When the strikes on the flutter irons slowed, Blum suggested we switch to pink 2-ounce circle-hook jigs. He tipped his with a large squid strip. I tipped mine with a whole Spanish sardine. Sure enough, when the jigs reached bottom, the fish came back to play. I had a solid tap but missed the fish. I rebaited and dropped down and had a few light taps followed by — nothing! My bait had been stolen. Blum showed me up by hooking a few red snapper nearly back to back on those squid strips. And then a light bulb went off in my head. Both the squid and the Spanish sardine were getting bites, but the toughness of the squid enabled it to weather those smaller pecks and stay on the hook until a large fish consumed the jig — a nibble or two, and the Spanish sardine disintegrated or fell off the hook. Blum also whipped the jig for a minute or so if he felt the squid was gone, keeping it in play along the bottom and back up through the water column. But the point proven was how the introduction of scent got these fish feeding again.
We also ran a whopping six miles to a second sinkhole and started catching red snapper, amberjack, scamp and almaco jacks at the pace we had when we’d first arrived at our initial spot. Blum even landed a nice margate. With numerous fish to our credit, we’d had an exceptional day, one that proved just how good these long-range bottom spots can be. Reluctantly, we racked our rods, stowed tackle, tidied up the boat and headed east for Sarasota.
The ride in was as nice as the ride out. I activated the autopilot, and Blum and I reflected on the day’s catches and all the other great fishing prospects out here. Given good sea conditions and reliable and fuel-efficient power, seaworthy midsize boats can easily tap into this long-range fishing, as many do already.
The next time someone tells me to head west to go bottomfishing, I won’t be so quick to shrug off the suggestion. The action out here is indeed fast, and the angling pressure minimal. It’s something that I’d do all over again, and plan to next season.
Rods: Penn Bluewater Carnage rods, 30- to 65- and 30- to 80-pound-class or equivalent.
Reels: 25- and 30-class conventional.
Lines: 50-pound-test green braid joined to leader with a Bristol knot.
Lures: 6-ounce Williamson Vortex jig, 512-ounce Williamson Raku jig or 2-ounce pink jigs with circle hooks, for use with natural baits.
Baits: Squid strips, Spanish sardines. pilchards.
Note: State and federal regulations require the use of a venting tool and dehooking device when fishing for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico, plus you must use non-stainless-steel circle hooks with natural baits.
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, and we docked at the Hyatt’s marina. We launched at Centennial Park, right off U.S. 41 and 10th Street, and just a couple of blocks north of the hotel. For more information about the Hyatt, call 941-953-1234 or visit sarasota.hyatt.com.
If you mention you ran 84 miles offshore to fish, moved around a bit and then ran another 80-some miles back to shore, one of the first things you’ll be asked is, “How much fuel did you burn?” My 2011 Mako 284 holds 235 gallons and is powered by a pair of Mercury Verado 300 hp outboards equipped with a pair of 21-pitch Mercury Mirage props. I ran the boat at mostly 4,000 rpm during this journey, which delivered a total fuel economy of 1.6 mpg and a cruising speed of 38 mph. Round-trip, we covered just shy of 180 miles and burned 112 gallons of fuel.
When: Whenever weather allows long offshore runs into the Gulf.
Where: Sinkholes in the Gulf of Mexico.
Who: Darren Blum is an avid west central Florida bottomfishing and offshore fishing authority and tournament angler. Though he does not charter personally, he is available to ride along on private vessels as a consultant. He can be reached at 941-587-0606 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gulf Bottomfishing Showcase