Angler Memoir

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A successful tag and release story from this image above. This became one of the most eventful and unforgettable memories and catches yet! The tag and release of this small broadbill swordfish will forever be engraved into my memory, & files of catches. This was one bite that we had to work for & was the first of three broadbill catches that night!
We tagged this unicorn, fishing 280 nautical miles offshore in the bluewater loop current during the West Coast Bluewater Series, considered to be the ironman of billfish tournaments. This swordfish was brought up from depths of nearly 2000 feet of water. We fished throughout the night and we were constantly changing fresh baits every 45min. I figured the bite would come on the tide change. Thinking it would be a higher feeding activity period for these swordfish, which is exactly when the bite arrived. The interesting part is that the tide change did not occur until the 4:30am hour. I specifically remember this early morning occurrence feeling like it was dragging on. watching the clock turn from 2am.. 3am.. to 4am with no activity was a grueling couple hours throughout the night, especially after we had spent all day fishing in the hot sun! Even during the month of august the nights were still very warm and humid. Facing the elements throughout the day and night, tackling the challenge of the deep water fishery and spending countless hours in the tower and down in the pit trying to locate a needle in hay stack was all part of the experience. Fishing the depths of 2000ft, 340 fathoms, was pretty steep, a lot of water to cover to say the least, but we only had our baits sitting in 55 fathoms, 300ft or so marked behind the boat with a glow-stick inside a ballon acting as a bobber in the night. After the extensive time with no action, I decided to drop down one of lines an additional 150fathoms, additional 1000ft in hopes to get as much as a nibble. The most interesting part of the whole story was the bite, it was a very memorable bite, not because the reel was singing, because another mate along with myself, sitting in the pit next to the rods and lines out, had no clue we had a fish on. When I finally noticed the bite, there was not as much as a single click from the reel’s drag or even a snap of the line. Furthermore the lit up balloon bobber had not moved location once throughout the whole night, still sitting calmly on the surface in the same spot as 6 hrs previous!
Before I ever set the hook, or even grabbed the rod out of the rod holder, I remember gazing into the bluewater behind the boat, that the transom lights had been illuminating all night. As I gazed into the lights I started to pick up, a small vague iridescent light, slowly moving towards the aft of the boat. I squinted my eyes to obtain a better visual, then I thought I had realized what I was looking at! To my eyes it looked like it was the LED light we had added to our rigged squid bait, that looked as if it was slowly drifting towards the boat and the surface. At that moment my heart stopped and in my mind I thought I knew what that had probably meant, but I couldn’t be to sure, especially not out there. After all it was pitch dark out and I was running on fumes from the day. So I continued to track what I had believed was our very own LED light for a minute or so. Just as I was able to make out the small light, that had continued to move closer in the vicinity, I slowly saw a silhouette moving from afar underneath the water, headed towards the transom lights. Now my heart Started beating through my chest!  The silhouette would further confirm my prediction. The silhouette was still a good distance away to make out quite yet, for all I know it could have been a sea turtle that had tangled in our lines and was slowly dragging the light. On the other hand it could have been a 22ft tiger shark that followed the chum slick up. I wasn’t ready to make a move until this silhouette further revealed itself, until I knew the fish that was there or had a better plan on how to properly tame this bluewater beast. Maybe that was foolish, because a big fish like a yellowfin tuna, wahoo or even a marlin with such power and strength would have swam right by, and with one faulty move, spoked off to never show its self again, effortlessly breaking through the toughest fishing line out there. I wanted to be sure I knew what species I potentially had on the line! So with my heart racing, I climbed to the top of the marlin tower as fast as I could. Again I gazed down upon the transom lights illuminating the water behind the boat from 35ft above. As the silhouette moved closer I could start to make out tail movements, ones that resembled a shark not a porpoise. Effortlessly swimming, swinging its large tail with such a wide yaw I knew it was a well built fish. The tail seemed elongated, that one of a big hammerhead might have. As the Silhouette moved closer and closer I could make out a wide back and a dark grey color! The overall length seemed to be about 4 ½ feet. Although I didn’t have a definite positive ID, I was ready to make a move before it was too late. With moxie, I hurried down the metal rail to grab the harpoon kit out of the cabin and assemble it in time for a perfect shot on a 25ft great white! Hold on a second, but wait, this isn’t jaws, and were 300 miles off the west coast of Florida!? Back to the real story, as I slid down the 35ft tower rail in the darkness of the night, like Santa sliding down your chimney on Christmas eve. The treads on my shoes couldn’t grip the deck fast enough as I bolted to the rod, that was still silently sitting the rod holder. The line out of the last guide had gone completely limp and was hanging near the reel now. Not a split second later, I pulled the rod from the rod holder, like a sword from a stone, and proceeded to click in the high speed setting on the Shimano reel like batman using his remote claw & speed retrieve 1000ft of line that I had just laid out an hour earlier. As I yelled “fish on” to the captain and crew who were all asleep, I had Started to recover just over the 1000ft of line, still having to reel in an additional 500ft. The funny thing was most of the crew didn’t even wake up, and I can’t blame them, everyone was so exhausted from the day before, & for it was 4am!
Smoothly I came tight on the fish, the Shimano Reel picked up all that slack line exceptionally quick. just as I had come tight on the fish, it had just swam past the port aft quarter, headed towards the bow. As I reeled down, setting the circle hook which was a solid connection, I felt the weight of the fish, the fish felt me. Suddenly it started to dive off the port side beam, taking line at a rapid pace. For every 50ft that Shimano reel eased in, the fish took 100ft back. The Second 50 feet I retrieved I increased the drag, leaned back on the rod putting the heat on the fish, in an attempt to turn his head and direction to keep him alongside the aft of the boat near the fighting pit. As the fish pulled harder, so did I, the line stretched, the rod bent and creaked. The fish combated the pressure with a sharp 180° arch, turning his body and direction in the process. I had finally felt the full weight and power of the fish. I was glad, the maneuver had the fish swimming back in the right direction, especially for a proper handling and a seamless tag and release. As the fish headed off with the transom in its rearview, I backed the drag down on the Shimano a little bit just in case the fish caught a strong second wind. The fish put up three good runs. All three runs he dove a little deeper and further off the port side quarter. Through out the first two runs I could feel the strong propulsion from fishes the tail kicking. I felt the repeated head shakes of the fish trying to shake free from the hook down beneath the surface, maybe a marlin I thought. After the third run I switched the Shimano back into high speed and reeled in 150ft or so relatively uncontested, I figured the fish was running out of stamina. Yet still having 100ft of line out, I noticed the line was still a little slack. The thought that ran through my mind was, maybe the fish was swimming at the boat, therefore the lack of tension the last 150ft. All of a sudden the fish made a grand entrance into the transom lights. As I reeled down a few more revolutions of the reel in time to add a little pressure, the fish launched itself out of the water like a rocket. Bursting up through the waters surface, smack dab in the middle of the transom lights, like rocket exhaust from a rocket blasting off its launching pad.
Every time I replay this memory in my mind its forever moving in slow motion. As the fish breaks the surface I am able to identify a black bill merely 2 feet long that breaks the surface first. Following a large silver gill plate and lower jaw, slick grayish belly, erect pectoral fins. As well as a shimmering black vertical line on the top side of the body wrapping the lateral line of the fish & lastly a extra wide tapering tail, slowly kicking its way out of the water. At that moment, as we watched the fish rise from the transom lights and take to the air in a rocket formation I had identified the creature hooked. It was a 4¾ ft Broadbill Swordfish, that had eaten our bait in 1000ft of water and swam up more than 1000 feet and nonchalantly meandered to the back of our boat, with not as much as a whisper. Neither party involved knowing that they were either hooked, or that they had gotten the bite they were looking for. Yet nearly 1500ft of line was sitting completely slack between the two parties by the time they had finally meet eye to eye in the lights. Still the only revealed secret, was a small blinking light moving in the distance.
As the fish, self landed back in the same launching coordinates, he attempted to launch again, this time swinging his bill back and fourth at the surface, like a true brave heart looking for freedom from the hook. He tired quickly at this moment and lay back in the water on his back, circling the lights he knew he was beat. Once the fish was tired out I handed the rod to the only other mate that had woken, I passed him the Shimano rod and reel. I hurried to grab the line, but not before I pulled the tag stick from the fighting chair. Grabbing ahold and Hand-lining and leadering the fish just off the swing gate I turned him on his side. As I pulled on the leader, holding the swordfish in position, I gloved my hand, and was now ready to grip the razor sharp bill in order to secure it for a tag and release. I eyed the spot 5-8 Inches behind the dorsal, I had Dreamed it million times prior, seen it done a handful of times, but now it was my turn. I grabbed on to the swordfish’s bill at the base with my left hand, a little nervous, with my free hand I propelled the tag stick right behind the dorsal, sharply pushed the tag stick just underneath the skin and flesh of the swordfish, he gave a little kick. With ease the tag stuck, a very seamless one handed tag. As I dropped the tag stick I proceeded to remove the circle hook from the corner of the Swordfishes mouth. He gave a bigger kick when the hook popped free. I turned him from his side, to right side up and started to revive him in the prop wash. With my ungloved right hand, I grabbed my action camera to get a few quick photos before the release. As he regained his bearings I let go of his bill and he solemnly and slowly dove to the depths never to been seen again, but defiantly to be tracked again. The whole 45 minute process that night was so exhilarating, to finally get my hands on a future monster of the deep was truly incredible feeling. This was one long voyage that required pin point accuracy, and a little luck! definitely one for the ages.
-Ryan Collins

 

 

 

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Peeling out of the Florida Keys in a brand new yellowfin 42, named Logan’s Revenge. We were headed out for the day to do some fun fishing with a younger crew, we started by heading east south east, we planned to run 10-13miles or so. We had the boat in open throttle and gliding over the 2ft chop in the new yellowfin 42’. As we rolled out the path headed towards the more fertile fishing grounds, we were looking at the graph to see if there were any tell tale signs as to where fish may be bitting. The water around us was deep blue, the sky had a few clouds and there was a light chop on the water when we had arrived on the scene. While headed to the spot, I was under the t-top at the console talking about the game plan & ETA with Wylie when all of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, just off the port bow and beam a magical occurrence happened. During the run at 35knots a big Long Bill Spearfish had made an eruption at the surface chasing after a few flying fish. The colorful billfish with its vibrant shades of dark blue and electric indigo running down the top side of its back and its sail lit up like a neon sign, porpoised just under the surface as it prepared for flight. The relatively small billfish had rolled on its side just as it was approaching the surface. With an arching motion the billfish leaped from the crest of the 2ft wave in hot pursuit of the escaping flying fish that had also taken to the air. As the four flying fish were hovering from crest to crest, the Spearfish bolted out of the water from behind, with its elongated bill and slender body, it picked off one of the flying fish in mid air with its bill, and woofed down the flying fish, trapping it back on the waters surface. Both Wylie and I were breathless after watching the action, we both had just caught the spectacle out of the corner of our eyes. As soon as we had laid eyes on the fish we both knew by the tell tale marks, that it must have been a spearfish by the shear size and color. We looked at each other and tried to reason “maybe it was a sailfish or wahoo,” not many other fish could make such an acrobatic move out of the water as easily as this spearfish had made it look. But we knew it wasn’t a sailfish, the dorsal was way to small, we also knew it wasn’t a wahoo, this fish actually had a bill and sail, further confirming our identification. As soon as the spearfish dove back into the water after going airborne, we had already turned the boat around. Wylie ran to the back pit to pitch a lined ballyhoo at the billfish, meanwhile I took over driving to complete the tightly executed donut turn as we crossed over our original trial. Now following up in the same direction as the billfish that had jumped on our port side. We chased down the billfish from behind on the same path. We were actually able to watch the spearfish torpedo though the waves as it took off continuing on its diverted course chasing the additional flying fish. As we watched the fish take off to the deep sea, the whole crew watched in awe as the moment disappeared on the horizon. Everybody was amazed and shocked that we had just witnessed that awesome showcase of mother nature. We all agreed that it had been one of the cooler experiences that had ever occurred on the on the water. I attested that the illusive spearfish feeding was cooler than both a sailfish eating a cigar minnow, at the surface behind a shrimp boat, & even cooler than a marlin pouncing on a longline behind a dredge. The fast and acrobatic moves of the spearfish are forever ingrained in my memory. The speed, beauty  and maneuver of the fish was world class, not to mention the amazing show the Spearfish had put on for us. in addition this is a rare species to find especially out in all the full spectrum of bluewater. As the day progressed we caught a few playful mahi-mahi. Even though we didn’t actually catch the covenant Spearfish, yet just to lay eyes on such a magical bluewater unicorn was second to none. Everyone on board was pretty content after seeing such an awesome event unfold right before our eyes. This was another incredible experience and memory I will never forget! -Ryan Collins

 

 

80lb Gulf of Mexico Yellowfin
250 miles out in the Gulf Stream, day number four approaches as the sun breaks the horizon during dawn, the water is glass calm, we just finished putting out six lines for the troll. The humid summer air is thicker than peanut butter and the sun is blistering hot even in the early hours. Although day four, and the team has only seen one small dolphinfish, everyone is still feeling optimistic. Running on little sleep fueled by sports drinks and power bars we were able to keep our focus on the task at hand. Tend the lines out, and follow the game plan until we get a follow or sure bite. As the sun rose higher in the sky for the first hour, everyone was quiet, some were still waking up others knew this is where the bite could really take off. A half hour into the waiting game one of our down riggers popped, the rod its self starts shaking in the rod holder as the line is flying off the spool. The line is going off at an astronomical rate, as the spool is nearing the halfway mark, finally I grab the rod out or the rod holder, the tension was so great that I had to really pull the rod in the opposite direction to free the rod from the holder. As I did so increasing the drag, the Captian was finally able to slow the momentum of the vessel. As I cranked down on the fish it was apparent that this fish was strong and had a lot of stamina. I could hardly pull in line between the runs. As the captain speculated what we might have while spinning the boat around, nobody was sure, as the fish made the first long run. The fish ran a maximum of 200 yards, ripping drag with no problem. This fish made two more similar runs, showcasing both speed and stamina. By the end of the third run
the fish started to lose its wind. As the Captian drove closer to the fish, I was then finally able to retrieve most of the line the fish had swam out. As we got closer over the fish, it dove down, while it dove down it pulled with an insurmountable amount of force, I remember having to lock my arms, and really lean back on this fish just trying to stop its progress, thinking that this fish easily could have snapped the line and maybe even the rod. As the fish pulled the rod tip down, line stretched and screeched. On its dive downward I felt good sized head shakes, the captain thought we had hooked and amberjack for sure. With my arms locked I used every fiber in my body to hold on the rod and not letting the fish pull it from my hands under the glistening sun. I knew that if I could hang on just a little bit longer, and a little bit longer that this fish must run out of oxygen and the lactic acid must build up along their lateral line and into its tail. I knew then at that point it would just be a matter of pulling the fish to the surface from its dive, then we could finally see the brute that we had hooked. The fish started to lose its power, as I heaved the fish up from 500ft it started to give way, just a little for the next 15 minutes, that is until the last 150ft. Right when I thought it was going to start floating to the surface it actually started going ballistic, pulling harder on the rod than before, just a meer hundred feet from the surface. The fish then made a sharp turn and run underneath the boat headed towards the stern. Eventually it had swung around again turning fast and now making a run towards aft of the boat. I backed off the drag trying to not let the high tension snap the line. As I was able to crank up a couple feet while he turned the second time I re upped the drag causing the fish to swing tighter and tighter as he was swimming back and fourth. Just before we could see color, the fish than begin to swim in a tight pinwheel motion, when this started, I figured we might have had tuna, the mark of a pinwheel to the surface backed by both long and powerful runs was hard to bet against. On the other had it could have been a big snapper or grouper pinwheeling to the surface while releasing air from its massive bladder. I specifically remember I did not want to sound to confident in my personal prediction, just in case I was wrong, none of the crew actually knew what we had truly hooked. Half of the crew speculated a big AJ or Wahoo and the other half thought it may have been a Tuna or an African pompano. As the fish finally showed color we saw a lot of silver, with that hint, many of the crew thought it was an amber jack and the other half though it may have been an African Pompano. As I pulled on the last remaining feet of line, the rod really started to shake again. I could feel strong and quick tail propulsions. The fish now was just a few feet from the surface and in awe the whole crew became jolly with the sight of a large 80lb yellowfin tuna that had slowly risen to the surface on the end of our line! The whole crew cheers with joy and remarks of utter astonishment, as the tuna is splashing relentlessly at the surface! A few big hugs flew around and high spirits as we slowly gaffed the spent tuna and hoist it over the gunnel! This was a gulf of Mexico stud, another true Bluewater unicorn. Watching the fish kicking at the surface was bar none, the feeling of pure joy knowing I had fought this legendary fish all the way to the surface was almost indescribable. When the fish had come over the gunnel it was like watching in slo motion, as the sheer yellowfin brute rattled the deck when it hit the ground, the beast, kicking & screaming, was slid all the way up the deck into the ice box. The whole crew was happy to land a meat fish and get a few additional points on the board. This truly was was another legendary feat.      -Ryan Collins

 

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It was a warm June morning, I was making an hour drive across the boulevard in the early hours of the morning, the bright orange moon had just started to sink in the sky. As I arrived to the dock the moon had fully dissipated below the horizon. The clammy warm summer air was thick, and the humidity level in the air was high. As we loaded up the boat, the ice was already begging to melt at a rapid pace, even before the sun had risen. We started on our way for another Bluewater voyage, it took us no time at all to reach our first destination to catch some baits. We dropped down the sabiki and were getting bite instantly by Spanish mackerel that kept bitting us off. I must have tied on 5 different sabikis within 15 minutes. As I dropped my final one to the bottom my line darts to the left and starts peeling drag, I fought this fish for 20minutes on light tackle and sure enough it was a 25lb kingfish that got hooked on the sabiki, that was a pretty epic catch on 10lb test. After 10 sabikis later, we finally had enough bait to head offshore. We made our way out there in the remaining hours of the morning. When we had arrived to the spot we started by dropping down for grouper, immediately I caught two red grouper, the only grouper of the entire trip actually. With no other grouper bites we then put out some lines for the troll. Not much longer than ten minutes later we had hooked a small tiger shark. After releasing the shark in the water rebated and trolled some more. 5 minutes later the reel starts ripping drag, and a silver flash speeds by under the water, reeling in this massive barracuda that kept taking our baits, we decided to butcher that cudazilla for bait. But an hour went by without a bite, we decide to do some idling around to see if maybe we can find some other bait, as we did so, we ran across a shrimp boat while 50 miles out. As we pulled up behind the boat I was gazing behind the trawling nets they had just pulled in,  the shrimp boat and crew then proceeded to discharge the by catch. As I was observing the fish feeding in the wash for a minute, not a split second more, just then a giant gulf of Mexico sailfish came blistering out of the water with its bill straight up in the air. The sailfish had blown a small skipjack out of the water and proceeded after it, similar to a marlin strike. This sailfish was relentless he made two more strikes and chases of this small skipjack until he knocked it out and swallowed it whole. As I watched in astonishment, I ordered to the skipper to run over to the trawling vessel to pitch a bait at the sailfish if they were still there. As we geared up and ran over to the discharging vessel, sure enough we found plenty of life, everything was feeding in the prop wash, bonita’s, barracuda, sailfish. When we had gotten our bow across the wake you could start to see all the life from behind the boat. As we watched giant bonita’s crush the free falling bait we watched in amazement. We started to back off a good 200 yards from the vessel we were able to locate a few sailfish feeding in the wash. As they were feeding quickly in a pack darting at small bonitos we knew these sailfish were heavily feeding. Not a second later I pitched my small and lively sardine off the bow. As the sardine splashed the surface of the Bluewater, a monster 20lb bonita came to gulp it up. Just then I pulled my little sardine away from the charging bonita, as I jumped the bait out of the small radius of the bonita strike, in return I then let out some slack line. As the sardine kicked and bolted back into the swells we watched as he pulled line from the open spool. As we waited in anticipation we watched the the silver shimmer of the sardine a few feet under, met with a big sailfish bill followed by a dark blue sail floating in the water like a plastic bag. Promptly the line jumped as the sardine danced around its uncertain fate. As the sailfish, slowly oscillated its bill from side to side, slowly gaining on the baitfish, the chase didn’t take long, the the sailfish had spiraled the sardine down the entirety of its bill with nearly two kicks of its tail. While the sailfish had engulfed the bait, I snapped the spool back around and closed the bail on the sailfish. I reeled down and came tight on the fish as it was turning on a dime looking for the next meal. As soon as the the circle hook stuck in the corner of the sailfishes mouth, the bite was on. The fish started darting and peeling drag in every which way, he had made a few strong jumps just off the bow, a 5 minute fight ensued fighting the fish from the bow until the fish was tired and  came circling at the boat, there we could finally release him. A clean catch and release, a process the circle hook had made it look easy. It was an awesome catch, sight casting the the sailfish from the bow was so exhilarating, to see the bite from such a distance and yet follow up behind and sight cast these glamorous sailfish that were actively feeding on the surface was absolutely incredible. This truly was a remarkable way to fish and catch these sails effectively. I will never forget how smooth these sailfish were in the water and even the full abundance following the shrimp boat. There colors size and design make them an apex predator and put them towards the top of the food chain, making them an awesome sport fish. This was an awesome experience I will never forget.   

 

 

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It was a brisk February evening the plan was to do some offshore fishing, I remember waiting on the dock and it being easily 15° cooler with a north wind in the harbor.

Waiting there we watched the sun begin to sink in the sky, we waited as the boat pulled up, a small 22 footer with a 300 outboard. We loaded up all five passengers and a cooler full of ice and drinks, now we were ready to fish. As we headed out the sun had just broken the horizon and was still setting. We pulled up to catch bait in the pass, started chumming, tossed the net a couple times. Loaded the well with bait, just as the sun was sinking over the horizon. As we made our way out the pass the sun had fully set and the moon had begun to rise, also the wind had disappeared, in return the water was glass calm as far as the eye can see, in the dark that is. The plan was to run 50 miles offshore to get on top of a hot snapper bite. As we trolleyed out through the pass, we were the only boat around, and proceeded to kick into full gear and run the 50 miles in the dark of the night. Then the captain put on some tunes as we headed out into the abyss at full throttle. The first twenty minutes of the run was fun, the air temp was warm, the underwater LED’s were giving a cool blur underwater, the water was completely slicked out, we even watched the bright moon starting to rise, it made for a nice ride. Then the following 30 minutes had a slightly different feeling. All of a sudden the air temp became quite brisk and the passing air put a chill in our bones. Swells were staring to show up at about the 40-50ft drop off and the thought of engine failure was quite concerning at about the 20 mile mark giving an eerie feeling. As we continued in the dark at full throttle we were all gladly awaiting the fishing destination. As we reached the destination, we did some idling around to locate the best bottom structure, once we marked fish on the electronics, we dropped anchor, the water around us was so calm and flat that you felt like you could have walked on it. We fished for about 15 minutes with out much luck, the once lit up fish finder screen had now gone completely empty. As some anglers lost faith and passed off rods. We continued to stick it out at that spot, I even started to drop more baits in hopes to get a school of snapper moving up in the water column, we fished that spot well into the night. Luckily we decided not to move, and better yet attempt to fish the moving tide. We watched the moon rise higher in the sky over the next couple hours. As the waxing moon hit about the 10o’clock mark in the night sky, the reflection on the waters surface became noticeably bright with moonlight. As we were continuing to drop our baits to the bottom, that empty fish finder screen from before, started to come back to life, since the first two hours at the spot the snapper finally started to bite. Good size mangrove snapper were ravenously hitting our baits, just about every drop we were getting bit in 80ft of water. It was a pretty impressive bite to say the least. By now the whole mood in the boat had changed once more, everyone was full of energy and glad to be catching fish. As the night progressed the bit started to really pick up everyone continued to boat nice 21inch mangrove snapper. As the moon rose higher in the sky, the bite slowed a tad but only the bigger fish seemed to be feeding, I myself  had finally gotten a bite that didn’t feel like a snapper. When I felt the bite the line really jumped along the bottom as I felt a solid thump on the rod, I reeled down quickly and lifted my rod tip to the sky, in the process I solidly set the hook into a fish that was able to pull a little harder. When my friends had seen the rod bend, they started to believe it was a slightly bigger fish. The hooked fish had dogged me all the way to the surface, especially because we were using light tackle outfits, as the fish surfaced it was a solid red grouper, at the 25inch mark. As it broke the waters surface I reached down to grab it by the gills, mindful of the possible taxman lurking. As I hoisted the grouper in the air for a picture, the morale, and energy in the boat surged! We reluctantly took a picture, after all it was about 2am.

Although that would be the only grouper of the trip. As we fished on for the next hour in the 22ft boat, I decided to try a bigger bait, as I dropped a pinfish to the bottom on light line, I could feel my bait scurrying across the bottom. It suddenly stopped, and my line quickly started moving towards the aft. Again as I had done previously I started to reel down in hopes to get a quality hooks with the circle hook that I had used with the pinfish. As I came tight on this fish, it felt a a lot different, for one there was much more weight, secondly I could feel tail pulses and head shakes that felt much bigger, as the fish swam right and left, I continued to reel down and proceeded to pull the fish all the way up 80ft to the surface, not until moments before it broke the surface could we identify what fish it was in the dark, I had caught a 7ft tiger shark which was an exhilarating fight and feeling. Just as it was breaking the surface it was identifiable from the remarkable striping pattens all along its body that most sharks do not display, these incredible unmistakable markings under the moonlight shining down on them was a rare sight to see. One that ill never forget, in conjunction with an elongated tail tiger sharks are known for. All aboard were in awe of this tiger shark that I had caught, everybody was happy to witness the fish, because more times than not a shark of that size cuts through the leader, only moments after hooking one. Before we had time to leader the fish it gave a good head shake to free its self, it cut the line with a powerful head shake and tail wag with ease, the fish sank back down to the bottom in the blink of an eye. The full moon by now had seemed like it was in full affect, the shark was the last fish we caught, once he was released we couldn’t even buy a bite. The whole boat was pretty amazed after landing the tiger shark on light tackle, not to mention we also had filled the boat full of snapper and my nice red grouper. As the bite died in the waining hours of the night we decided to call it and run back into shore and safety. As we headed back east, the moon now was at our back illuminating the way back in. We rode for an hour or so all the way back in the dark with a full boat and a tired crew, and still the fear of engine failure was on our mind. When we finally got back to the dock, the fish went on ice and the boat went on the trailer as we had finally headed home to get some rest.

-Ryan Collins

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Early 4am wake up call on a crisp September Saturday morning, rub the crust out of your eyes and look alive, started the morning with a nice load of 400lbs of ice into the coffin box in the yellowfin, secondly drop all the rods in the rod holders, thirdly bring out the down riggers and set flush the outriggers. Finally load 20 mullets and 20 blue runners into the live well from the bait pen. Set the course for 120 miles in the loop current, & flood em’, let those ponnies stride at full throttle. As we headed around the beach in total darkness I remember the auto pilot and radar coming in clutch guiding us like a halo in the night as we neared the break wall past the bridge. We grabbed our other two crew members and were headed to check in. Once we checked in we idled around until the rest of the field showed up. Soon as all the boats were checked in, everybody took off to the races! It was game time, a mad dash to the fishing hole first. Once we got to the open water, I remember being tossed around like a rag doll in the swells, the cold water from the ocean was coming over the T-top and soaking us. Ill never forget the feeling of being soaking wet, smelling like wet mullet down to my underwear. The weather report for that morning was windy 15knots blowing SE, creating 6 foot breakers, even the coast guards put out a small craft advisory for the day. As we ran the 120miles plowing through the breakers, we finally arrived to the fishing destination, we followed the weed lines and tide lines to troll in hopes of catching a tournament winning Fish. Jumped to the back and dropped a down rigger to 70ft with a 8lb wighted lead ball. We put baits out surface baits shortly after. It didn’t take us long to accumulate a few bites, within the first 20 minutes we had boated 3 kings that were in the 15lb weight class. Although the quick action was promising we were looking for fish triple the size if we wanted to place in this event. We continued to fish on and keep multiple lines in the water. As we fished the following hours we didn’t have as much luck, we watched another boat fight a shark for 20 minutes and saw another team flying a kite with no luck. We thought we still might have had a shot if we can connect with a decent fish. We decided to move away from all the pressure and other boats we ran an additional 40 miles to fish away from the crowd. Just like the previous spot we dunked multiple baits to increase chances for a bite. We trolled for a half hour with no luck, then suddenly the right down rigger popped! We ran to the pit grabbed the rod and tried to set the stinger rig, but the fish wasn’t there. The tail on the blue runner had been slashed and it didn’t look like the marking of a big fish. So we reeled up the down rigger, switched out the bait and dropped it back down. Not nearly 10 minutes had gone by until the rod in lucky left down rigger went screaming! This time we knew at the very least it wasn’t a short strike. I grabbed the rod from out of the gunnel and just let the fish take line and walked it to the bow, he was running for 60-100 yards at a time. The captain spun the boat around so we could chase down this fish from the bow. The fish took a few good runs, whenever the fish stopped to catch his breath is when I would reel back some of the spool he had peeled off. As the fish neared the boat, we were taking it slow, we did not want to pull the hooks from the soft mouth of the kingfish, and we were not quite sure how well he was hooked. The fish squared up the boat and shot straight at the bow from 100yrds out. As the fish neared the boat, he then took off making a blistering run, veering to the starboard side of the vessel once he saw the boat. While in the process of reeling in slack line, the line then snapped and pulled in an opposite direction. As the line flew off the spool again I was cautious as to not letting the line tangle or snag  or snap for a potential break. After another ten minutes of fighting and retrieving in line, we pulled the fish to the bow, we were able to make out color as he glided to the other side of the boat, we speculated this fish may be 25-30lbs as it floated to the surface the other crew member was ready with the gaff. The crew member on the gaff struck and gouged this beast right behind the gill plate in the lateral line of the kingfish, making sure to get a solid connection. As we were fighting the high seas the crew member swung the kingfish over the bow to solidify our chances of coming up on the leaderboard!
Still to this day, the imagery of the kingfish slapping the deck from the gaff, is always a slo motion scene in my mind, the sheer size of this beast was impressive. The gill plate and teeth looked prehistoric, & this fish was an absolute mammoth. As the fish hit the deck from the gaff shot it was a gleaming bar of silver and scales. The whole team cheered and exchanged high fives as this fish was a little more promising. We popped the leader free and slid this fish into the ice box. As we re baited the down rigger we swung our course back around the same spot, just like before we pulled our baits past the markings on the graph and got another bite in the same spot again, we boated a similar size fish at the same spot. As we headed back in to the stage and marina, we had to fight 6ft breakers in the opposite direction, this was one bumpy ride back to say the least.  We took waves over the t-top, salt got everywhere. We finished that round trip with another 120 miles run back in, and was  back just in time to weigh in, as we walked to the stage to put ours up we were all a bit nervous, the feeling was like no other hearing that fish gave us the grand total points to with the event.  Watching us jump the leaderboard and the PA announcement was like no other feeling. It was truly remarkable that we had boated the first place fish! -Ryan Collins

 

 

Skyway Unofficial Record

Fishing just outside the Tampa bay sky way, I was sitting down cutting bait from out of the live well, we had two lines in the water baited. Sitting down thinking I couldn’t remember a current pulling as hard out of the channel as it was that day pulling out from the skyway. There must have been easily 60 other boats in the area, we had joked that this place was called the zoo, just a little too over crowded for comfort, especially when fishing! As I was slowly but surely tossing chunks of herring over gunwale one of our reels began to scream, it was ripping drag from the spool, right then I jumped up, and pulled the rod from the rod holder out of the T top above. The captain was so excited he sprang to the front of the deck to drop an anchor ball and turn the ignition. As the fish ripped more drag I could hear the excitement in the captains voice, when he said “we got a good one here, no doubt about it,”  When the spool stopped, I started to wind down and pull this behemoth towards the boat, as the captain tossed the anchor ball and freed us, we knew we had hooked a dandy, after all the previous week we had jumped an absolute monster tarpon that eventually spit our hook after flying in the air 8ft  soaring above the T top on the boat across the channel. That was truly a massive fish we had lost the week previous and I’ll never forget the acrobatic head to tail touch it gave us after blistering off 250yards across the channel and in the blink of an eye it was gone.

But as I reeled on this new fish it too was moving incredibly fast, right at the boat as a matter of fact, as it got closer the captain said he was anticipating a big leap or jump. The head shakes started, and I didn’t think this fish was going to jump, which he didn’t.  This fish made another run and was peeling drag again, after his final run he was pretty spent, and I quickly pulled him to the boat. As he was near the transom the captain was dumbfounded that the fish was as close as it was already, the captain asked me, “did he break off? Did he spit the hook? Was he bit in half by a hammerhead?” My response was “I don’t think so.”

We couldn’t get a better mental picture because the water was murky during this outing from a rainy week, the week before you could see to the bottom in 25ft water like as if you were looking though a glass lens. But now this time we couldn’t see how big this fish truly was. The captain now believes that this monster fish hasn’t even realized he’s hooked. He tells me this fish hasn’t even begun to fight while steering through the traffic, I then promptly swing this massive Spanish Mackerel over the transom and watch this monstrous mackerel hit the deck and lay there motionless on the hull. The captain who was driving thought I kicked over the bucket by the sound of the slap it had made, when he turned around to see the mess of the spilt bucket, he was dumbfounded of the a decent sized mackerel laying there completely still. Not truly focused he told me to pitch the “king mackerel,”  when he turned around again it took him a long time to realize what he was starring at, we both were looking at the fish in silence. It was unusual that this fish was not flopping all over the deck, its tail and body must have seriously built up with lactic acid. With its massive belly bulging and shoulders thicker than a grouper, it was easily 31inches. When the captain came to from astonishment he was a little upset, and I cannot blame him, it wasn’t our target species and many thought just a pesky mackerel, but this was no ordinary mackerel this was a massive Spanish mackerel. For myself though, I admired this mackerel, I had never seen one this size, I remember I had thought about keeping it for dinner, the captain reminded me he was to big to be good on the table, all blood line anyways. That’s why this mackerel had completely seized on the deck after all. Then I asked for a picture, because it was worthy. The Capt. wasn’t up for it and told me to pitch the dang thing.

I thought to myself “well I would like to know how big it was when I go back into the tackle shop on Monday!”  I grabbed my Rapala scale and hung this massive Spanish mackerel, it rang in the scale at 16 and a quarter! I remember thinking it was a good sized mackerel, I should really get a photo, but the captain insisted he wouldn’t take a photo of a mackerel no matter how big. Feeling torn of just keeping this thing for my personal sake and not really wanting to toss it back at all, I gave in & released the fish to not further bother the Capt. As I went back to the tackle shop on Monday, I had a long discussion with the manager about the past two weekends of fishing. I remember we chatted about the hot tarpon bite that was in the bay and the guides that had been targeting them on fly tackle having much more success. We chatted for a while, I was then able to mention the giant Spanish mackerel that I had landed, my manager was impressed with the story and the potential size, him and the other co worker had heard of big king and Spanish mackerel that had been gorging on the bait that was pushed out of the skyway from the warm rain all week. The manager asked me If I had gotten a picture to help mentor me and make a point for another reason, but as I told him the captain wasn’t up for it, even the manager was surprised the captain wouldn’t help out. Then I told them that I had scaled it at 16 and a quarter.. both guys in the tackle shop went exstatic,saying thats an incredible catch! They both said I definitely should have gotten a picture. The one worker a long time guide said that was a gaint and the biggest one he had heard of in recent years. He then immediately went the IGFA website to find the records an compare, sure enough, that Massive Spanish Mackerel that I had caught would have qualified for a world record catch! Nobody could beleive it! Everyone in the shop errupted with merriment. Both co workers had sated that “dude you should have kept that fish regardless what the captain thought, you caught it, it was your fish, keep it!”

The news spread like wildfire around that tackle shop that month, at the following captains party I had some friends jokingly mention to me I had a potential world record spanish mackerel that I let go. Which was actually a funny yet agonizing story at the same time. Even to this day the fellas, friends and mentors in tackle shop, we still joke around about the world record Spanish Mackerel that was caught and released just outside the sunshine skyway bridge during tarpon season! Sometimes you never know where your passion can carry you!

-Ryan Collins

 

 

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Lookdown on fly
A brisk November evening night fishing lights in the backwaters and canals. We launched the boat at approximately the 11:45pm hour planning on catching a slow moving outgoing tide. We started out fishing a very small channel way back in the east side of the bay, where the water was warmer for the time of year by 5 degrees or so. Keying in on submerged fluorescent green dock lights our main choice of equipment was an 8weight fly rod, snapping our chicken feather fly up tight to the dock pilings looking for a few solid bites where we assumed the fish would be holding. That evening was brisk and there was wind gusts of up to 15mph that where wrapping around the side of buildings between the lots, there was a cool dampness in the air and it was drizzling throughout the evening. We strolled down dock after dock, with fly cast after fly cast with out much luck, many of the lights we targeted were completely empty. Most of the docks we had been that night were completely empty without many fish or bait holding in the lights, which wasn’t very promising. Went continued on for hours running and gunning in the night looking for any sign of life in the dock lights. We didn’t have much luck at all the clock was slowly ticking away and two and half hours later the soggy feathers and ghostly dock lights still hadn’t produced a fish. There was now a eerie feeling such as one that like as if we were on mars with no signs of life in the water and dock lights. Still we continued on throughout the evening into the later hours as we turned the corner on an expected hot spot sure enough there was signs of life until atlast. As we deployed the trolling motor and settled into the spot we noticed two different lights, the light on one side of the channel had little finger mullet so thick you could have walked on the water, swimming in the most perfect tightly knit bait ball, circling very fast, with some trophy snook hanging just behind out of the lights. On the other dock across the channel these was a small school of pilchards flowing in and out of the lights with some nice mangrove snapper suspending underneath chasing the lively popping baits. We devised a game plan that it was best to take the first shot with the snook just in case they were spooky. I made my stance form the front deck and started a smooth back hand fly cast, as I pulled the line through the guides and paused for a 3 second count before snapping the rod with a firm back and motion and letting the line carry itself though the guides, I dropped my fly right on the edge of light. As I slowly stripped the fly through the school of mullet a giant snook appeared just underneath the fly looking up at it between the cross hairs of its bulging eyes. I stripped and paused 4 inches of line in a cadence, twice. We all filled with adrenaline as we watched the snook stiffened up, streamlined his pectorals and then lightly shook his tail fin and stealthily glide up right behind my fly looking at it cross eyed from nearly a foot away, as my heart started pounding we watched the fish just eye the little feather, both completely still. As I then made another two strips pulling the fly away from the snook and towards the opposite edge of the lights, the snook didn’t even think, he darted after the pulsating fly. We all were getting so excited watching with anticipation. Just as he went to strike, he pulled off the bait and short striked it, as we watched the actions of the dark silhouetted snook and fly in the green dock lights we were pretty disappointed, we almost got a 40+ incher to eat the fly which would have been awesome. I tired again, I pulled my fly from the spot and started the backhand haul again and laid my fly out as far as I could towards the fist pilling and the seawall. As I brought the fly out again we noticed two good size snook following the fly into the dock lights, one had followed it off a rip rap of rocks and the other had came of the second pilling in the dock. As I stripped the fly through the school of mullet, they parted to let my fly enter and exit. As I moved the fly slowly through the mullet school, the two snook sank back down. As we watched the action we noticed a massive shadow rise from the lights below. As the shadow got closer to the surface we noticed it was another massive snook interested in what had swam across his territory. On the next strip I went for one big long one, as I pulled the fly towards the other side of the dock light the snook swirled on the fly and spit it away, that had our hearts racing again thinking we were gonna get a big one this time, but he was more or less was just playing defense. As we moved our attention to the other side of the channel I dropped the fly in the school of pilchards, one quick strip and I was bit, and fish on! We had seen the amazingly fast strike and swirl, we all had figured it was a snapper. As the fish neared the bow it started to pulsate under the water, no real head shakes with this one. Then in the darkness of the night and the channel I flipped over the bow a decent size silver dollar. Looking at the fish I was unsure what we had caught. It was a peculiar looking fish with extravagant colors of silver and light hughes of blue shimmering of its skin, this fish didn’t even appear to have scales. The elongated dorsal fins had long streamers on the dorsal fins extending off the back. It was a magical looking little silver plate, the captain on the boat had identified the fish a “lookdown” mentioning that the look down gets its name from the placement of its eyes and how it feeds with them. The noticeable characteristics of this fish was flat and streamline very similar to an African pompano from the shape but a little bit smaller. The colors were so luminescent and reflective when I picked it up I imagined I was holding a neon mirror. This was a peculiar looking fish with a long face and tiny mouth, nonetheless it was a neat fish to catch, and an exceptional one on the fly at that and a cool memory that will be a fond memory in my fly fishing experiences. -Ryan Collins

 

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I was fishing off a dock after work. I took an old hook out of my bag that had been modified from it’s original purpose. I ripped the last of the protective plastic off & unwound the last bit of rope from the hook that had been snelled on. I then took my pliers and pinched down on the eye of the hook to the shank, so their would be no gap in it.  I set up my rod in the rod holder, a very old rod and reel that had been handed down to me from one of my family members. I then took my line and tied a solid knot I had tied plenty of times before. The bait i was using was frozen, I had caught it months in advance on a very foggy Tuesday morning around the 4am hour, and later had put the bait in the deep freezer. As I pulled the 10inch frozen mullet from the bag and put my hook through the eye socket of the bait, another man on the dock started to snicker at me & the size of the bait saying “what are you going to catch with that thing?” Feeling annoyed, I just let the comment roll off my shoulders anyways. As I put the Shimano reel into free spool, and cast my bait into the blue horizon, the same gentleman reminds me that my frozen bait will float like an ice cube. I assure that same gentlemen that I specifically hooked that mullet through the eyes to help the bait reach the bottom. The mullet splashes on the surface and slowly but surely begins to sink and drift out in the current. I put the rod back in the rod holder. I then grab my other rod, which I had purchased both the rod and reel second hand from a fishing club for $15, both models were discontinued a few years prior. Just then that same gentleman on the dock said in amazement “your fishing two rods now kid!?” I simply replied “uh huh.” I had line on the second outfit that a company had given me three years prior at a tackle demo. and was using a leader that I had purchased when I was still in highschool. I tied on the jig my Grandfather had found after the hurricane and started fishing off the dock. I had dropped my jig to the ocean floor and instantaneously got a bite. The fish was small, I tossed it back and dropped my jig back to the ocean floor, again I got a bite within minutes, I reeled the fish in. the fish was a little bit bigger but not a keeper. The same gentleman on the dock seemed a little agitated as he told me it was “beginners luck.” I tried not to acknowledge the comment. I continued fishing, on the third drop, I hooked into another fish as the tide was picking up. This fish also wasn’t very big, as I fought this fish to the surface, the same gentleman on the dock told me “that wasn’t the giant I was looking for” & “better luck next time” The fish was so small puniy, but I didn’t care so much, I enjoyed the bite and fight and the colors of the fish. Just as I slowly released that fish, my big went off! I ran over to my rod and pulled it out of the rod holder, dropped my back foot and set the hook into a 300lb Goliath grouper! As I set the hook the fish took 60 yards of line immediately, I cranked down on the Shimano reel and pulled hard on that composite rod and a half hour fight ensued. The Goliath took three big runs and all three times I was able to stop his momentum and pull him back up the channel, kicking his butt. Nearing 35 minutes of fighting, the gentleman on the dock told me that I “had probably hooked into a giant sting ray or a big shark!” As another feela down the dock heard all the commotion he came running over to watch. As his footsteps hit the dock the fish didn’t like the sound of the running and just before I had to the Goliath to the surface, he turned his whole head and body and dug as hard as he could right into a pilling of the dock beneath me, splashing and soaking us with his powerful tail. With the sheer size and power of that fish i could not stop it. it ran right into the thick of the pillings and broke me off after an hour fight! the gentlemen who had come running over and caught a glimpse of the fight was very sympathetic and even apologized, the first gentleman was speechless. I talked with both gentleman for about another half hour telling fishing stories and reminiscing on the monster Goliath that got away. The first gentleman said he was “surprised that fish this size live here?” The other gentleman asked me what I was using for bait. Although heartbroken over the lost Goliath I answered their questions. As I was packing up my fishing bag, I started to leave and walk away, the first gentleman stopped me and directly asked me, “where are you from kid?”  I simply replied “just a place”  because if I had told him where I was from, he like all the others would have doubted my passion and skill. The other gentleman gave me a nice farewell and said “see you around sometime” as I walked away. When I told the story at work the following day it was big news. All the guys wanted to know the big fish I had caught! Although i wanted to tell the story of the Goliath I  had caught i had to take a deep breath, swallow my pride, and honestly tell the story of the Goliath I lost! That was a day I wont soon forget!

 

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Early morning grouper trip, we started off with 100 lbs of ice and bait, & decided to run 70 miles out to the Bluewater grouper spots. As we rigged up the electric Shimano reel and heavy duty tackle we rolled out offshore, as we headed out in the crisp September morning we flew past our competition in the 36’ yellowfin center console. Riding across the glass calm Gulf of Mexico with the sun shinning bright on our backs. Half way to the spot we reached a school of porpoise that decided to ride and play in our wake for about 10 miles or so. As we began to rig up some tackle we were a few minutes from our first waypoint. The choice baits of the day were very big 8-9inch pinfish hooked in the shoulder on a 6ott circle hook, with 120lb fluorocarbon leader. The captain dropped anchor and gave the all clear to drop to the bottom, I scooped up a giant pinfish as big as my hand from the livewell. I then proceeded to stick the circle hook through the shoulders of this beefy pinfish and fire it down to the ocean floor. The bite did not take long after 20 seconds on the bottom I felt a big thump on the end of my line. I wasn’t sure what fish it was, so I clicked the electric Shimano reel into high gear and buried the hook in the corner of the fishes mouth, after the line came tight on a flawless hookset, the reel could not gain much line and the rod begin to double over. I pushed the reel to the max with very little results. Then the big fish decided to dig really hard and pull back to the ocean floor. The reel than began to make decent progress but this fish wasn’t done. I pulled the rod from the rod holder and began to manually crank in 30 inches of line at a time, my arms fully locked, pulling harder and harder wearing the beast to the surface. When the fish rose further off the bottom I pulled the fish with all my strength, but this massive fish would peel line back down. It was a tedious and strenuous fight getting this fish past the breaking point. As the fish ran out of steam the electric Shimano reel hoisted the fish to the surface with ease. As the fish began to surface a huge air bubble and swirl arose to the surface just before the fishes debut. As the fish made it to the surface I was happily greeted with large black and grey camouflaged skin. A massive 40 lb gag grouper had risen to the surface after 15minutes or so. As I gazed down on the fish in amazement it slowly flapped its pectoral out of the water signaling its surrender. I knew this was a fish from the depths, one that was sitting in 120ft of water even. This big bulky grouper and one that was a trophy catch. All in all, it was a behemoth weighing in at 45lbs. A personal record for myself. ——-Ryan Collins