On The Hook: Deep sea? How deep?

Bill Walsh

It’s a spring evening a few years back and it’s another potential charter customer with a question, right out of the blocks, that is basically unanswerable. 

Sport fishing with two salt water rods and reels

“Good evening, Captain. Me, the kids and the Mrs. wanna go deep sea fishing next week...can you handle that?”

I can’t even remember how many times that descriptive adjective jumps into initial conversation as folks try to categorize their desired charter fishing experience.

Then the responding line of questioning begins with the simple question: “Sir, what do you consider deep?” and the dialogue usually goes downhill from there.

Although I’ve never been flat out told this by an inquiring customer, I think the “deep sea” designation only means they want to get out on open waters, i.e. they don’t want to fish in the backwaters. Deep sea only means that they want to be out there where the land ends and they have a chance at a “sea going” fish species.

I recall our conversation that evening rambled on with me explaining the difference here in the Southwest Gulf of Mexico with our minimal water depths of nearshore (You can see land and fish in 20 to 30 feet of water) and offshore (you can’t see land and are in 50+ feet of water). I also slipped in the potential hazards that you face the deeper you go, with most of those wrapped around the weather.

Back to the initial request...

"Captain, my name is Jeremy from the Jersey Shore. I only go deep sea fishing when we take occasional charter trips. We go out in hundreds of feet of water, but we want fish now while we’re here this week and appreciate your patience and explanation of your water depths and definitions.”

Jeremy further explained, in Jersey articulation, “Yep, us guys make runs out 70-80 miles to the Canyons on weekends. We do the big stuff like Yellowfin tuna."

As backdrop, those canyons are minimum 70-80 miles out in hundreds of feet water depths. To match that here we’d have to go due west hundreds of miles or go south of Key West. Both virtually impossible on a single day charter and on a boat/ship rigged and equipped for that journey.

I still had Jeremy on the phone and switched the pitch a bit: "You mentioned a family trip...the wife and kids go with you?"

“Are you kidding?" he replied. "They all complain and then get deathly sick when they can’t see land."

So with subtle persuasion, we booked Jeremy and his family to a nearshore (in sight of land) trip for the following week.

We ran Jeremy’s trip the next week and it was a doozy...

It took an extra half hour to convince “the Mrs.” that land would never leave her view during the trip, then we finally got underway. This was to be a white knuckle trip...

Jeremy didn’t help the situation when he viewed the spinning rods rigged and ready to go in the holders. “See guys, these are little kiddie rods,” as he was referring to the spinning rods with Penn reels and loaded with 12# monofilament and hooks rigged on flourocarbon leader.

“Hey, Captain, where's the Big Boy equipment?

“This is it. Equipment matched to the targets. We’re heading out for some hot Spanish mackerel action,” I responded.

“Mackerel? That’s a bait fish back home," Jeremy chuckled.

That did it.

“Sit down, Jeremy. We’ll see how you do with the kiddie rods  on the 'bait fish' in just a few minutes.”

Conditions couldn’t have been any better that morning as we ran south just a half mile off the Marco beach. Even the Mrs. looked relaxed and smiling as we cruised the extraordinarily flat seas.

We anchored up on a well published reef amidst an armada of private boats out there enjoying some serious mackerel action. After getting a chum block in the water, I distributed the baited rods to everyone.

I spent a few minutes instructing on the casting and jigging technique that would bring the mackerel on the run. The kids were at it right away. Jeremy, however, had a problem.

“How does this thing work?" he asked, pointing to the rod and reel. “Us guys just troll out there in the canyons; you know....we sit in the chair and the mate hands us a rod with the fish on it."

I went over the basics of casting and retrieving with him and then, much to the amusement for the kids, he wrapped his first cast around the boat’s Bimini top.

The action, right from the start, was hot and heavy...for everyone that is except Jeremy. He had trouble managing the rod while grousing trying to catch bait fish, as he condescendingly described the mackerel.

He looked bored stiff while the rest of the family was whooping and hollering, catching and releasing fish after fish.

That is until suddenly Jeremy’s rod bent double with drag screaming. He had something BIG that was running away from our anchorage. I told him to follow the fish direction with the rod as I pulled the anchor and closed the gap on this obviously bigger fish.

It was quite a struggle as the fish surged back and forth. The family had temporarily racked their rods and provided verbal encouragement to the now straining Jeremy. After three or four turns around the boat, the fish was finally scooped it up in the landing net.

He had landed a small 10-15 pound king mackerel that was mixed in with the smaller Spanish mackerel. All he kept saying was “Holy Jeeze...that was some fight!” and "Jeeze, look at those teeth...take a picture, Louise!”

From that moment on, the “deep sea” requirement was gone and Jeremy was transformed to light tackle fishing. He now understood how you match the fish with the equipment to gain the full meaning of sportfishing.

There he was out there with thin line...a thin light rod and himself. From then on it would be his skill with that equipment that would define his fishing success.

“Deep Sea” had vanished from his vocabulary.

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Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to dawnpatrolmarco@cs.com.