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.