning moon from our 14th floor balcony. Yeah…real fucking interesting.
I made it down to the parking garage and met Otis and Charlie, just as Jamie pulled in to pick us up. Two others who had confirmed were bailing out, so the my share of the day’s expenses just bumped by $150. This day better turn out to be fucking awesome or I will be cranky, I thought to myself.
We got lost on the way to the dock, but made it there by 6:15. It was a beautiful purpose-built Hatteras…I felt a little like Hemingway boarding that big white monster. We were in the hands of some real pros. That was certain. Fucking awesome seemed it might be within reach.
We shoved off in the dark and slowed just outside the bay to line-fish for bait for 20 minutes or so. The Captain obviously knew where to stop, because every line we dropped would immediately be hit, the six hooks filled within about 30 seconds. Nice 6”-8” fish that would work well on the thick lines and large hooks we would use out in the gulf. A beautiful day was dawning, but a steady wind made the bay a bit choppy. One of the guys said that it would be five times worse “out there.” So far my sea legs were holding.
We finished bait fishing and started out into the bay, and eventually out into the gulf, stopping every 20-30 minutes to fish for some specific species. First was snapper; we did well and caught our limit for that species within the first three stops. As we moved further out, both the equipment and the fish got bigger. Grouper was the next target specie, and most of us caught at least one at every stop…sometimes more. Each stop also brought a short tutorial by the first mate on the fishing technique for that stop: drop to bottom and 4 winds back…6 winds back…12 winds back. And so on. The captain was reading the area below us with a very high tech scope, and seemed to nail the most successful tips every time: all of us caught something almost every time we dropped a line.
As we went further and further out, the fish not only got bigger, but fought harder when you tried to land them. At one stop, Charlie really struggled with one hit, requiring the first mate’s help holding the rod, and our assistance to help Charlie wind the reel. We quickly discovered why when a ten-foot Nurse shark appeared near the surface with Charlie’s line in its mouth. Although legal to land, the first mate Chris did not have the proper equipment to assure we could do so safely, so we cut the line. He said that it probably went 200 lbs, and would have kicked out ass had we gotten it in the boat. Its the one that got away…thank god.
At our next stop we started hitting Amberjack a really cranky fish, requiring more finesse in leading the catch after a hit, and a LOT more effort to bring them in. Several were landed in the 25-35 lb range when it was my turn at a rod again. I hooked into a real monster, and fought it to the surface for about 15 minutes. Once inside the boat, we realized it was about a five-footer, probably weighing in at over 50 lbs: the biggest of the day so far.
We made more stops further and further out, grabbing out limit in Amber and grouper. After more than six hours of fishing in the choppy waters we were all spent. Captain said the 50 mile trip back against the currents and in the chop would take four and a half to five hours. It did.
Near the entrance to the bay, Capt Jason pulled into a dock with a u-shaped grandstand facing the water, filled with people drinking beer and munching on bar food. It was the Destin Fishing Rodeo, held each day in October. He felt my Amber would definitely be of interest at the rodeo, so he had it weighed and documented: 54.2 pounds. Here is a link to the daily results (go to “daily results” and select “10/14/10” then click submit). The biggest of the week (tho will not win the big prize for the month since there is a reported 98 lb Jack early in the month…). Otis scored for the largest Grouper of the day as well.
Once we docked at Capt Jason’s slip, the first mate pulled all the fish out of the giant ice chests on the boat, hung them on the board pictured for photo ops and general dockside ogling, and then began to fillet them for us. After we divvied up the spoils, we headed back to the condos, arriving 14 hours after we left. I slept well.
My share of the catch was over 30 pounds of meat, so based on the going prices here, the day’s cost of $400 COULD be considered a great deal.
As Otis said when he asked me to go along on the trip, it could be a “memorable life event.” Indeed.