On The Hook: Foggy misadventure

BILL WALSH

I'm sure you've noticed that recently some of our mornings have dawned immersed in a blanket of vision obscuring fog.

This thick watery haze is the price we pay for these beautiful warm summer like afternoons layered over sixty something degree night water temperatures.

That fog is bad enough on the nerves as you make your way up Collier Boulevard without seeing the hood of your car. But try navigating the Marco River in a plethora of holiday week fishing boats all heading out for the "big one", where the degree of fog density is at least double that experienced inland.

You have running lights on and you're tooting your horn but that does little to lessen the anxiety when you can hear the guy you stationed on the bow as lookout but can't see him – in a 20 foot boat.

And then, as an angler, try forgetting about this navigational mayhem for a moment and think about trying to find your backwater fishing spot when you can't see it.

All of that happened to us one morning last week. We muddled around for the first hour or so in these tough conditions but were spared the worst of the fog's wrath when it suddenly lifted mid-morning.

But that triggered recall of a "fog adventure" we experienced a few years back which is vividly remembered and worth a repeat.

Our charter that early spring day was with a father and three sons, all in their late teens, who were vacationing here on spring break. They were all experienced anglers and arrived aboard that morning "gung ho" ready for a great fishing adventure.

The weather had been variable – we'd get two or three super warm days and then get smacked with a tail end of a March cold front that chilled the water and stirred up the mud. Our particular morning was quite placid with no wind to speak of with a kind of gloomy overcast. The weather forecasters predicted an overcast clearing later that day and clear and sunny thereafter.

The only anomaly I noticed that morning was that the depth finder was indicating a surface water temperature of just above seventy degrees which was a drop of five or six degrees from earlier that week. Thought it interesting but dismissed any concern.

We started the trip early that morning to beat the spring break rental boat armada that made the river look like a D-day rehearsal. Our plan was to start on the last of the outgoing tide working Capri Pass for pompano and mackerel that had been our catch for the last week or so. We started our action working tipped jigs on a drift just off the main channel markers.

We were in among several other charter boats as we started our drift and had taken a couple of nice pompano when one of the boys asked "Captain, what's that?" pointing seaward to a solid curtain of opaque whiteness that was heading our way.

Moving quickly inshore towards us, the white curtain seemingly swallowed the presence of the charter boats west of us. Having experienced the anomaly while in the service, I announced that we were about to be immersed in sea fog.

Sea fog, technically known as marine layer, occurs when a warm air mass moves over chilled water and vaporizes the lower air layer into a fog density that is thick enough to cut with a knife.

Knowing we only had minutes before zero surface visibility and it was no time to be drifting by a main navigation channel, we had the gang reel up quickly and we got underway.

We moved quickly to a bottom fishing spot on the north side of the Pass that I thought might produce some action and would be safe from other "lost" boat traffic. By the time we anchored you literally couldn't see the front of the boat. GPS, although functioning properly, was useless in these backwaters, as they used outdated government navigational charts. But we had dropped the hook on a spot we knew – so we were OK.

We turned on the anchor lights and periodically sounded the horn as required but that was useless in this dense sea fog. All got lines back in the water and were in a good mood – his was an exciting adventure for these guys from Blizzard, MN.

Ten minutes rolled by quickly – that slowed down when we got to twenty minutes without a strike. Not a blessed bump on any of the lines. I cut up some shrimp into chum bits and deployed it generously – there had to be fish here.

Ten more agonizing minutes – nothing. If anything the fog was becoming more intense and you could hear boat fog bells and horns all over the Pass.

Fearing a angler "insurrection", I knew we had to move; question was where when you can't see where "where" is. As mentioned, GPS was useless other than showing our direction of movement so we'd have to rely on the compass and bottom machine. We brought in lines, weighed anchor and got underway.

I think we moved north very slowly until one of the kids stationed as bow lookout screamed "Captain, you're gonna hit this tree" – He could see it up front but I couldn't from the helm. I jammed the engine in reverse and backed a dozen feet.

That was it. No more exploring when you can't see. We dropped anchor and told them this was "it" – no action here, we try to find our way back to the marina.

Had no idea of exactly where we were and expected very little action on a spot showing no bottom definition on the fish finder. But they baited up and had at it.

We weren't two minutes into the drop when one of the kids pulled in a fat 14" mangrove snapper – then another did the same –then a nice spec trout landed by the father. Excitement reigned as we had over an hour of non stop action on really nice fish. They had all the fish they wanted in the cooler and with our time just about over we felt our way through the sustaining fog from marker to marker slowly back to the marina.

And now the irony of the misadventure; never knew where we were when we had all the action and have never been able to find it since!

So out there, just north of Capri Pass, is one of the best fishing spots known to man that was discovered on a fog bound accidental anchorage.

Next time out, see if you can find it!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.

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