Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Fishing in Naples, David and Goliath! Part 1

Beautiful Red Grouper
Well our long awaited trip to Naples, Florida has come and gone, however the memories are here to stay!  Naples was the site of our annual Fall TTA meeting and it was held at the Grand Naples Beach Resort.  It was very nice but quite honestly about a half mile or so from the beach.  There was a beautiful elevated walkway through the mangroves but the days were filled with conferences and there was little time to enjoy the amenities.  As previously stated, a number of my transformer colleagues also love to fish and on a number of past trips we have arranged to arrive a few days early or stay a few days later and take advantage of our location and get a day of fishing in and this trip was no exception.  My friend Glen Collin's cousin Tim has a place in Naples as it became our headquarters for the offshore grouper fishing trip we had booked for Saturday, December 3rd.  Now Glen has fished grouper before however there was a bunch of use, including me, that had never fished grouper.  We had 2 boats chartered however the wind was up and the offshore seas were forecasted to be 4 - 5 feet, which in freshwater terms would be 8 - 10 foot swells total height from top to bottom. The captain we booked was ready to go out even though it would be rough however the other boat said no way was he going out.  Well, I've been to Alaska and know how the conditions would be so I quickly took my place on the offshore boat along with 3 others, Glen Collins, Matt Davis, and Bill Hardt.  The boat was called Sea Legs and reminded me of some of the boats I had been in before. First thing we needed to do was to catch some bait, in Minnesota they looked like shiner minnows however they were called Greenbacks.  The captain had a special place about 3 miles off shore where these bait fish congregate so he slowed the boat down and got into position while our first mate threw a cast net into the water.  I'm not sure what was there to hold fish as it was in the middle of nowhere but bait fish we got.  Back in 2009 when Lyle and I fished Key West, the guide did the same thing in shallow water however this time it only took one cast to have all the bait we needed.  These greenbacks ranged from 3" to 5 inches and I helped him get the bait into the baitwells located in the back floor of the boat.  The next stop was a 45 minute ride to the first spot.  These guides have special reefs or sunken ships they fish and more often than not, made made structures that have been place there to attract fish, and especially grouper.  Grouper are fish that tend to stick close to home so it becomes easy to fish out these structures so there is a strategy of not hanging too long on one structure as it may take months for them to repopulate with catchable fish.  Our quarry for the day was Gag Grouper, Red Grouper, and a number of snapper species that inhabit the same structures such as Mangrove Snapper and Lane Snapper.  Gag Grouper had a minimum size limit of 24 inches while Red Grouper was 20 inches.  The snappers were open to pretty much any size and actually kept some as bait for bigger fish.  Our equipment was medium heavy spinning rods with braid and a fluorocarbon leader with about a #1 or #1/0 circle hook with an egg sinker.  the spinner rigs had a light siner, maybe 1/2 ounce but I thought for fishing 30 -  45 feet of water, that wasn't enough.  They gave me a medium level wind with about a 1 ounce sinker, perfect as I'd rather feel the bottom and know where I was.  If I could have rigged my own bait I'd put the sinker above a swivel with about a 2 foot leader so the bait could move, as the rigs we were using had the sinker up against the hook, oh well!  The fish I am holding is a very nice Red grouper, very pretty.  All the targeted fish are delicious to eat.

The seas were pretty rough but not as bad as I had experienced in Alaska.  It was pretty warm out as the daytime temperatures were in the mid 80's so it was pretty comfortable that way.   We started out a a couple of spots before ending up anchored next to a sunken ship in 40 feet of water.  It was interesting, the Captain stated that the water depth changed about 2 feet per mile so we were out almost 20 miles from the shore. We already had a number of  fish in the box including a couple of legal gag and red groupers along with a few mangrove snappers and we had caught some lane snappers.  They were small but very colorful.  Because I was using the heavier level wind with a bigger sinker, the first mate rigged me up with a large frozen greenback with the tail cut off for extra scent.  Well, something hit the bait and with circle hooks you simply lift gently as the hooks will catch the side of the lip as it is being pulled and generally will hook the fish in the corner of the mouth.  Well, something really took my bait so I waited 10 seconds or so and while still feeling the fish I swept the rod and the tip basically stayed where it originally was.  Damn, I think I hooked bottom!  Well the line started moving away so it was a mad scramble to get it off the bottom so I wouldn't get caught up in a snag as we had previously experienced.  This fish though hardly moved so maybe I was already snagged up.  Well it moved to the other side of the boat and the battle was on.  The Captain right away suspected it was a Goliath Grouper, a very large fish that live along with the regular groupers.  He told me that it would be almost impossible to get that fish with the lighter tackle we were using however I had pretty good control of what I was doing.   My friend Matt Davis was smart enough to film my fight so here is the video of the fight and of the fish. Goliath grouper are a protected species and although not illegal to catch one must release them.  This fish was estimated by the captain to be over 200 pounds, not the largest but a substantial fish nevertheless. When I finally got it to the surface the first mate gaffed it through the mouth as to not hurt the fish and we all got to look at it's enormous size, definitely the largest weight fish I have ever caught.  Admittedly it was a tough battle and although I took pictures, the fish was too large to bring on board and stand alone pictures don't do it justice!  Enjoy the video as it is a great recorded memory of the occasion.  I get tired just watching it!

Next week I will finish the story as this was not the only big fish we got.  I will put in a plug for our charter, Tom' Deep Sea Fishing as this guy was great and I would definitely go out with him again.  There is a lot more to tell but certainly this was a fish of a lifetime.

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