Tough Fishing... Tough Fish!

Catching tough fish under tough contiditions!

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We met Scott and Skylar Smith, a father and son team, at the dock on our last trip out. We went through the normal introductions and shoved off. Skylar is a member of our armed forces in the US Navy, stationed on the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan. As a proud veteran myself, I wanted to show him an extra special day if possible.

I throttled up The BEAST and made our way out to our local bait patch. Uh oh! The current was slowly running out and the winds had The BEAST laying 90 degrees to the current. The Bally's wouldn't come up! This is not the start I was looking for. After 15 minutes we pulled the lines and motored to another patch. This spot had almost the same conditions but the boat was more inline with the chum line and the 'Hoos rose to the occasion. Once again we had a wrench in our spokes when they decided to be extremely wary, hanging way back, and not wanting to eat the baits we offered them. I hate when this happens! Slowly we picked off one, then another, until we had just short of a dozen. Devon was working on the Pig Grunts for baits to drop on the wrecks. I was becoming anxious as we were wasting valuable fishing time, but time is useless without good baits. Finally the Ballyhoo got stupid and made a mistake. They got too close to the boat and I loaded the Calusa Cast net and fired out a long toss which opened nicely. The net throw saved our butts as I got enough baits to make the day. We shoved off from that spot and made the short 2 mile run to the edge.

Devon put out the normal spread and we began our hunt for fish. The seas were nice at 2-3' and the water was a stained blue color. We worked the edge for a while but nothing much was happening. We missed one bite on the down rod when "Die Hard" called me on the radio. He reported to me that the bite was extremely slow and he had only boated one Sailfish and a couple Dolphin, first thing that morning. He hadn't had any action since. Great! It's hard to show someone a good time if the fish won't cooperate. I stuck it out for about an hour and 45 minutes and then suggested we work some wrecks. Skylar and Scott were all for that! Being from Missouri, the largest fish they had caught was a 40 pound Flathead Catfish, so Devon and I figured we could probably top that.

I powered up the 600 ponies on the stern and headed for one of our favorite wrecks. First drop was a Pig Grunt and Devon worked a speed jig. While working the speed jig he was teaching Scott and Skylar the technique and then gave them each a jig rod. They quickly got the hang of it, which I must say is unusual. Scott felt the crushing strike of a fish as it inhaled his jig and put a severe bend in his rod. He passed it off to Skylar who was working the fish to the boat when the leader cut. Hmmm, must've been a 'Cuda! During that fight Devon was working one of our small jigs on a 15# rod, in the mid depths. Bam! Fish on and Scott took the rod. 15 minutes later and we still don't see any color. We're now at the 30 minute mark and we have color. NICE! A 36 pound Amberjack on 15# gear. Scott remarked about the power of saltwater fish in comparison to their freshwater counterparts of equal size.

We continued to work the wreck with successive drifts. The current and winds were bucking each other and the drifts were very slow and precise. We managed at least one hook up on each of the drifts and several doubles as well. Not one of the live baits drew a bite. We lost 2 more fish to the wreck and caught a couple of small Almaco Jacks.

At this point Skylar's luck at feeling the actual strike on the jig, had not happened. Speed jigging can wear you out quick! Skylar made another drop and as he worked the jig upwards, he finally got to experience the smashing strike. He fought this fish on the 40# jigging rod and the fish battled him every inch of the way. There's color! The big AJ gives up and blows his air. Devon hoisted the fish aboard and Skylar was on the boards with a 47 pounder.

Alright guys, let's give something else a try since we have some time left. We pulled lines and motored to another area. Marking the fish on the sonar, I told Devon to get ready. As we drifted the area we tossed 2 baits over. Nothing. One more drift and nothing! Then, as often happens, the fish seem to rise becoming more aggressive and BAM, we are hooked up. PERMIT ON! Skylar and Scott fought fish until we ran out of bait losing 6 fish to the wreck. Scott did manage to get a big one to the boat but it made one more run and pulled the hook. These fish are so powerful. Stopping them from going wherever they want is a tough job for the angler. OK, we're into overtime, extra innings, and no live bait left. I asked Devon to try one more shot with an imitation that I have been wanting to try for a while now. Usually these fish won't even take a dead natural bait, but what the heck. My guess is, you'll never know unless you try. Right? We got into position and BADA BING, we have a hook up! Skylar worked the fish and we got him to the boat. Devon put the net under this 8 pounder and we have the catch. Although a smaller cousin to the previously hooked fish, we ultimately ended the day with a catch!

The last I heard from Mike aka "Die Hard", he had caught a couple more Dolphin but never saw anything else. Scott and Skylar were extremely happy with us making the move to wreck fish instead. They were extremely impressed with the power of these wreck "donkeys" and equally astounded by the power of a Permit. I guess the "freshies" that they fish for in Missouri, will have to grow some shoulders to impress them now!

Capt. Jim