It's amazing how fishing can attract the curious. I'm not talking about the crowd watching the little boy tussle with landing his fish on the beach. I'm talking about grown-ups, with big boats, out there on the briny.
Whoops! That may be a bit confusing ... better explain.
Say you're out there on the big water one fine morning, set up to fish your favorite reef spot just a few miles offshore. You work your GPS position to the ultimate and after a couple of misplaced anchor drops, you finally get it right. You're set up smack dab on the reef drop-off. Your fish finder is showing fields of bait with your targets just beneath them. This is fishing heaven!
You begin fishing and it's great!. The bite is hot and you got it all to yourself.
But wait a minute. What's that out there on the horizon?
It's a boat heading hell-bent your way. In fact they're heading right at you. As they get nearer, you see three guys hanging on to a center console with rods sticking out everywhere and they're coming to cut into your deal.
When they get a hundred feet away they finally throttle back all staring at their bottom machine. They found your spot; drop anchor and move in.
But this is a published spot and they have every right. So OK, you say to yourself, this spot can hold two boats and there's plenty of good catching to go around.
So you relax and keep on working the good bite — and so do your newest, closest friends.
Now there's an axiom written somewhere that's called the Gathering Commandment that goes something like this: "If thou shalt see, assembled anywhere two or more boats that appear to be fishing, thou shalt proceed posthaste to investigate and/or otherwise annoy."
If the prophecy plays out, and it most often does, you will soon be joined by a squadron of newer friends, who will undoubtedly anchor and wet a line to see "what's happenin'." The chances are better than even that the commotion from the gathering will turn off the bite and ruin your adventure.
Now, as I say, published spots are fair game for all who desire to use them. But spots that are private, i.e., discovered by you or developed by you, offer a much different protocol. To mooch on such a spot would be against the rules of good fishing etiquette. Those who flaunt those unwritten, but well understood, protocols would leave themselves wide open to whatever could happen.
- Name: Lane snapper
- In season: Year-round. This is the mainstay catch nearshore and offshore. Plentiful and great table fare.
- Florida regulations: Must be 8 inches overall length. If caught in Gulf Florida waters they are not included in the snapper aggregate take limit, i.e., no restrictions on numbers taken. If taken from Florida federal waters, lane snapper are included in a 20-per person reef fish aggregate bag limit.
- Habitat: Just about on all structure and rough bottom offshore. Take cut bait or shrimp.
What could happen you say? Well here's one for the memory bag.
It was a few years back in the late springtime, and there were reports of great cobia action anywhere from 10 miles on out in the Gulf. The charter boats were coming back with limit cobia all in the 20-to-30-pound class. Cobia are one of the best fighting fish as well as excellent table fare. So there was lots of excitement and lots of folks wanting to get in on the action.
I hadn't even started cleaning the boat after the day's charter when a father and son approached me excitedly. "Captain, we see all these great cobia being caught. That's exactly what we're looking for. Got any days open this week?"
Fortunately, I did and we booked an early morning charter to match the tide conditions. The son, who had to be about 9 or 10, was so excited that he was literally jumping up and down as we confirmed the date.
We got off on time that appointed morning with our first stop to pick up a couple dozen live baits at the Sea Buoy. We had beaten the charter crowd out that morning and we had the Buoy to ourselves. We quickly gold hooked our bait, got them comfortable in the live well and headed out to a spot that I had come across several years back. It was a lump on the bottom that for some reason always held bait and, over the years, we'd caught some really nice bottom fish like grouper as well as pelagic fish, including cobia. And it was a private spot — it was my spot. So off we went.
I hadn't even gotten the anchor fully set when the youngster excitedly announced that there were sharks around the back of the boat.
Dropping everything and racing to get a bait in the water, I was literally stuttering telling the two of them that those weren't sharks they were cobia.
Our bait hit the water and the cobia vamoosed skittishly. I told them to be patient and stay with the program, the cobia will be back.
I think I was the first one to hear the engine noise approaching and sure enough, here come two guys in a big Sea Ray moving right in on our spot.
"Hey guys," I said, "this is not a published spot, it's our spot. Be good if you moved on."
"Who's gonna make us?" was the retort.
Now there's a time when you put on the gloves, but out here with customers 10 miles offshore with a 10-year-old, this wasn't one of them. I shook my head. They anchored. Both boats had rods set.
The cobia returned. As fate would have it, a rod on the stern of the Sea Ray went off first and, seconds later, the youngster on our boat had his rod bend and scream. The following action was fast and furious with both boats fighting their fish in the same direction. Back and forth, in and out went the fights, but always in the same area.
Finally, the lightbulb went on — both boats had hooked the same cobia and we had it tethered between us, neither one wanting to give in.
I finally said to the guys in the other boat, "Look, this way we're going to lose the fish. I think one of us have him caught and the other has him snagged. Let's one of us bring him in and the one that caught it can keep it."
A long shot but they agreed.
Our youngster reeled the fish in and to our dismay, the fish had taken the bait of the other boat and we had snagged him due to the close quarters on his first run. Our youngster was almost in tears as I blurted out to the Sea Ray, ""our fish. Reel him in."
The bigger of the two guys hesitated, seeing the utter disappointment of the youngster and asked, "Son, is this your first cobia?"
"Yes, sir, it is."
"Unhook and keep him — you did a good job. It's your fish. We'll go get another one."
Needless to say, that was a one-in-a million day and one that will never be forgotten by anyone who was there.