After the Merkin ended, I went out for a day offshore with RT as the guest of Tim Vallilee. Our target wasn’t anything specific, though there was a general plan to look for a cobia–something Tim has been chasing after for a while. Joining us on the trip was John Vallilee and his girlfriend Ashley, and we were also accompanied by Patrick, RT’s trusty and ever hard-working mate. Considering that a cold front was fast approaching, we had a small window of good weather to play around with before the conditions turned against us.
We arrived at the dock in the morning and headed out to a gulf wreck, and Patrick had us anchored up in no time. We started chumming with both live bait and block chum, and in short order we had a group of bonito behind the boat crashing through the pilchards. We were hoping for some large kingfish, and when they didn’t show up at first we backed off on the live baits and continued to send some frozen chum back into our slick. In an hour or so the fishing started to get great: we caught a few nice kingfsh on bait, in addition to the bonito and as many grouper and snapper as we liked on the bottom. Every so often a large kingfish would rocket after a hapless pilchard in the slick, and we began to throw some more bait at the problem to see if we could get the kings into fly rod range. Tim caught a few bonito and a spanish mackerel or two on fly while the action continued to improve. While this was going on, John hooked a big fish on a live bait that was intended for a king. We couldn’t quite determine exactly what this fish was, though RT mentioned that it might be a large cobia or a mutton snapper–both of which would be a great addition to the already varied box. It turned out to be a 20 pound mutton snapper, and at first we thought this a chance encounter. This changed, however, when RT hooked another large mutton and passed the rod off to Ashley to reel it in. He explained where the fish were and at what depth, and as everyone on board lined up to hook either a mutton snapper (or one of the large grey snappers that were mixed in) I was scrambling to get enough weight on a fly rod to get down to the bite. In my years of fishing in the Keys the largest (and only) mutton snapper I’ve been able to catch on fly was a smaller 5 pounder on the flats in 2007 with Lenny Leonard. I considered this to be a great opportunity to catch a big mutton on fly, and rigged up the best system I could on short notice: I put 4 split shots an inch above the RT-approved fly, and proceeded to try to figure out a way to get the thing down to their level with an intermediate line. The first cast hooked a bonito, and the second was taken by a toothy animal (likely a kingfish) that cut the fly off. The third fish I hooked was one of the grey snapper, which told us that we were at least getting the fly down to the right level for a shot at a mutton. After we caught this fish, however, we had to leave as Ashley was feeling seasick in the bobbing waves. We got everything together and made a run for some calmer water.
RT took us to a place in the lee of a small island, and everyone felt better. As soon as we arrived the local lemon shark population showed up in strong numbers, and we started to catch them. Tim winged a large fish on the fly, and I was tasked with reeling it in after the first run proved insufficient to turn the shark our way. Ashley and John each caught a number of large lemons, and I caught one on fly as well. After a while, it was enough fun to try to get the sharks close enough to feed by hand, which we did with great enjoyment. Everyone caught their fill, and when we headed towards the harbor to try for a tarpon we checked the weather in time to see a cold front’s leading edge bearing down on us. The day was called finished so that we’d have enough time to filet our fish back at Hurricane Hole, and everyone (even Fitz Coker) had enough fish to last a few days after we cleaned and divided up the fish we’d caught.
I’d like to thank Tim once again for a very generous invitation to fish with RT, and thanks are always due on these days to Patrick who earns every bit of respect for his hard work.
Sunday and Monday with Simon, and Kat will be joining us on Monday.
More to come as always,