Archive for Fishing

What’s the Weirdest Fish You Ever Caught?

Some Key West fishermen see deep sea fishing as a sort of child’s play meant to be a warm up for the real challenge of hooking a permit or bonefish in the flats.

Not me. I love it.

I’ve battled a marlin and hauled in more than my fair share of 40+ lb. dolphin over the years, but there’s something special about the anticipation of deep dropping your line, waiting for a bite, and not really having any idea about what’s going to come up to the surface when ya reel ‘er in.

Of course most of the time you do recognize your catch…grouper, snapper, amberjack or barracuda. But the deeper and darker the ocean gets, says Captain Rich Houde of Southbound Sport Fishing Charters, the more likely it is something magnificent (or even creepy) will show up on the end of your line!

The good old days of fishing in Key West

The Florida Keys were world famous as a “monster” catching zone long before the days of Facebook and Instagram.

From Goliath Grouper that looked like something out of a Disney cartoon:

jewfish-caught-off-old-key-west

This 360 lb. Goliath Grouper caught in Key West waters a century ago.

To bizarre species like the sawfish:

sawfish caught in Key West

Sawfish like this one are beginning to be caught again in Key West waters.

Sawfish are being caught again – and released since they are a protected species – in Florida Keys waters.

“There’s a reason why Ernest Hemingway kept a home in Key West: to spend his days chasing the marvels that lurked under the dark waters of the sea.”

Often, the strangest fish we catch are sharks.

Even run of the mill sharks have a tendency to carry a bit of an odd air about them. Look at the hammerhead. The most normal looking hammerhead doesn’t really look all that normal at all!

hammerhead

Hammerhead Shark

And there’s nothing quite like looking into the mouth of a big bull shark and seeing all those rows of teeth lined up one after the other.

2 headed bull shark

Photo Credit: Patrick Rice Shark Defense/Florida Keys Community College

Speaking of strange fish and bull sharks, last year a fisherman caught a two-headed bull shark off Key West! Well, to be fair the two-headed beast was actually one of the live fetuses discovered in the womb of a bull shark that died after being caught. But still, that’s pretty crazy and I can’t say that I’ve ever had the honor of catching a two-headed anything.

 

And just last May a shrimping boat pulled a goblin shark out of the Gulf of Mexico. With razor sharp teeth protruding from its fleshy mouth, this sucker’s got to be one of the ugliest fish I’ve ever seen.

goblin shark

Goblin Shark Photo Courtesy of Carl Moore/NOAA

Does Size Matter? Is Bigger really better?

In tournaments, the biggest fish usually wins – and the angler certainly gets a better fight with the larger fish, but for novelty’s sake, sometimes the smallest specimen wins. “We’ve found juvenile sailfish  in the bellies of large dorados,” says Captain Richard Houde of Southbound Sport Fishing. “But this little sail is the smallest we’ve ever caught on the hook.”

How to go about catching a strange fish.

So there’s more to it than just the luck of the draw. Mostly it’s about going deep. And when I say deep I mean all the way to the bottom, out in the Gulf Stream where we usually troll for dolphin or wahoo.

Not a whole lot of fishermen do this kind of deep dropping, mostly because the gear required to do it costs quite a bit of money. An electric reel capable of consistently dropping and hauling up that much line will set you back about three grand!

Of course you can always deep drop the old fashioned way, but most anglers wear out if they do two drops and don’t bring anything up of interest.

But yeah, with an electric reel it’s pretty easy to start hooking some real beauties. Check out the weird bulgy eyes on these guys:

The real prize of the deeps is the snowy grouper, recognized by its white spots that look kind of like snowflakes. Because it lives in cool, clean water the meat of a snowy is quite a bit tastier than any of the other members of the grouper family.

Generally you can tell if you’ve got a snowy on the line before you get the fish up to the boat. Snowy grouper have air bladders that burst from the rapid change in pressure and so you’ll see bubbles rising to the surface as your haul nears the top.

yellowfin tuna gaffed on Dock in Islamorada

Yellowfin Tuna Gaffed on Islamorada Docks
Photo Courtesy of Andy Newman / Florida Keys News Bureau

Don’t have an electric reel? What about a gaff?

Recently in Islamorada a vacationing fisherman did the unthinkable. He caught a 100-pound yellowfin tuna off the dock!

Yellowfin are generally only found in deep waters (800 ft.) well offshore but this guy must have been trying to swim  to the restaurant.

Twenty-two year old Alex Hare gaffed the tuna when he saw him swimming near to the surface next to the dock, but he needed a buddy to help wrangle in the big fish that are pound for pound one of the toughest fighters in the ocean.

Hare’s no beginner when it comes to tuna fishing as he’s previously hauled in yellowfin with rod and reel in the Gulf of Mexico, so he was just about as shocked as anybody to see the stray tuna lounging about in the harbor.

Just as a clarifier here…don’t read this little interesting tidbit as a “how to” guide. Hare’s encounter was a one-off lucky shot and you’ll be waiting a long while if you head to the nearest dock with your gaff and a cooler full of brewskies!

So, what’s the weirdest – or biggest – fish you ever caught?

Ditching Facebook for Fishing!

Advice on teaching your kids to fish, from a Key West charter boat captain

Nowadays more than ever parents are looking for fresh ideas to get their kids to put down the smartphone and pick up a baseball bat, tennis racket, or fishing pole. But it’s easier said than done to convince young ones that they can not only survive, but actually have fun in a Wi-Fi dead zone!

A love of fishing can provide the means for lifelong enjoyment of the great outdoors, but getting your kids hooked on the sport is not as easy as buying a starter rod/reel set and making space in the boat when you hit the lake or seashore with your buddies. In fact, unless “teaching” your kids is at the core of your strategy, they’ll probably wind up boring quickly and head straight back to the Xbox.

Step One: Make it about them…not you.

If you teach your children right, then one day you’ll be able to tell your boss, “I’m taking the day off to go fishing with my kids.” But in the beginning there’s no “with” involved here. Your kids are going fishing, and you are going to watch and teach!

In fact, this is probably the number one mistake that parents make when teaching their kids to fish. You can’t expect to fish yourself and also have the time to properly monitor and assist your young pupils; trying to do both at the same time will most likely end up in frustration for both parties.

Here’s a simple way to keep the focus on your kids…leave your pole at home!

Bonito caught on the Southbound

This young angler got hooked on fishing when he caught this bonito off Key West.

Step Two: Start ‘em when they’re young.

The younger the better. If your kids are too young to be out on a boat then get them on a dock, pier or riverbank. Be sure to get them involves as best you can in the whole fishing process, from baiting the line to cleaning and frying up your catch at home. If you start them young enough, you might just end up with a professional, says Captain Rich Houde of Key West’s Southbound Deep Sea Fishing Charter Boat. “Many a young angler who was first exposed to fishing on a family trip to Key West has been so hooked on the sport that they come back to work in the charter boat business here in Key West.”

Step Three: It’s gotta be easy. “Reel” easy.

Kids get bored quickly and so even a couple Saturdays spent on a boat  without catching a fish could be enough to sour them forever. Start off with stocked fishing ponds where kids will never have to wait longer than 30 minutes to get a bite. Remember that to a child there’s no difference between catching a 3 inch perch and a 30 pound salmon.

This young lady caught her dolphin unassisted, aboard Key West's Southbound deep sea charter boat.

This young lady caught her dolphin unassisted, aboard Key West’s Southbound deep sea charter boat.

The more fish they catch the better. The excitement of reeling in a honker will pump adrenaline through their veins and they’ll be well on their way to being a fishaholic just like you. But be patient. Training up your permanent fishing buddy won’t happen overnight!

Step Four: Keep it short and bring on the junk food.

Kids don’t like long car rides or long boat trips. Try to start out with fishing adventures that are no longer than 3 hours. Children are more in tune than we sometimes give them credit for, and so when they’re ready to move up to longer and more challenging fishing tests they’ll let you know.

Make sure you’ve got plenty of snacks to keep kids happy. Cookies and candy can be especially useful when the fish aren’t biting and they are starting to get frustrated. Having treats that they don’t generally get to eat at home let’s kids know that going fishing is a special activity.

Step Five: You don’t like sunburn and neither do they.

As a total fishing nut you’re willing to wake up at the crack of dawn and endure whatever weather Mother Nature can throw at you if it means you get to keep on fishing. Remember, your kids won’t feel the same way. If the weather’s crappy then you’re better off to cancel the trip or head home early. Suffering through a miserable day won’t help at all for instilling a love of fishing in your child.

On hot days make sure that you keep your kids covered and protected from the sun. Sunburns are not only uncomfortable, but excessive heat will make your kids tired and grumpy and take away from what’s supposed to be a positive experience.

Step Six: Keep it fun at all cost!

You know how fishing is. Even a sure bet fishing hole can deal you a dud now and again. Don’t let a lack of bites equate to a bad day of fishing.

When the kids get bored the worst thing you can do is to push them to fish more. Look for alternative activities that you can do to break up the day. Beach combing, tree climbing…anything that’s fun and outdoors will do.

And one more final tip: Under no circumstances get frustrated! Teaching a kid to fish means spending 80% of your day re-baiting hooks and untangling lines. But stick with it and one day they’ll be driving the boat while you do most of the fishing!

8 Tips for Finding a Cheap Flight to Key West – or Anywhere – for Your Next Fishing Trip

What could be better than a fishing trip to beautiful Key West? A fishing trip to Key West that starts with an inexpensive flight, that’s what!

Thirteen airlines run services to Key West International Airport with Delta and American being two of the busiest transporters. There are always deals to be had, especially if you are flexible with your itinerary.

  1. Search engines are great, but never rely on just your favorite.
    What’s the most common way people look for flights? They look on what they perceive to be independent flight search engines. Over time I came to notice that my favorite search engine started favoring certain airlines.It turns out that quite a few of these seemingly independent websites are now owned by major airlines. If this is the way you look for cheap flights, always check a few different search engines. Try Cheapoair.com if you’ve never used it before, says Bill Hollingdger, an angler who frequently fishes with the captains from Charter Boat Row.

    panorama of fishing fleet

    Historic Charter Boat Row on Key West’s Garrison Bight offers more than 30 charters and captains and everything from party boats and deep sea charters to light tackle charters.

  2. Don’t tie yourself down to one airport. Often you’ll find you can get a cheap bus ticket to fly out of a different airport and save a considerable sum on your airfare. Smaller, no frills airlines often operate out of smaller airports and not the big one you’re used to using. Try flying into Miami or Key West and renting a car. The drive down the Overseas Highway is picturesque and there are countless great places to stop and taste the local seafood before you catch your own!
  3. Avoid the most popular flight times. Try not to fly when everyone else is hoping to start their Key West holiday too, namely Friday after work. The best time of the week to fly is midweek. This is great for fishing as you won’t have as many weekend fishermen in the water to compete with. Midweek boat hire may even be less expensive and getting a seat on a party boat will be easy.
  4. The early bird gets the worm. No one wants to start their vacation with a super early morning or a red-eye flight. That’s exactly why you should. These early morning/late night flights are usually a great way to save money.
  5. Consider a budget airline. There are plenty of no frills airlines opening up that offer great prices but no food or drinks. When priority is getting there cheaply and you don’t have a long flight ahead of you, you may want to give them some serious thought. After all, eating lots of carbs and drinking alcohol seated in a chair 35,000 feet in the air is not that great for your body. Going no frills is actually good for you.

    Runway approach for landing at Key West

    Runway approach for landing at Key West Airport (EYW).

  6. Straight from the horse’s mouth. Don’t discard looking directly at an airline’s website in favor of outside search engines. Often airlines offer discounted flights that won’t be advertised in other places. Expedia, Orbitz, and Hotwire all want to make you think they’ve got the hottest fare in town (and sometimes they do), but double-check every flight with the airline’s main page.
  7. Apply for a frequent flier card. It’s easy and membership is often free. Most airlines are in air point alliances which means your membership card is valid for a few different airlines. Along the same lines, some credit card companies offer free points if you sign up for a new card and make a pre-set number of purchases. Often these free points are enough for a free or heavily discounted domestic flight.
  8. Check alternative flight paths. Sometimes the cheapest way from A to B is not necessarily a straight line. If you are a little more flexible with time, you may want to look at flight paths to Key West via other major centers. For one thing, a Key West airport shuttle runs to both Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, so there are two easy alternatives off the bat.

In short, whatever the most desirable flight is will also be the most expensive option. If you are flexible and not fussy about who you fly with, there’s no reason your fishing trip to Key West can’t start out with an inexpensive flight.

 

Simple Tips for Starting a Fishing Blog People Actually Want to Read

It seems like everybody and their mother these days has outlandish aspirations of becoming a professional blogger. I mean, wouldn’t that be the life? Sitting around in your underwear all day…writing about your lifelong passion…cashing the checks as they roll through the door!

Well, take a deep breath and don’t ring up your boss to voice exactly what you think of her just yet. This article’s not about making money with your fishing blog, it’s about making your fishing blog kick butt.

We’ll look briefly at monetization, but really the goal here is to help you start a fishing blog that people actually want to read. Let’s face it, most of the fishing blogs out there are downright boring, even for certifiable fish-a-holics!

I’m going to get right to the point here.

Call me crazy, but the number one mistake that fishing bloggers make is that they only write about fishing. “Huh?” you say. “It’s a fishing blog. Shouldn’t it be about fishing?” Yeah, mostly. But no more than 80% of your posts should be bona fide fishing articles.

The other 20%? Stuff that fishermen (and fisherwomen) are interested in.

You’re a fisherman, so you ought to have a pretty good idea of what other people just like you are keen to read about. Sports, technology, cars, hunting, travel…the list goes on and on. Add in there your favorite barbecued salmon recipe or hotel recommendations for Key West, Florida, the Mecca of deep sea charter fishing.

Fishing blogs that are nothing more than fishing report after fishing report ad infinitum can boring. Try to make your blog something that any angler would want to read, whether they’ll be fishing in your neck of the woods or not. Remember, readers will eventually tire of fly tying instructions and fish porn. Mix it up a bit.

Don’t be afraid to let it all hang out.

Too many fishing blogs are written in the same monotone droll as a 70’s newscaster. You’ve got a personality. Use it!

You’re not Jerry Seinfeld, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t try to write with a bit of a sense of humor. Regardless of the subject matter, every blog post should meet the following three criteria. It needs to be informative, easy to read, and entertaining.

captain's favorite post titles

The blog’s “fish hooks” are the captain’s favorite posts.

For a great example of a fishing blog that has personality and covers more than just fishing in Key West, read Captain Craig Eubank’s blog on AbsolutFishingKeyWest.com (above). Captain Craig writes about hot topics, such as Cuban Immigration, and local Key West subjects. He even weaves the tale of the day his boat burned to the waterline. A harrowing tale.

Don’t write for your buddies, but do have your buddies write for you!

When you first launch your fishing blog, 99% of your followers are going to be people that you know. A.K.A.: your buddies. This is OK. You’ve got to start somewhere.

But resist the urge to consistently crack inside jokes that no one outside your inner circle will understand. If you want to expand your readership you’ll need to write for a broader audience. Write for strangers, not for your best mates.

It’s also easy to quickly pigeon-hole yourself into just writing about a handful of topics. After all, you’re not a millionaire and so naturally you’ll be fishing the same spots week in and week out. To help branch out your topic base, ask some friends with a different expertise write a few guest posts for you. Even if they’re awful writers you can clean up their prose and just stick with the meat. Same goes for your readers. Suggest that your followers submit articles for publication. Hey, free content!

Grammar and format matter. They really do.

In all likelihood you won’t be spinning this blogging gig into the publishing of the Great American Novel or ever win the Pulitzer Prize, but that doesn’t mean you can just post willy-nilly like you’re firing off an email.

Every single post needs to be properly edited prior to uploading. And it’s not just about making sure your 7th grade English teacher would approve of your spelling and syntax. Yes, that’s important, but also do a couple re-reads in general to look for opportunities to make your writing even better.

If you make money, great…but don’t plan on it.

I said that we’d talk briefly about making a few bucks on the side with your blog, so here goes. The short story is this: forget about it. If you’re starting your blog with delusions of grandeur, don’t do it. But if you love to write about fishing and don’t care if you make a dime, here are a few tips to cash in a wee bit once you’ve built a solid readership.

Ads and affiliate marketing – these are the old cash cows. With ads you get paid a few cents any time a visitor to your site clicks on an ad. Affiliate marketing works a little differently. You get a bigger cut of the pie, but only if the visitor goes on to actually purchase one of your advertiser’s products. Either way, you’ll need quite a bit of traffic running through your page to actually make real money with ads or affiliate marketing.

Selling information – If you’re such a guru that your insight will actually help people catch more fish, then you might be able to charge a few bucks for your fishing reports or a How To style e-book. But for this to work out, you’d better write an e-book that’s worth paying for.

Funneling – Just as advertisers pay you to drive traffic from your page to theirs, you can funnel your own visitors to a separate page where you can sell other products. Again, this only works if what you’ve got to sell offers real value.

Oh, and one more thing. The selling side of a blog doesn’t happen by magic. If you want to make money off your blog, expect to spend just as much time as you do writing doing marketing and “business” stuff.

But like I said, if the reason you’re thinking about starting your own fishing blog is early retirement, you’ll get rich quicker by cutting back on Starbucks!

 

 

Adventures on the Deep Sea: What to Expect from an Offshore Fishing Charter

Are you ready for a Key West fishing trip? Here’s what to expect

Many (and I mean many) moons ago when I rocked up for my first Key West deep sea fishing charter trip I must have looked like a total newb. For those of you unfamiliar with contemporary lingo these days, a newb is someone who hasn’t the foggiest notion what they are doing.

At any rate, to get back to my story, not only did I roll in with my tackle box full of bobbers and glow worms, I’d brought along a trout fishing pole that would have snapped in half in an instant should the boat captain not have calmly and politely let me know that I could go ahead and stow my gear back in the car. He said, “Shh, I won’t tell anybody.” Looking back I’m certain that he had a good chuckle with his mates later on at the bar at my expense.

But hey, I was young and inexperienced and it was my first time in the Florida Keys. So, my pain can now be your gain. If you’re a deep sea fishing virgin but want to look like a pro when you get to the boat, here’ s the low down on what to expect from an offshore fishing charter.

It’s an all-you-can-eat gear fest.

Blue Marlin

Blue Marlin Hooked on the Triple Time

Within reason, all that you’ll need to bring with you on the day of your trip is a great attitude, your camera, and perhaps a box of Dramamine. When it comes to tackle, the charter company will have you covered, hook, line, and sinker…and rods and reels, too.

They’ll also provide bait, safety equipment, and the price of your fishing license for the day is covered in the charter fee.

Offshore fishing is different, in particular with regards to the size of the fish you’ll be gunning for. Specialized gear is required to successfully land and haul in a billfish. Tuna, sailfish, dolphin, marlin, or any of the other big game fish that lurk below the deep are stronger than heck and fight like the dickens.

There’s a reason that charter outfits provide you with all the gear. It’s because you’d be hopelessly out of luck with any of that stuff you’ve got stashed away in the garage. Seriously, leave those raspberry floaties at home unless you’re looking to raise some eyebrows!

Don’t be concerned about your lack of experience.

Professional fishing guides get paid to help people catch fish. Sure, experienced anglers will probably catch more than a complete novice, but even if you’ve never gripped on to a fishing rod in your life, the captain and his team can provide all the expertise you need to have an awesome day.

All that being said, expert knowledge is only as useful as you are at listening. Pay attention to the crew, both when it comes to fishing advice and safety protocol.

It could get a little bit bumpy out there.

Offshore fishing means just that…off shore. Without the protection of a sheltered harbor the seas can get rougher than what you are probably used to. If you are prone to sea-sickness take the necessary precautions ahead of time. Even on a large vessel like the Triple Time, a 46’ Bertram – my most recent excursion – rough seas can rock the boat. But rest assured, says Captain Joe Mercurio, a responsible fishing charter won’t go out when there are ‘small craft’ advisories.

Often times the boat will be so many miles offshore that you won’t even be able to see the coastline. Prepare for the sun by packing plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat. Remember, the boat won’t be turning back just because you’re ready to return to dry land. Plan on being out to sea for a long day and you’ll have a lot more fun!

These fish are big…real big.

Clearly you’re not paying good money to go out and try to catch sardines. But if you’ve never been before, you’ve got no idea how different it really is to have a barracuda on the line as opposed to a bass. Deep sea fish are super strong and it’s not uncommon for the fight to last an hour or even longer.

Nice dolphin catch

 

Once you’ve got a fish on, get ready to buckle down and enjoy the ride. It’s not like lake fishing where you go from bite to net in a couple of minutes.

Finally, prepare to have the time of your life.

Here’s just a little warning I like to doll out to all newcomers to deep sea fishing:

You’ll have so much fun that you’ll soon be an offshore addict!