On The Hook: How deep is deep sea fishing?

“My nephew and his friends are coming down for a visit and want to go deep sea fishing.” That seems like a simple straightforward statement, right? But hold on a minute; it’s not so simple.

For most of us in smaller boats and single engines, there is some limitation as to how far we will go out in the Gulf of Mexico on a charter; thus some limitation as to how deep the water will be. Within a mile of the beach, the water will be just over 20 feet deep and, say, 10 miles out it will be 45 feet deep. But, if you keep heading west for another 20 or so miles, the Gulf water depth can be in the 70 feet range.

Add to that, the general belief that the deeper you go the bigger the fish you will encounter. There certainly is some truth to that axiom, but it is not an absolute as you will see.

So defining “deep” as in “deep sea” is an important factor.

Back to the inquiry with an interrogative response of, “Be glad to handle such a trip, mad’am. But do you have any idea as what your nephews definition of “deep sea” is? I have a smaller boat and limit my offshore range to about five miles where the water is just over 30 feet deep.”

Mrs. Enright, now identified, shot back, “I have no idea. The boys are from South Dakota where they fish little lakes. I would guess 20 feet deep water would be just fine.”

Having had this situation before which killed a charter, I asked if she would like to check with her nephew before booking.

“They are driving down and I can’t reach them. Let’s book your trip for the day after tomorrow.”

The appointed day broke sticky humid without a hint of a breeze but with some good tides and forecasted weather.

We had been getting nice mackerel action of the nearshore reefs the previous few days with an occasional visit from a blacktip shark or a bonito attracted to the chum and the fishing commotion, so I felt we could do a good job for gang from South Dakota.

I was all set to go at the appointed hour, but our gang was nowhere to be seen. My cell phone rang. It was one of the captains from out along the big sport fisher row, “Hey, there’s four guys out here looking for your big (facetious) boat. I’m sending them your way.”

They arrived and just stood there staring at the 22-foot Grady White. “Is that the boat we’re going deep sea fishing in?” lamented the nephew.

I nodded and tried to explain the conversation I had with grandmom regarding how deep is deep and this is what she decided on. He came back with a dissertation on how they wanted to get great fishing action and big fish and how could they on this little boat. Yada, yada, yada.

Nephew borrowed one of his buddy’s cell phone and called grandmom. I couldn’t hear everything but caught words and phrases like, “We won’t get any big fish” ... “No, we can’t cancel now” ... “Yes, Grandmom, I know you’re paying for it.”

They boarded with disgusted looks and belligent demeanor. I explained that we would get them into some good action and maybe we’d even see a bigger fish or two.

The two let out a sarcastic “Yippee.”

I banished the thought that maybe I should take ‘em back. Not a professional move!

We picked a spot just off an artificial reef where the calm surface made the bait boils and mackerel leaps rather spectacular. Even the malcontents took notice. The chum was deployed and we went over the techniques of using the light tackle equipment with tipped jigs to induce the mackerel strikes.

Another shot. One of them commented, “This equipment is lighter than we use to catch pan fish back home.”

So, the four of them went at it and within milliseconds they had the first mackerel strike. They were totally unprepared for the strength and ferocity of the mackerel strike, run and fight. In fact, the first half dozen strikes and runs were lost to tangles and uncontrolled runs under the boat.

They had come to life. Now it was my turn. “What’s the matter guys? Your losing all the fish. This too tough for you?”

Pretty soon they caught on and were getting a bite and fish on just about every cast. They had momentarily forgotten about the big fish syndrome. That is until one of them saw a dark gray shadow slide by the side of the boat chasing a hooked mackerel.

“What was that?, the nephew blurted.

“That, my friend, is about a four foot blacktip shark.” I replied. “Slow the retrieve on the next mackerel you catch.”

Sure enough, on the next hit, one of the gang felt a bump on his line, quickly followed with a monstrous strike and a run that peeled line off the reel as if it was attached to a freight train.

“Everybody else’s lines in. We have a blacktip shark on the line.”

I opened the drag on the reel just a smidgeon and sat back and watched. The four of them were like kids in a candy store not knowing what to do next. I went over the technique of “pull up, reel down” to aid their effort as they passed the rod to one another.

Time wore on and the shark definitely had the upper hand but was tiring. The South Dakota four were gulping down bottled water and rushing around to relieve one another on the reel.

After another 30 minutes of mayhem, we finally had the blacktip boatside. He was well over four feet in length and still very aggressive. We lip gaffed the shark and had each take a bragging photo with their big fish before releasing the shark back to his habitat. He moved slowly but recovered strength as he swam away.

“Big enough for you?” I inquired. “You guys just landed a 50-plus pound shark on 17 lb. test line. Think this water was deep enough for you?”

“Pretty cool” was their exhaustive collective response. They found that deep is but a relative term when it comes to sport fishing action.

Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to dawnpatrolcharters@compuserve.com.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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