People often ask me what we are going to fish for when they walk up to the boat in the morning. I get to do this 250+ days a year, so it’s not what I want to fish for. It’s their trip and their choice. Now somedays, people are hoping for a fish that is unlikely. When this happens I tell them. I usually try to give people a couple of choices or gameplan to pick from in the morning. We may fish the reef, which is what we did yesterday. Or we might go offshore looking for Dolphin, Wahoo, and Tuna. Another choice is to catch some live bait and drift for a sailfish. Unfortunately, plans don’t always work out. You get out there and realize its time for a change of plans. Today was one of those days.
Yesterday, we went looking for live ballyhoo, (baitfish) and fished the reef looking for action and dinner. It worked well. We got some monster Barracudas, some delicious Mutton and Yellowtail snapper and some assorted other fish. It was a fun day and our plan worked. So today, I had the same group of guys and they wanted to do something “different”. I can’t blame them and most times people fishing multiple days like to try for something different on their second or third day.
We decided to get some more live ballyhoo and live bait for a Sailfish. It’s a good time of year and there have been a few around. I thought our chances were good. We headed west along the reef looking for a school of ballyhoo to anchor on. Yesterday, I went pretty far west to start and I was hoping to find the bait closer to Key West and not spend as much time running west. It would give us more time with baits in the water and a better chance of catching some Sailfish.
Unfortunately, I didn’t see any bait on the reefs in front of Key West. No bait at Eastern Dry Rocks reef. No bait at Rock Key Reef. I kept going to Sand Key Reef, still no bait. I went west from there because it’s easier to see the bait with the sun behind me as we go down the reef. At worst I figured I would have to run as far as I did yesterday. I got to Western Dry Rocks reef, again no bait. Then I ran to Satan Shoals and Vestal Shoals- no bait.
I ran down to Colbin Rock about 13 miles west of Key West. That is where I caught bait the day before. It was going to be my “Ace in the hole” if every I couldn’t find bait on any of the other reefs. Unfortunately, the bait that was there yesterday was gone. They have tails and swim where they want. So much for my “Ace in the hole” bait spot.
By now we had spent close to an hour running out to the reef and then almost another hour zig-zagging down the reef looking for bait. This was a full day trip, but I didn’t want to spend too much of it looking for bait. if it’s not there, it’s not there. So we decided on a change of plans
My mate, Ben, switched over to trolling tackle and we went offshore looking for Dolphin, Wahoo, and Tuna. We would still have a chance at catching a Sailfish, but probably not as good as we would with live bait. Then again, maybe getting trolling baits in the water now would offset taking a couple more hours looking for live bait. Time to find out.
We trolled offshore and out to about 200 ft of water going over 4 different wrecks. I zig-zagged over 4 different wrecks. We had a couple of bites from small fish but never hooked any. Honestly, I was starting to get nervous. We had caught and released a few more big Barracuds on the reef, but we had nothing in the fish box to show for our efforts.
We were heading east in about 350 ft of water. I was heading to a “Wave Buoy”. I’m not sure which Gov’t agency put it out there, Probably NOAA, but it’s a small buoy that has been offshore for a few months. From the writing on it, it appears to monitor, measure and/or record the wave heights offshore of Key West. That part isn’t really important to me. What is important is that it is a floating object in a known position. It will attract bait and that can attract other fish such as Dolphin and Wahoo.
I was about 1 mile west of the buoy when we hooked 3 nice Dolphin, (Mahi, not the mammal). The biggest one was about 20lbs but it hit the Deeptroll. That line is run down under the water with the help of a large weight that detaches when a fish hits. It’s great for Barracuda, Wahoo, and Kingfish. Those are fish that do not get a “drop back”. They have sharp teeth and bite their prey in half then turn around and eat the other half.
Fish like Sailfish and Dolphin do not have teeth and swallow their prey whole. They like to grab a bait and turn it head first before swallowing it,(It goes down easier). For this reason, you like to give a Dolphin or Sailfish a little line so you know the bait is now on the edge of their mouth. If the line comes tight then, the hook may miss its mark.
Anyway, IF you are going to lose a big Dolphin, it is usually one that got hooked on the deep troll. The hook is usually not deep. So I was nervous about that one. all three fish were jumping like crazy. It’s cool to see, but a jumping fish has a better chance of getting slack line of landing on the line and getting off.
Fortune was smiling on us today as all three fish got to meed mate Ben’s “greeting stick”, otherwise known as a gaff. He stuffed all three in the fish box and our day was looking much better. Dolphin was one of the target species my group wanted.
We had 4 anglers and 3 fish in the boat. Still a bit of pressure on me. We continued trolling toward the wave buoy hoping there would be more fish in the area or around the buoy. Again fortune smiled on us as we hooked another “gaffer” dolphin on our second pass around the buoy. My guys were “Fishermen”. They know you have to put your time in for a quality fish sometimes and they were willing to do so. Everyone got a nice Dolphin. Our change of plans had worked.