I was happy to learn that lots of my friends did better than I on the short red snapper season recently passed.
Some pretty nice catches were landed and many were happy. The mood now seems to be just wait until next year. Fine, but remember there are lots of other fish in the sea. Actually one of the best parts about dropping a bait down into 90 feet of water is that you never know what will come up.
Although I usually stick to the inshore, this time of year always gets me thinking about the ocean. With my 17-foot Polar being a little small for the Atlantic, I have to wait for the ocean to really calm down. Luckily in summer that happens pretty often.
Some years back I caught it as flat as a pond and dropped everything to get off shore. I raced out of Ponce Inlet and headed northeast to the six-mile reef. When I arrived, I found a family of four fishing near the buoys that mark the spot.
There was not a breath of air and the boat was sitting so still I didn't even need to anchor. I was baiting with dead shrimp and squid and pretty quickly began to pull up black margate snapper. Margates are plentiful around these parts and oh so tasty on the table.
I was sitting about 100 feet from the other boat when a huge hammerhead shark surfaced between us. It's always great fun to spot a big shark and this one was perhaps 12 feet long with that distinctive head.
The big shark was just lolly gagging around until I tossed it a small grunt I had caught. Without hesitation it swooped in and slurped it! I began tossing it all my by-catch and the other boat captain yelled "Why don't you catch it?" "Not a chance," I laughed. That monster was almost as big as my boat. What would I do? Tie it off and drag it back to Ponce? What then?
Whenever you get out into the Atlantic, there is always a chance for a fun encounter like that one. You don't have to go that far out and, at times, a small boat will work if you are a seasoned sailor. Local bait shops have charts telling you compass headings for three-mile, six-mile and nine-mile reefs just out of the inlet.
If you have a boat under 20 feet, don't be too brave. Wait for the ocean to go flat. It does happen. Then you can make the short run and catch mangrove snapper that can run over 10 pounds (limit five), king mackerel that may be over 30 inches long and loads of trigger fish. At times you may find schools of grunts that will weigh nearly a pound. Good eats.
Whenever I am in the Atlantic, I always have a pole baited with a large plug. You never know when mahi mahi will begin to feed on the surface. Cobia will also take a surface lure. Once, several years ago, I had just cleared the jetty when I encountered a feeding frenzy on the surface. It turned out to be a school of bonita that all weighed six to seven pounds. Those guys are sometimes called false tuna and put up the same kind of fight. That day I caught four in rapid succession before they moved on. Great fun!
So, all my inshore friends, please consider the ocean. This is the best time to try it in a small boat. You never know what you might catch.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to email@example.com. His book, “I Swear the Snook Drowned,” is available for purchase for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.