I’ll be home soon honey, we are working hard down here.
The BD crew had been needing to have a team meeting to regroup and talk about future endeavors. We operate as separate individuals on opposite sides of the country. Half of us work in Florida, while the rest of the team originated the company in southern California, but we work in unison via modern technology. Still sometimes you need some facetime and we needed a place to hole up and focus on work. How about the Florida Keys? Luckily for us, our work is fishing and there is no better place for that than the Keys.
While we did put in some long days of brainstorming and downloading, we managed to take a few days and fish with some of our local favorite captains. In the lower Keys, Capt. Jim Sharpe of the Sea Boots, Capt. Rush Maltz of the Odyssea and Capt. Steve Impallomini are our go-to guys.
It is impossible to get sympathy when you have to go on a business trip to the Keys, especially when the fish pictures start flowing.
Capt. Jim Sharpe has been chartering out of Summerland Key aboard his Sea Boots for the last 24 years and fishing the Keys for over 50 years. He is very well known for his dedication to the sport and the industry. He has also produced books and videos to help share his vast knowledge of sportfishing. He is now formulating a webinar on dolphin fishing, one of his areas of expertise. We will let you know the details when it comes to life.
We joined Capt. Jim for a quick, half-day outing. We wanted to share the variety of Florida fish species with our San Diego crew. We anchored up on the reef after a short ride, while listening to the history of the area and the fisheries. Chum blocks were deployed and as they melted in the current, they began to rain delectable bits upon the reef below. Yellowtail snapper were the main target, though the diversity of fish began immediately. We were free-lining small fish called silversides impaled on a tiny hook with a small lead molded on the shank. Simulating the decent of the chum is the key and when your line takes off, you need to come tight quickly. Light spinning rods are the tools for the job and the first takers were a mix of bonita (little tunny) and cero mackerel.
Before long the first flash of yellow showed and the team began to hook up on these tasty members of the snapper family. Sorting through the short ones, we managed enough keepers to make a great meal. Ali Hussainy hooked up with something that was putting his light outfit through its paces. A blackfin tuna had joined the frenzy and now took its place in the fish box.
Another cool aspect of chumming the fertile waters of the Keys is the fact that ballyhoo often gather to partake of the chum bits behind the boat. While it is a daily fact for Key’s anglers, coming from central Florida where we have to buy our ballyhoo frozen, it was awesome to see the brilliant blues, purples and silver of these fresh baits.
Capt. Jim broke out the cast net and put a quick circle on the gathering, putting a dozen or more live ballys in the well. He was willing to share this chore with me and little did he know it had a special meaning to me.
Bear with me as I reminisce to a time when I went looking for my first mate’s job.
I was relatively inexperienced at the time and had decided I wanted to fish for a living. I had just finished college with a degree in biology, but had realized I liked catching fish more than studying them. I headed to the sportfishing mecca in the Keys. With no contacts, I shyly began to beat the docks looking for my first break. I was referred to Capt. Scotty, a very experienced Key’s charter captain. She was nice enough to hear my awkward spiel, and then she asked me if I could throw a big cast net. “I had only thrown a six-footer, but was willing to learn” was my response. She encouraged me to go learn how to throw a big net and then come back and see her again.
I did not make it back to the Keys because my big break happened in St. Augustine. I did learn to throw that big net and now standing in the cockpit of Capt. Jim’s boat after fishing for a living for the last 25 years, I was about to come full circle.
“Please let my net come full circle”, I thought to myself as I heaved it into the fleeing school of ballyhoo. I came up with a few, but was surprised at their evasive speed. Capt. Jim gave me some advice about staying low to the gunnel with the net to catch them by surprise. Armed with this new knowledge, the second throw lit the net up with the silver flash of struggling baits.
Here was another prime example of the fact that we are never done learning new aspects of this great sport. We caught a wide variety of fish that day with Capt. Jim and the California crew got to check off some firsts on their fish-list.
After a couple more days of intensive meetings, we were happy to get the call from our friend Capt. Rush Maltz who said the weather was forecast to turn windy later in the week. “Tomorrow is the day if we’re going to go offshore” he recommended.
Count us in; we loaded our gear and met Capt. Rush the next morning in Key West. His boat, the Odyssea, is a fully loaded Andros 32-foot center console powered with twin Evinrude 300’s.
A dash full of the latest Garmin electronics and racks full of Shimano rods and reels, the boat was bristling with the tools of the trade. Our first stops were to pull his pinfish traps and add some frisky live bait to the well.
Next we stopped on a current swept mangrove point and Capt. Rush loaded the floor well with net-fulls of pilchards.
We then blasted out of the mangroves, past the bustle of Key West harbor and into the crystal blue water of the Keys. We ran past the Marquesas and searched out a reef line in 200-feet of water where the Gulf and the Atlantic ocean merge.
Upon anchoring, Capt. Rush broke out a bucket and began to throw some chum while everyone readied their rods. We had some current, but it was plenty fishable. We deployed two tactics in our approach. Two people dropped live pinfish and cut bait down on bottom rigs with a long leader and a four to six ounce egg sinker. Meanwhile, the other two of us, myself included, free-lined a piece of cut bait impaled on a slightly weighted jighead from large spinning reels filled with braid.
Just as with the yellowtail fishing, the key was to feed the bait down with no resistance from the rod or spool in order for the bait to sink naturally and not rise back up in the water column. The bite is a very subtle tick or acceleration in your line and then you have to reel like crazy with the rod tip low to get tight and hook the fish. There is a window of time where you don’t know if the fish is still there and then comes the satisfaction of the rod tip getting heavy and the drag clicking under the strain.
Derek Redwine, our Creative Director was the first to hit bottom with a live pinfish. He was immediately hammered and bowed up. He takes the silent approach to catching a fish, while the rest of us take the sound effects method. His fish turned out to be a healthy amberjack. Next a steady bite of red snapper began and Capt. Rush said we would probably have to move if they continue to cover us up. We were surprised to see red snapper here, though at home in Central Florida we can hardly fish through them due to the “emergency” closure implemented some years ago.
But just as we talked about moving, my line jumped and the resulting fish was a nice fat mutton snapper. This was our target fish because we don’t often catch them at home and they are incredible eating. The colors on these snapper are amazing and one or two more muttons hit the ice before we did decide to slide down the line and re-anchor.
We set up again a few miles away and began the cycle again. A few king mackerel fell for the baits as well as more nice muttons and jack crevalles. Ali Hussainy and Jason Hayashi, our founders, were holding their own and putting some meat in the box.
Even our video expert Michael Torbisco, who lives in the Keys, got to jump out from behind the lens to catch a really nice mutton. Meanwhile during this action, Capt. Rush had been throwing scoops of live pilchards out and pretty quickly a school of blackfin tuna began erupting behind the boat. Now we were faced with the decision of catching small blackfins or continuing our assault on the muttons. The muttons won out but it was quite a show at times and we were always torn between pitching a chugger into the frenzy or feeling a mutton pick up your bait.
Derek was determined to catch a black grouper, so he kept firing down the live baits. He seemed to be constantly in a tug-o-war with something strong, but finally he pulled up a nice gag grouper.
We were still going full bore, as we kept watching the darkening line of clouds over our shoulders. As happens often in Florida, a squall line, this time from an early season cold front, was approaching. Of course the fish were really biting now, but as the cold winds of the down draft hit, we knew it was time to pull the hook and try to dodge the storm.
We did punch though some driving rain, but the amazing ride of the Andros kept us comfortable and saltwater-free despite the wind-driven seas that had formed. We drove around the worst of it using the radar and had a very pleasant ride back to Key West.
As we unloaded our catch at the marina, we fed the pet tarpon our leftover baits and fish cleaning scraps. The sound of feeding fish is never far away in the Keys. We took our pictures, cleaned our fish and with sore arms and great memories, we headed back to our meetings.
Now while we were offshore bottom bumping, our newest team member, Michelle Gandola, decided to join another captain friend of ours, Capt. Steve Impallomeni. She had been hearing about the amazing inshore fishing in the Keys and wanted to know more. She and Capt. Steve went for the variety pack, running from one fishery to another checking off new species for Michelle.
Tarpon was on the top of her list so they checked that off near the bridge. They eased up on the flats to look for permit, but managed a few sharks and then some mangrove snapper. Sight fishing the clear shallows for bonefish, tarpon and permit is world class here and people come from all around the world to fish with Capt. Steve. He is a second-generation native Key West guide and has been chasing these gamefish his entire life.
We also got to do lunch on a deserted sandbar, and take a wild ride down a channel cut through the island that passed under the original, historic U.S. Hwy. 1 bridge. It was only later as I looked through my pictures that I realized we had just lived out a Jimmy Buffet song as I had been eating a “Cheeseburger in Paradise”.
So don’t feel too sorry for us, because despite being on a weeklong business trip, we managed to sample some of the best that the Florida Keys has to offer.