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.