Sunday, December 28, 2014

Return to FL part 5 - Bouncer's Dusky 33

To conclude our Florida adventure, we made a stop in Miami to visit Martini and do one more fishing charter. Thanks for inviting us to your home Martini! After staying the night at a hotel downtown, we drove a few minutes over to Miami Beach to meet Captain Bouncer Smith, a charter captain who according to Martini has no equal in the Miami area.

After leaving the marina we bought ballyhoo from a bait seller and then motored over to a marker platform where herring and pinfish could be easily caught. Our mate Josh set us up with sabikis, and we filled up the livewell with bait for the day. Atlantic thread herring was a new lifer for me, and I desperately wanted a photo of one, but Captain Bouncer wouldn't have it. When I got out my camera, he barked out, "Get that herring in the livewell NOW! We don't have time to take photos of bait!" Being a species fishing guy, it tortured me all day that I didn't have a photo of that herring, haha.

We headed offshore a few miles, trolling as we went. Reminiscent of our previous charter, the morning started off slow. Once we set up over a wreck though, we started jigging up interesting species. Terry started us off with the first fish.

Pluma Porgy (Calamus pennatula)

We only had one jigging rod set up, so we took turns catching fish. After a few nibbles with no hookups, something big took my bait. Whatever it was was making me work to get it to the surface! It turned out to be a red grouper with a notch in its back where something had tried to take a bite out of it when it was younger.

Red Grouper (Epinephelus morio) - new hook & line species #256

Terry followed up with this snapper.

Mutton Snapper (Lutjanus analis)

Ruoxi took a turn and soon had a fish on as well. She caught a pretty cool species, a sand tilefish!

Sand Tilefish (Malacanthus plumieri)

While Ruoxi and I were jigging, Terry and Kayla each hooked up with a kingfish that took drifted baits (one of them may have been on the kite). Kayla got hers to the boat, but it came off while they were waiting to see if it would attract more fish. When Terry got his to the boat they brought it in right away to avoid losing a second fish.

King Mackerel (Scomberomorus cavalla)

Terry also caught a bonito at some point, but I can't remember if it was drifting or trolling. Meanwhile, I continued jigging and caught another cool fish, a grey triggerfish.

Grey Triggerfish (Balistes capriscus) - new hook & line species #257

We moved to another spot that was deeper - over 200 feet if I remember correctly.  As I was jigging this spot, I kept feeling small tugs, but I didn't want to reel my bait all the way up if it was just a small fish nibbling at my bait.  Finally I felt a good solid tug and I reeled my line in.  The first hook of the chicken rig had a small yellowtail snapper on it, which was probably responsible for the small tugs.  On the bottom hook was an enormous lionfish!  Lionfish, which are invasive to the Atlantic Ocean, are rarely caught on hook & line.  Captain Bouncer was impressed with its size, and when we got back to the marina he checked the record online, weighed the fish, and told me I tentatively have the new all tackle world record!

Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans) - new hook & line species #258

At this point we set up a second rod with a whole pinfish suspended near the bottom.  The targets were grouper, large amberjack, and sharks.  Black grouper were in the mood for pinfish that day, because over the next few hours Kayla, Ruoxi, and I each caught one. We released mine because it was smaller than the two big ones Kayla and Ruoxi caught.

Black Grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci)

Black Grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci)

Black Grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci) - new hook & line species #259

It was getting late in the day, so we pulled up our lines and set up to troll on the way back.  I think this photo captures the moment adequately.

Fortunately, trolling in the afternoon was better than in the morning!  We started hooking up with blackfin tuna and frigate tuna.  Each person caught one or two, and we ended up with seven in the boat.  They fought as hard as they could, but they were small fish and came in pretty easily.

Blackfin Tuna (Thunnus atlanticus) - new hook & line species #260

To finish up the day, Terry and Kayla pulled in a double!

Once we arrived back at the marina, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief when I saw a couple of our thread herring still in the livewell.  Captain Bouncer didn't yell at me this time when I took a few photos for my lifelist.

Atlantic Thread Herring (Opisthonema oglinum) - new hook & line species #255

The remainder of our bait was enjoyed by the resident tarpon that hang around Captain Bouncer's dock.  They put on quite a show grabbing the fish as soon as they hit the water.

Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus)

We were also visited by a manatee.  It approached Captain Bouncer's dock with a sense of purpose, and Captain Bouncer told us to put the freshwater hose in the water.  Like an oil tanker filling up, the manatee sat there for nearly a half hour sucking on the hose.

Manatee (Trichechus manatus)

Before hitting the road, we brought the kingfish and a small piece of grouper into the restaurant at the marina.  The restaurant cooked them up for us, and we enjoyed them thoroughly after a long day of fishing.  I want to thank Captain Bouncer for running an excellent charter, and I also want to thank our mate Josh for working his butt off all day setting up gear and making sure that our fish made it into the boat.

I know a number of species fishermen who look down on charters.  They see them as nothing more than buying new species with money.  This way of thinking isn't necessarily wrong, but if you write off charters completely you'll probably never get to see many of the species we were able to see on this trip.  I don't regret it in the least.  Chartered trips are not cheap, so I am certainly not going to make a habit of doing them.  With that said though, I can't wait to go after some of the larger pelagic species such as sailfish, wahoo, and mahi and deep dropping for tilefish and other deep water oddballs.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Return to FL part 4 - No Name Key bridge

On our third and fourth days in the Keys we fished the bridge between Big Pine Key and No Name Key. The channel had a lot more sea grass than Channel 5, and towards the center of the channel the water gets fairly deep. The first day the fishing was tough, and we ended up getting rained out. The only fish I took a photo of was my lifer ballyhoo. We put out live pinfish and cut ballyhoo as shark bait. At one point I had something big take one of my baits. I fought it for about 30 seconds, but it ran me under the bridge and the hook popped out. A lot of the live pinfish ended up with distinct bites out of them, so perhaps there were small sharks prowling around.

Ballyhoo (Hemiramphus brasiliensis) - new hook & line species #250

Ruoxi caught a couple of really nice fish with the sabiki. She definitely did better than me that day! She got these two porgies almost back to back.

Grass Porgy (Calamus arctifrons)

Littlehead (Calamus proridens)

Not satisfied with our first day, we fished the No Name bridge again the following day. The shark baits got less action than the previous day, but we caught plenty of small fish. One of the first one was this rather beefy blue parrotfish.

Blue Parrotfish (Scarus coeruleus)

Ruoxi also caught a beefy one a little later. They were tanks!

I did slightly better in the new lifer department. We caught quite a few of these bar jacks with a couple sand perch mixed in. The blue on the bar jacks was really bright!

Bar Jack (Carangoides ruber) - new hook & line species #251

Sand Perch (Diplectrum formosum) - new hook & line species #252

Puddingwife (Halichoeres radiatus)

Planehead Filefish (Stephanolepis hispidus)

Pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides)

The variability in the doctorfish was really interesting. I'd never seen one colored up like the second one below.

Doctorfish (Acanthurus chirurgus)

Scrawled Cowfish (Acanthostracion quadricornis)

Lane Snapper (Lutjanus synagris)

Ruoxi had a great day as well. She definitely caught more lifers at this bridge than anywhere else.

Sand Perch (Diplectrum formosum)

Bandtail Puffer (Sphoeroides spengleri)

Porkfish (Anisotremus virginicus)

Bluestriped Grunt (Haemulon sciurus)

Redtail Parrotfish (Sparisoma chrysopterum)

Southern Puffer (Sphoeroides nephelus)

The last excitement of the day occurred back at the base of the bridge. Kayla was using a scrap of fish on a hook to lure crabs towards shore. Much to her surprise, a nurse shark came just a few yards from her feet and grabbed the bait! With only 6 lb mono line and no leader, her odds of keeping the shark on were not good. However, Kayla manged to keep the shark under control long enough for me to run to the end of the bridge and walk out in the shallows to grab it by the tail. She caught her first shark!

Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Return to FL part 3 - Channel 5 bridge

The day after our fishing charter we got back to the type of fishing that was so productive for us last year - bridge fishing for large numbers of species.  Martini stayed with us one night at the duplex and joined us for fishing for half a day.  We went to Channel 5 bridge, and rather than hike all the way to the center of the channel, we set up near the base of the bridge.  Sabiki rigs with small hooks yielded plenty of species, a few of which were new to me.  Before I even had bait in the water, Terry caught a fish that I was quite envious of.

Grey Angelfish (Pomacanthus arcuatus)

I didn't catch an angelfish of my own, but I got plenty of other stuff!

Porkfish (Anisotremus virginicus)

Bandtail Puffer (Sphoeroides spengleri)

Spotted Trunkfish (Lactophrys bicaudalis) - new hook & line species #248

Ruoxi also got a spotted trunkfish.  In fact, most of the people in our group caught at least one despite the fact that none of our group caught one at this location last year.

Blue Parrotfish (Scarus coeruleus)

Yellow Chub (Kyphosus incisor)

Dusky Damselfish (Stegastes adustus)

The cero mackerel was a surprise lifer.  I dropped the sabiki near the concrete wall at the base of the bridge because I saw some angelfish feeding there.  The cero hit one of the baits almost as soon as it hit the water!

Cero Mackerel (Scomberomorus regalis) - new hook & line species #249

Schoolmaster (Lutjanus apodus)

Doctorfish (Acanthurus chirurgus)

Either Terry or Kayla caught this tiny grouper.

Red Grouper (Epinephelus morio)

At this point I'm skipping ahead several days.  We came back to Channel 5 to do some night fishing in hopes of finding some sharks.  The sharks once again did not cooperate, but we caught some other fish to pass the time.

French Grunt (Haemulon flavolineatum) and Schoolmaster (Lutjanus apodus)

Once it was completely dark, I got out my spotlight and sight fished small fish in shallow water that was sheltered from the waves by some rubble.  Nighttime microfishing paid off because I got two new species this way!

Notchtongue Goby (Bathygobius curacao) - new hook & line species #253

Night Sergeant (Abudefduf taurus) - new hook & line species #254

The last fish of the night was this mangrove snapper, which took a big piece of shrimp on a circle hook.

Grey / Mangrove Snapper (Lutjanus griseus)