New species caught, Redfish, Clearwater Beach, FL

My first Redfish was an urban slot sized catch

CLEARWATER, FL – It’s always special for a multi species fisherman to catch something new.  If there is a good story, an extra sense of accomplishment, a type of fish that is coveted for the life list, it can be an even more exceptional feeling… and this is the case with my first Redfish.

Flying down to Florida with the family meant taking only a single medium action travel rod and one small tray of tackle.  In fact, I mostly was geared to target small fish around the dock at the condo with my 9 year old son (separate post coming, this was successful too).  Despite being under-geared, I knew I had the potential to bring in a decent sized fish, if I was fortunate enough to get a better bite.  So while the family was still sleeping, I ventured out rather early in the morning mid week, to a few areas I had spotted on the drive in.  It was a short walk to what I will call a man made bay on the intercoastal side.  While the docks, boats, and water 100 feet out looked very picturesque, my view near shore was water choked with all kinds of trash, litter, and debris of every type.  Sadly, the definition of urban fishing.

While the water condition was disappointing, to the ever optimist angler, I was just happy there weren’t any no trespassing signs on the breakwall.  So at least I could fish.  With my limited options of tackle, I decided I would use a Berkley Gulp Minnow 2.5″ Black Shad on a traditional weighted jig.  On the first cast, I had immediate action, but it was the typical small fish with teeth that are experts at biting off the minnow just behind the hook.  I decided I would speed up my retrieve to provoke a more aggressive strike that might include the hook too.

Whatever I did, it worked.  I suddenly felt the hit of a big fish and was fighting something far superior to the numerous Pinfish harassing me all week.  As I worked the fish towards the wall I saw the signature black spot by the top of the caudal fin, a Redfish!  My excitement quickly turned to angst as I wondered if I could get it landed.  I did not want this to just be another ‘one that got away’ fishing story.  Lying flat on my stomach, I used one arm to hold the rod tip high and tried to guide the fish onto my other hand to cradle it.  The fish remained spirited and my hand could only get about 5-6 inches into the water… but somehow it worked.  I couldn’t believe it!  I immediately scanned the busy road and sidewalk for the numerous joggers, walkers, and bicyclists I had seen all morning, but of course there was no one around at this particular moment.  I looked around frantically for somewhere to prop my phone or digital camera, and saw only one option.  A weather beaten dock with only a few wood planks surviving would have to do, and I would have to shoot back at land, rather than the water.  Under the circumstances, this was acceptable.  I hit record, shot 20 seconds of video, and prayed my fish was documented.

In time, I imagine I will catch more Redfish and larger, but the memorable details and circumstances around my first, won’t be forgotten!

Trip to Ocean City, MD. (Part 2)

OCEAN CITY, MD – My first post related to my trip highlighted my own catches and fishing experiences.  This part celebrates some of the people I met and fishing related memories that weren’t my catches.  As one might expect in an oceanfront town, there were often people fishing near me, and their catches became memories for me as well.

I met these two fish bums (endearing terminology) while they were organizing tackle by their vehicle.  The vast plethora of gear in their vehicle could have fully supplied a small tackle shop.  My kind of people.  Left to right, that is Noah (Instagram – coolerfullofish) and Joe (Instagram –jmnorton_fishing).  I appreciated their willingness to share information and we met early enough in the week that we were hopeful we might get a planned fishing session in together.  My decision to leave on Saturday instead of Sunday, is one that I regret.  My call to go shark fishing came, but I was well on my way back to Ohio.  Hopefully, I can make that happen next trip!

Here we have Kiley and Anthony, a very handsome college student couple that work full time in Ocean City in the summer.  I watched Anthony catch a fish about as quickly as he put his Jeep in park after arriving.  I learned Kiley was just as avid and competent as an angler, as she showed me some of her recent catches and also provided guidance.  They both preached the virtue of the spec rig, with Anthony giving me one that I caught a Bluefish on.  I can’t thank them enough for being so gracious with their time.

Surprisingly, I only spent part of one day at the actual Ocean City Fishing Pier.  This was largely due to the fact that it sits so high above the water and I had no idea if my gear was appropriate or how to actually land something.  I had seen plenty of Youtube videos where pier nets were used, but I didn’t realize their was a ‘community pier net’ available.  After being on the pier for a little over an hour, I had already assisted with the net and learned enough that I was bummed I didn’t head over to it sooner.

While I don’t recall his name, the guy on the left was a regular to the pier and fun to hangout with.  Anything he caught, he would show tourists and especially made it a point to make sure any kid who wanted to see or touch something, could.  He’s pictured in one of those moments, showing a Skate.  The middle photo I could dedicate an entire post to.  There were two couples fishing next to me and mid conversation with this guy, his rod bends in half and the drag starts screaming.  What ensued was a lengthy battle with masses of people crowding to see the action.  I would have taken more pictures or video of the fight, but I was recruited to anchor the effort with the pier net.  As we counted and pulled in sequence, the Cownose Ray was eventually hauled up.  There were lots of people recording so I have been monitoring Youtube with the hopes that it ends up posted.  If it does, I will surely link it here.  It was very exciting to not simply see a neat catch, but to get to be an active participant in it!  The last picture is a guy named Josh, who was staying in the same hotel as I was.  We fished a lot of the same stretch of shoreline throughout the week, and he was the fortunate angler that caught the Rockfish (Striped Bass) everyone was hoping for.  We all were envious, but of course were good sports in congratulating him on the great catch.  Getting one like that, will be my mission next trip!

My timing could not have been better when I pulled in to Fish Tales.  I arrived to see the crew of the Flyin’ Late with their #120 Bluefin Tuna doing a photo op.  I jumped right in to do some pictures too.  It was an awesome fish and I have put some messages out to try to locate them (in case they want some additional shots).  The fish was cleaned right at the dock and I’m certain there were a lot of folks hopeful for some fresh sushi!

I have a lot of footage and photos from the trip that would fall into the ‘tourist’ category.  Scenic shots, landmarks, boats, dolphins, crabs, waterfowl, and such.  I’m sure there are plenty of professional pictures that my contribution to the subject matter wouldn’t really do anything.  That considered, these two parts seem sufficient to cover all ‘fishy’ related content from the week.  I hope everyone enjoyed the read!

Read Part 1 here!

Trip to Ocean City, MD. (Part 1)

OCEAN CITY, MD – In what has been a crazy year with the pandemic, an odd turn of events awarded me an opportunity to take a week long solo fishing trip to Ocean City, MD.  With only a week from the idea of doing the trip to actually leaving, I had little time to research in advance.  I was fortunate to find a very nice guy on the Roughfish Facebook Group for some conversation and also found some decent Youtube videos, and that would be the extent of what I was armed with.  This truly would be an adventure.

After the eight hour plus drive I was pretty tired, but not so tired as to not try fishing right away.  After catching a Horseshoe Crab and also some type of Spider Crab, I began catching some small fish (pictured above).  Locals fishing near me would ID these fish as Tautog, with me later learning they were actually Bergall Wrasse (Cunner).  I caught many, hoping for a larger specimen, but none exceeded 8 or 9 inches.  I was pleased to be catching something, and it was a species that I had never caught prior.

The first full day in Ocean City, I decided I would bottom fish with a rotation of trying squid, raw shrimp, or minnows while intermittently casting various offerings.  Sadly, everyone was talking about how slow the fishing was and I found myself changing what I was doing too frequently.  I wish I would have just slowed down and stuck to something with more patience.  There would end up being no magical lure or bait to catch fish.  The highlight of the day, was a solid strike that came off about as fast as I felt the hit.  The pictured swimbait is what I reeled in, a short strike that missed the point of the hook and simply sheered off the tail.  Locals I showed this to, said a Bluefish was the likely culprit.

I am not sure if that hit was a blessing or a curse.  On the positive side, it caused me to spend countless hours throwing the same thing which provided two awesome huge hookups (unfortunately both fish coming off).  It also helped me to stay in the same area and watch and learn about the tides.  On the downside, I lost focus and attention on keeping other rods for bottom and bait fishing going.  I have to believe if I stuck with those, I would have had some catches to show for it.

At some point, I did finally realize that I could potentially spend all week hoping for the big hookup and landing of a massive fish.  Sure, if I got it, a single fish could have made the whole trip… but if I didn’t get that bite I would be kicking myself for not moving around and trying other things.  Thankfully, I made a move and committed to using bait for awhile.  I was rewarded with a series of catches of American Eels.  This is a new species that I had never encountered before, with the largest eel being 24 inches.

Mid-week I caved on my solo exploration, I stacked the odds in my favor of getting to catch fish by booking my spot on the party boat The Angler.   I was treated with consistent Black Sea Bass action throughout the trip, with 7 or 8 being keeper size (12.5″+).  Along with being plenty entertained by my own catches, I witnessed a 15# fish get ‘almost’ caught by an angler at the front of the boat.  The angler was inexperienced and proceeded to reel his fish out of the water and into the air before the mate got up to him with the net.  As expected, the fish did a few head shakes and dropped back into the water.  I’m not sure what species it was, but I had a clear view of the event, and I felt pretty bad for the guy.

The following day after the party boat, weather took a turn for the worst.  Fishing was slow but I did manage another new species catch, a Skate.  I learned quickly in the week that the anglers look at the skates and rays with disdain for the most part, but I was happy to add something new to my life list.  With the fishing being slow, any bite was welcomed, let alone a new species.  On a whim, I decided to get myself a spot on the Tortuga, but I did not manage anything on the three hour trip.  The Captain worked hard to get us on the fish, but it just was slow fishing, I would go out with them again.  The highlight of the trip was the kid sitting next to me that managed the only keeper, winning the big fish pot.

As the trip was coming to an end, I put some time in throwing a Spec Rig.  This had been introduced to me in a Youtube video, but more importantly and of more influence was some new friends I had met (will be seen in Part 2) who recommended it.  While neither the Bluefish or Striped Bass (Rockfish) I caught on the rig were very big, the catches meant a lot to me.  Not just for the simple fact of how hard people were working for a bite and how much time it took, but rather it made me feel like I had legitimized myself as an O.C. shore angler.  I celebrated these small fish and their release as a big accomplishment.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that I didn’t land any great trophy type fish.  I didn’t really have a lot of time to set goals for the trip, and I have wavered between wondering if I had set the bar too low or too high for expectations in my mind.  In the end, I had a great time.  I caught some fish, made new friends, found new areas to fish, and learned a lot.  By any definition, that has to be success!

Read Part 2 here!  

Atlantic Ocean fishing aboard The Ocean Princess

OCEAN CITY, MD – Mid June found the family heading east to Ocean City for a sorely needed vacation.  Of course Bryce and I worked some fishing into the week’s plan.  This would not only be my son’s first time fishing saltwater, it would be his first time fishing in the ocean.  Bryce had done fine on Lake Erie, but in case he was ill or for inclement weather, I decided a bigger vessel would be the safest route.  This meant a head boat, and we decided on The Ocean Princess.

Bryce was ready for his first trip out in the Atlantic Ocean

The weather was perfect and I really hoped to the fish would cooperate being that it would be a somewhat lengthy motor out to where we would fish.  Bryce has been fishing a lot for a kid his age, so he understands concepts such as not catching or missing bites… but I desperately hoped his first trip would be successful.  Not simply for the memory, but the desire to do it again.  I hated the feeling of extra pressure, but if it only ended up being a long boat ride, maybe he would opt out in the future.  Being that I had done this type of fishing before out of Myrtle Beach, SC (Black Sea Bass & Spiny Dogfish) and also Clearwater, FL (Grouper), I will say I had cautious optimism.  The positive Google reviews also helped the psyche.  Whether I got my mind in the right place or not, the reality was that as nearly fast as the captain said we could drop our lines, I got bit.  And also just as fast, I missed it.

A Black Sea Bass well over the 12″ minimum keeper length

My mistake of missing the quick bite right when my sinker hit the bottom, would not happen again.  The next nibble, the hook was soundly set, on the smallest Black Sea Bass I had ever seen.  I had to laugh thinking, if I can actually get the hook set on such a small fish, I should have no issue setting it in a bigger mouth.  Sure enough, the next bite a short time later, was the bigger fish I was hoping for.  To ensure the first ‘keeper’ Black Sea Bass was caught, Bryce wanted me to reel it in and do everything.  He really wanted to look at one a long time and not have to throw it back, I was happy to oblige!  For the remainder of the trip, including the three additional keepers, he reeled them all up.  I was happy that we did not have a single fish come off.

Exactly the photo and memory I hoped for

The photo above was everything I wanted the day to be.  If it had ended with only that single fish, Bryce and I would have been happy.  The fact that we caught three more, just made it that much better.  The day truly had exceeded our expectations.  Little did we know, we were not done.

First Mate Tim hooked up, then assisting Bryce

I’m a little jealous of this photo, well done guys!

First mate Tim, in between helping the anglers on his side of the boat, was casting artificial lures from his personal open face rod.  This is not unusual on head boats.  I have often observed mates on Lake Erie trying to nab a few personal fish for their box.  As long as they don’t neglect their duty to assist customers, it never has bothered me.  Other than taking an interest in his technique, I really wasn’t paying much attention.  What did catch my attention was when he yelled, “Bryce, get over here!”.  I had no idea his goal was to get a solid hook up on a good fish, only to give my son an opportunity to bring it in.  In the excitement I was happy I had enough sense to grab my camera and get some pictures.  The fish was landed, a nice keeper Flounder, that provided one more great memory to what was now an epic day!  I have no words that can express the gratitude I have towards First Mate Tim.

Four Black Sea Bass and a Flounder

This was without question, the best head boat fishing experience I have ever had.  I couldn’t have asked any more of the captain and crew of The Ocean Princess.  The mates explained what to do, the captain put us on top of the fish, and all the anglers had to do was simply use a little bit of skill in detecting bites, a quick set of the hook, and reel in the fish.  The extra attention given to my son was not even requested, it was simply given.  This half day trip early in our week long vacation, not only set a wonderful tone for the week, but created a lifelong memory for a dad and a son.

Myrtle Beach, S.C., vacation fishing

MYRTLE BEACH, SC – Anyone who knows me or follows this blog is aware of how much of a proud Ohioan I am.  There is a lot to love here, and when it comes to fishing freshwater – being near Lake Erie is about as good as it gets.  That being said, the handful of times I have gotten to fish saltwater, always seem to humble me and provide experiences that leave me envious of those that can fish it regularly.  This past week was no exception, as I had the opportunity to venture out in the Atlantic Ocean on a 1/2 day charter with Captain John (Reel Action Fishing Charters).

Don’t worry Bryce, you’ll go next time

I love the above photo, albeit it also breaks my heart.  My son was looking back at me while being lead away, as the weather was just a little too suspect for him to make the trip.  Mom is pretty protective and Bryce simply hasn’t had enough experience on a boat to know how he would handle it if things got choppy or we got a downpour.  With a very unpredictable forecast, it was the right decision at the time.  I must admit I may not forgive myself until we get back and he can go.

“I will love you this much if you put me back”

Along with Captain John’s kid-friendly approach that won me over as a dad, I also appreciated his honest no-nonsense appraisal of fishing this time of year and what to expect.  He let me know it was a bit early for some of the more typical sport fishing that occurs in the area.  He offered me options of more sure likelihood catching or hard fishing that could yield the end result of being empty handed for the effort.  In the end, we agreed to try for a short bit of fishing the Oyster beds for Redfish and then heading out in the ocean for Black Sea Bass and Spiny Dogfish.  Knowing dogfish are in the shark family, and I had never caught one, had me plenty excited.

As it would turn out, the Oyster beds did not yield any fish but I did catch the above Blue Crab on rod & reel.  It was not expected and something kind of cool to see for someone from Ohio.  I had to laugh as it made me think of the Dude Perfect video of Fishing Stereotypes (specifically at 2:24).

A cool bonus sight on the way out to fish the big water

Black Sea Bass

Spiny Dogfish

After a short while of motoring to the reef, we set up to fish again.  I no more than felt my weight hit the bottom and instantly had a bite.  True to his word and expertise, Captain John immediately had me on fish.  Countless Black Sea Bass were caught, varying in size, never more than a minute apart between fish.  As predicted, this action soon triggered the attention of the main targeted species for the day.  It didn’t take long until I felt a much heavier fish that fought well and occasionally could peel some drag.  Sure enough, the Spiny Dogfish.  After some instruction on how to safely handle them, I was enjoying quite a few photo ops with the species.  These ‘mini-sharks’ if you will, were getting caught after about every 5th or 6th bass.

A very happy author adding a new species to the life list

It was pretty cool to see the dogfish occasionally follow a bass that was hooked all the way to the surface.  I also had a few dogfish follow a hooked dogfish to the surface.  I actually have footage of this happening and hope to add a video to this post sometime soon.  The trip was awesome as I love catching something new and the fact that this species was decently sized and ‘shark like’ made for another saltwater experience I will never forget.

I can not wait to get back, and most assuredly will fish with Captain John again!

Florida fishing trip to start the year! (Part 2)

CLEARWATER, FL – The second day of fishing I decided I would do a headboat.  I’m very familiar with this type of fishing as we have a good number of them on Lake Erie that run out of Port Clinton, OH.  I used to live in Port Clinton and would go out a few times a year.  Historically, I have not done well on headboats but I had a host of reasons that made this the correct choice.  One big factor was knowing I wanted to get out on a boat, but with a forecast that was calling for some bad weather, did not want to lose the substantial cost for a private charter if we had to come in early.  A big boat could handle the weather and I knew we would not likely quit because of conditions.  I also liked the idea of a more ‘deep sea’ type experience.

The headboat I selected can be found here

The attendant was very friendly when I arrived and the weather was looking surprisingly good.  I did the typical headboat ritual of selecting a ‘lucky’ position on the boat and examining the loaner rod.  Once the rod checked out, and it actually was quite nice quality, I moved to the secondary things all people on headboats do… look at the other anglers.  While no one admits it, everyone guesses who the ‘pro’ will be catching all the fish and who the unfortunate soul will be that spends the day re-rigging after getting snagged or untying from tangles with other anglers.

A pretty ‘choir row’ of rods ready to go

I enjoyed the ride out into the Gulf, taking in the skyline, and being the typical tourist shooting photos of anything and everything common to the locals.  It was great that there was another person on the boat that was solo, Scott, who happened to locate me.  He would end up providing a lot of great conversation and became a good friend for the day.  When we arrived to the first stop and the Captain announced we could put our lines in, it was a relief to know I had someone willing to snap a photo or two should I catch fish.  Now I just needed to make that happen.

My largest White Grunt

The day started very slow for me, our first stop was dominated by my new friend Scott two feet away from me reeling in fish after fish while I watched.  The bite was fair for the boat in general, with many White Grunt being caught and an occasional Porgy.  If I wasn’t watching Scott bring in a fish, I was watching a few dolphins around the boat, as my rod sat idle.  I finally got my first solid strike, right as the Captain called for the lines to come in for our first move.

After a short motoring of 5-10 minutes, we were anchored and ready to resume fishing again.  With renewed confidence after getting a bite, I suspected my fortune would change.  It didn’t take long and I was fighting my first fish, a nice sized White Grunt.  It seemed that getting the first was the trick because after the initial catch, the fish came easier.  I may have been the last one on the boat to get my first fish, but the third White Grunt I caught was one of the largest, if not the largest, that would be caught by anyone that day.  I could tell the regulars don’t value the White Grunt that much, but I was still happy with the big one and all the subsequent ones I was catching.  The First Mate was also plenty happy to have me giving him all my fish.

CWF01102016redgrouperA non-keeper Red Grouper

I picked a good person to befriend as Scott was the first person to catch a Grouper, a decent Gag but well short of legal size.  He caught several short fish while I continued to catch White Grunt with no other species mixed in.  I may have been outpacing anyone on the boat with the White Grunt, but was hoping to catch some other types of fish.  I saw a few Black Sea Bass and a single Lizardfish and Flounder get caught, while I remained catching a single species.  The boat made a few more moves and everything remained pretty similar.  It was Scott who finally managed a bigger bite, which turned out to be a beautiful Red Grouper that was just shy of 20″.  Still not a keeper, but the biggest fish the boat had seen.  Scott followed up with several more Grouper, all Gag’s that were much smaller than his near keeper.  I finally managed something other than a Grunt, a small Red Grouper.  Not the monster I had hoped for, but something new.

My stringer of White Grunts given to the first mate

The weather did turn for the worse, but we were able to fish for the entire planned duration.  I was pleased with the charter as the Captain moved plenty to try to help the anglers get on better/different fish.  The reality was that we were put on fish and everyone caught, on a headboat that is as much as you can ask.  Of course we all wished and hoped for a big fish or something special, but fishing is fishing and it doesn’t always work out that way.  I also should mention the First Mate worked hard and was very helpful, as was the gentleman manning the galley who was quick to fill orders of snack, food, or beverage.  I would recommend this charter and would go out with them again without hesitation.

Pelicans begging for scraps at the end of the day

After two packed days of fishing I was still going strong.  Michael and I continued our tradition of finding some good food for the evening, this time opting for The Lucky Dill.  I was sad thinking this was my last night in Florida already, but admittedly was missing the wife and kids.

I woke up early the next day and realized there was a small window of time to do some shore fishing before heading to the airport.  No time to scout new water, just an hour or two to fish around the Seminole Street Boat Launch like I had done on the first morning.  This time the Blue Shark Bait Shop was open, and I was given some tips and pointers for Redfish and Sea Trout.  After a colorful conversation and realizing I had much lower expectations then what he wanted me to catch – I left with a newly purchased tandem rig with two jigs that is popular down there.

CWF01112016gypsyanglerLook behind me!, Capt. Ray Van Horn, The Gypsy Angler

Walking across the parking lot I noticed a cool looking wrapped vehicle, which I had to get a closer look at.  The photo above tells the story, too bad I couldn’t have gone out fishing with him!  Not only would that have made for an epic story, imagine the fish that would have been caught!  After snapping out of my daydream of Capt. Ray becoming my new best friend and traveling the country fishing together, I realized I needed to fish with the little precious time I had left.

CWF01112016jackA Jack Crevalle

As I returned to fishing, I had the typical small fish nipping at the little jigs I was throwing, with a few Pinfish being landed.  I lost another fish to an Egret of some type and feared that would be my last fishing memory of the trip.  Fate was kind though, and another small fish was landed.  I took note that it looked different than anything I had caught in the previous two days and fortunately decided to take a couple of photos.  I sent a photo to Ryan who confirmed it was a Jack Crevalle, the 15th new species for the trip!  While this and many of the species I caught can get much larger, just getting them on my life list was enough for me!

I could ramble on and on about how much I loved Florida, the fishing, and the trip, but hopefully the length of the two posts make it obvious.  I can not wait to return and continue the adventure, there are so many more species waiting to be caught!  I also know I will plan to chase some of the popular sportfish that I did not target this time!

To read “Florida fishing trip to start the year! (Part 1), click here.

Florida fishing trip to start the year! (Part 1)

CLEARWATER, FL – I am thrilled to report I was able to start 2016 with a somewhat quick trip from Ohio down to Florida.  While I have fished saltwater a handful of times, it has always been off the coast of New Hampshire or Massachusetts, and a single trip out of Atlantic City, NJ.  Needless to say, I was excited to make the trip as fishing saltwater is always a rare treat and this far south would be an altogether new experience.  Even though the trip would be short (flying out of Akron on Thursday evening & returning Sunday afternoon), I would try to pack as much fishing into the time as I could.  Each day of fishing will be posted on separately as “Part 1” and “Part 2”.

CWF01092016clearwaterSeminole Street Boat Launch, the view from the balcony

The first evening would not provide any time for fishing, but I had a great time catching up with my friend Michael who moved to Clearwater around five years ago.  Although he isn’t into fishing (crazy, right?!), he was gracious to host me.  I guess you could say my accommodations were the most upscale of fishing home bases a fisherman has ever experienced.  After settling in, we hit the Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill & Bar for food and drinks.

The next morning was day one of what I hoped would be two days of action packed fishing.  The first day’s plan came together via a post I did on the RoughFish Forums.  I had simply requested any information that anyone might be willing to share about the Clearwater, Florida, area.  A person or two was kind enough to respond and one individual (Ryan), who was local, sent a private message offering to take me fishing around the area.  It was a generous offer that I couldn’t refuse.  It turned out that Ryan and I are ‘kindred spirits’ when it comes to fishing.  We both are fishing bloggers (Ryan’s blog here) that enjoy multi species fishing and maintaining a life list of caught species.  We also both appreciate the species that are often overlooked.

Rather than wait for Ryan at the condo, I decided to walk over to the shoreline.  As you can see from the above photo, it was a short walk.  I did bring a 6’6″ travel rod and a very small assortment of lures and figured I might as well see if I could luck into a fish.  On my very first cast, I hooked up with a small fish that came off within a few feet from being landed.  I was disappointed but it would only get worse when my next hookup was stolen by a Pelican as I brought it in.  Welcome to fishing in Florida, I would learn that birds of all types are quite troublesome to anglers.  My disappointment was short lived as I became enthralled with what I was observing just below the water’s surface.  I had no idea what they were, but there were literally hundreds of 18-24″ fish schooling right in front of me.  I tried catching them with everything I had, without even the slightest nudge from a fish.  I would later learn these fish were Mullet, who feed on plants, algae, and plankton.  My next trip I will bring an assortment of flies to try, they would be fun to target.  I’m curious if others are intrigued to do this too.

CWF01092016pinfishMy first fish of 2016, a Pinfish

After all of the mornings miscues- the multiple fish coming off, the bird thief, and targeting fish that don’t eat what I was throwing… I finally caught something.  The timing couldn’t have been better that Ryan had just pulled in to pick me up when the fish hit.  I not only was able to have him get a photo, he was able to tell me what it was, a Pinfish.  To people up north, let’s just consider this species the ‘Bluegill of saltwater’.  Non noteworthy to locals, but a new species for me.

CWF01092016collageAn array of nine new species I caught

After a quick stop at a bait shop, Ryan hustled me to our first destination in Dunedin.  While Ryan contented himself in targeting larger more interesting fish, I was happy catching a host of hand sized fish to add to my life list.  I encountered 9 new species to go with my Pinfish earlier, bringing the total to 10 new species caught in a half day of fishing.  I doubt I will ever be able to duplicate that many new species over such a short amount of time again.  The species in the photo are; (L to R, top to bottom) Lane Snapper, Planehead Filefish, Black Seabass, Mangrove Snapper, Spottail Pinfish, White Grunt, Pigfish, Southern Puffer, and Bandtail Puffer.

CWF01092016cowfishAnother new species, Scrawled Cowfish

Ryan made the mid day decision to head to a new location, which was an excellent idea to get me to see some more fishing venues and an opportunity at more species.  It was pretty safe to say I had successfully caught about anything hanging out on the shoreline at the first stop.  The next fishing would take place in Pass-a-Grille after eating lunch at Sea Horse (no website).  Both of us would catch more fish at the second stop, but nothing extraordinary.  My highlight, was finding another new species under a dock, a Scrawled Cowfish.  The new species total was now up to 11.

CWF01092016flounderOne of two keeper Gulf Flounder I caught

Our third and final stop would be a short distance from where we had been fishing.  Although only a short distance, fishing was significantly different with the species people were catching and the overall bite.  It also was interesting in that as the afternoon went on the crowd of fisherman got smaller and the fishing continued to improve.  Ryan and I watched a Blacktip Shark  get caught, which was exceptionally entertaining for someone from Ohio.  We also witnessed a big heavy hook up which turned out to be a large Atlantic Stingray.  I was front and center for that as I got to net it, which was very fun.  Seeing different things get caught motivated Ryan and I to get busy looking for action of our own, which we were able to do.  Ryan caught a cool looking Lizardfish and followed up with two nice keeper Bluefish.  I landed two keeper Gulf Flounder, which was another species for my life list.

CWF01092016ladyfishMy favorite catch of the trip, last fish of the day

As the afternoon turned to evening, it was closing in on time for the fishing to end.  I was hoping to catch one last fish when I got an odd strike.  Everything about this hit felt different and half the time I was fighting it I thought it was off.  As I looked out at the beautiful Gulf sunset, my hooked fish was jumping and dancing all over the horizon.  Whatever it was, I wanted to land it.  The fish also would swim towards me giving my line slack and with all the jumps I was amazed it stayed on.  Ryan expertly netted it, telling me it was a Ladyfish.  The unique way it looked, the way it fought, the scenery, and even the size of it compared to what I had caught throughout the day – all contributed to making it my favorite fish of my personal catches.  It was a great fish to end the day on, especially memorable on a day that was already perfect.

I had hoped for a fun day of fishing and I owe a huge thank you to Ryan for delivering that big time!  I certainly had no expectation that I would catch 13 new species or that it would be so much fun doing it.  He is a great guy and I highly recommend you follow his blog (click here).  Some might be wondering if I did anything for Ryan in return and you would be right for asking.  I bought the day’s bait, lunch, contributed money towards gas, and gave him a small item of fish themed jewelry.  As someone who promotes ‘trade a trip’ or similar types of experiences, I strongly urge people to be thoughtful when someone is generous to you!

When I returned to the condo, Michael and I had a fantastic dinner at Kelly’s Chic a Boom Room – Blur.  I loved the vibe of Dunedin, FL, and can’t wait to get back.

To read “Florida fishing trip to start the year! (Part 2), click here.

A successful trip to New Hampshire!

Every now and then things just fall into place for something good to happen.  This past week, it was a work trip that took me to Bedford, NH, with a fantastic boss who allowed me to stay long enough to get a 5 hour fishing trip in.  It’s hard to put into words how excited I was to go after a new species for the life list (Striped Bass), as well as, simply to get an opportunity to fish in saltwater for only the 4th time in my life.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe Atlantic Ocean at Hampton, NH, 7 a.m., July 17th

We will fast forward past the nightmare of delayed and cancelled flights that took place trying to get to NH, and pick up with the morning of the charter.  As you can see from the photo above, you could tell it was going to be a beautiful day right from the start.  Outside of not having my wife and kids with me, I couldn’t think of a better place to be than aboard Reel Job Charters embarking on a new fishing experience.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESNervous energy, excitement and anticipation of what the day might hold

It was awesome to have a co-worker, who is also a friend, that wanted to join me.  I do a lot of fishing solo and it was a welcome treat to have someone to talk with on the trip.  While Erin is not an overly avid fisherwoman, she does enjoy the outdoors and has an adventurous spirit.  Certainly the type of person that is fun to hang out with.  An added benefit, was Erin’s willingness to not only take photos – but take really exceptional photos (you will see).

The fishing plan for the day was to start out by catching our bait, Atlantic Mackerel.  This proved to be very challenging and I was worried it would be an omen of what was to come.  Fortunately, we had a bucket full of somewhat ‘fresh’ dead Mackerel, and Captain Steve had a great back up plan as a friend of his linked up with us out on the water to give us some live fish.  With plenty of bait, we were ready to go after our target.

Once we began fishing for the bass it was evident the fish weren’t just going to ‘jump in the boat’ for us, we were going to have to work for them.  Captain Steve set us up perfectly on the path we were drifting (as evidence by seeing other boats right by us hooking up), but we couldn’t muster a strike.  So much about fishing is patience, and I knew we just needed to stay positive and keep at it.  Finally, I heard the scream of line peeling off of a reel and looked to my left to see Erin expertly engaging the drag after letting the fish run with the bait.  She did it just as the captain had instructed and continued to fight the fish like a pro, all the way to the net.  Erin ‘breaking the ice’ for us was fun to watch and I was very excited for her!  You can click HERE to see her with her fantastic catch, awesome job Erin!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESFish on!, the author finally hooked up

After Erin’s fish, it wasn’t too long until there was another hookup.  This time it was a third party on the boat, a real nice guy named Mike.  Mike landed a short fish but promptly followed it up with another hookup.  The second fish was a monster and it was an amazing fight to watch.  The fish tried every tactic possible to come off, long runs, circling at the surface, under the boat, around the prop, but Mike and the captain were successful in getting it in.  It ended up being the biggest Striper of the year for the boat thus far, and it was neat to be there to witness it.  I can’t give the exact size, as I was anxious to get my line back in the water on the bow of the boat.

Seeing that catch, that fish, was bittersweet.  While I was happy that everyone had made a fishing memory, as for myself I might as well have been a photographer than a fisherman at this point.  I knew I had to coach myself into a good attitude, so I grabbed a fresh Mackerel, and launched my bait with renewed vigor.  I was intensely fishing, paying attention to every movement of my Carolina Rigged Mackerel, even giving it a bit of action in addition to the steady drift of the boat.  As we were nearing the point to take in our lines and motor back to the beginning of our drift, my index finger felt the line go tight, and a half second later the line was flying off the reel.  There was no wondering, it was a fish.  I let it take line for several seconds, then engaged the drag and set the hook.  Until that moment, I just knew I had a fish, but when I got to feel the weight, I knew it was nice.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESAll I was thinking was, “please don’t come off!” 

While I don’t exactly know what constitutes a big fish or an exceptional fish verse average for the locals, all I knew was the fish was fighting hard and was heavy.  For me, an avid Ohio fisherman, it would be a trophy if I got it in.  The fight remained pretty traditional other than the size and strength of the fish.  It was far stronger than anything I have fought in freshwater.  I was pretty exhausted by the time I got it to the boat, and thankfully it only took a few passes to get it head first into the net.  I’m not certain if my biggest emotion was happiness or simply relief at making the catch, all I know was it felt great!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESFreshly landed, removing the hook and ready for pictures

Once the fish was on the boat, I was intent on measuring it and shooting a host of pictures.  The fish measured around 39″ and Erin was great as she just kept snapping away.  I was thrilled when I reviewed the photos to see that she captured so much of the memory so well, and the fish itself.   It was definitely a fishing experience that ranks high on my all time best.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES As perfect of a photo as I could have asked for and what a fish!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe author with Captain Steve

After my fish, we still had an hour or so of fishing and that’s when things really heated up.  Multiple additional Stripers were caught, but none that rivaled my first, and certainly none that touched Mike’s beast.  I was content and more than pleased at how the day turned out.  On the trip in, I snapped a few scenic shots and we also had the unique experience of watching a kayak fisherman land a nice Striper on the fly rod.  It was incredible to watch and that guy had to be having the time of his life.  What an epic day!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESHow fun does this look?!  Striper on a 7wt.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESScenic picture of the bridge by Hampton Beach

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESCool rustic docks that had ‘old world charm’


The largest catch of my life

CWFtunabro08022008The 130 pound Bluefin Tuna that was an experience of a lifetime!

**Don’t miss the video of this catch at the end of this post!**

Back in 2008, a few weeks before I was getting married, my brother arranged a trip to Atlantic City, NJ that would end up being one of the most memorable weeks of my life.  The high point was catching the largest fish of my life, on a charter that he arranged.  Below is the story that chronicles the details of the catch, and even a condensed video from the hook up to the photos at the dock.  All I can say, is a big thank you to my brother for making my dream of catching  Bluefin Tuna, a reality.

Weather started pretty bad with a storm that seemed to want to follow the boat. Eventually, we managed to get clear of it and started fishing about 35 miles off the coast. About an hour in, we got hooked up on a big fish. I have never seen such controlled chaos and excitement! As I positioned myself in the chair I was preparing for what I knew would be a challenge but had no idea just how big of a challenge it would be! The fight itself began really easy at first… (fish is swimming along with us). The line was coming in very easy and I either caught it up to the reel or it made a run – all I know is when I suddenly ‘felt’ the fish it felt like we had snagged into a submarine. I never felt something so strong in my life. Of course the fish hit on the line that was out 300 yards and I have to admit I was exhausted after the first 5 minutes. Little did I know I would be going on adrenaline for another 28 minutes. The fish made 2 major runs and it was nothing short of painful getting it back in each time. My forearms were burning bad and every muscle in my body was cursing me. The site of the leader was a thing of beauty, unfortunately I would see it come and go a few times. The crew & my brother kept shouting encouraging comments to keep me going… several times I wondered if I truly had it in me to get this fish in. I never once in my life dreamed I could encounter a fish that physically challenged me like this. I did in fact stick with it, and the fish never really gave up either. I would say it was more of just reeling like crazy until my heart felt like it was going to pound right out of my chest and then controlling the fish enough when it was close to the boat to allow the crew to try to gaff it. After a few failed attempts with the still spirited fish, the first mate Ed was able to get the gaff secure into it. He and another crew member Gene, as well as my brother, then combined to pull it up into the boat. I can’t even begin to say how relieved I was to actually see the fish securely in the boat!  Throughout the fight my mind was preparing myself that we would lose the fish and I was thrilled that wasn’t the outcome!

As I stared at the monster fish, I was pretty much still in shock. The ‘high fives’ were exchanged and I recall asking if anyone actually hit my hand as I couldn’t feel it. It was hilarious to have my arm completely numb from the elbow down. The fish was too large for the regular coolers mounted on the sides of the boat which meant it earned a place in the tank under the fishing platform that runs the length of the transom. I opened the door several times just to look at it, simply fascinated by it’s size.

CWFtuna08022008All smiles on the dock at Trump Casino!

When we finally made it back to the dock at Trump Casino, a band was playing and a decent crowd was assembled on the patio adjacent to the boats.  When the fish emerged from the boat and I began my photo session, we stole the show.  It was my few moments of fishing fame and being the rock star – all rolled into one.  As if it wasn’t cool enough to make this lifetime fishing memory and accomplishment with my brother right there, I also got to share in the excitement with a crowd that just added more energy to the amazing overall experience.  I remember tons of people asking me about the catch and being offered many free beers.  I couldn’t have scripted a better day… well other than if my brother who let me get the first hookup… could have gotten a hookup as well.