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:
To bizarre species like the sawfish:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?