On The Hook: Barracuda!

Bill Walsh

The single word title is all you need to stoke interest. Whether that reader be a zealous angler or a just a curiosity aficionado, the mere term exudes emotion.

And rightly so. Especially if you’ve ever had an up close and personal experience with these fearful creatures. And for those of us Southwest Floridans that have plied the heated waters of the Gulf and the Keys in the spring and summer months and had the experience, it’s an unforgettable happening.

A diver holds a barracuda.

We still experience sightings of barracuda here now, but for some hidden and unknown reason, the frequency is far less than is was, say, 10 years ago. 

So our fishing adventure this week will deal with an experience of a lifetime on a charter trip where the ‘cuda’s antics added a couple of heart stopping moments.

More:Fishingcast: Conditions for Southwest Florida, April 13-19

The failed tarpon trip

This foursome of guys worked for a bank in the heart of downtown Chicago and had just endured one of the worst winters ever. Then as spring, or rather signs of spring, started to stir their sporting juices, they collectively came up with the idea of a long weekend down here in Boca Grande for tarpon fishing.

I knew and had worked with one of the four and Jim called me in early April and asked for recommendations as to “where,” “when” and “who with” for the tarpon outing. Told him that Boca was the right place and his timing was just about right for the tarpon run there in mid to late May. Also gave him the names of some charter operators who specialized in tarpon.

Jim thanked me and told me he would let me know how it went.

Didn’t think any more about it until the phone call in very early May. The lament was a simple one, no tarpon. They had decided to come down before the May tarpon run; latched onto the recommended guides and spent two days; both cold and windy and “no tarpon.” They had one day left before the journey home and Jim meekly asked, “Any tarpon down your way?”

We had had some chillier than usual temperatures that year and was honest that “tarpon” on that short of notice (next day) was a long shot but I’d try if they wanted to make the trip down.

A 60-foot-tall tower of chevron barracuda rises past a marine biologist.

He checked with the others. They were desperate. Unanimous “yes.”

The weather that day cooperated. Warming a bit, with light easterly wind and a good tide both flood and ebb.

We first went to the First Reef and gold hooked a number of pinfish for bait and set up at the south end of the Capri channel with two baits flitting under chum.

Now tarpon trips can get “old” very quickly. The crew is just sitting there looking at the water; waiting for a sign, any sign, of action. Two of the gang had binoculars trained on the four or five other boats around and would give periodic reports … “nothing going on over there” … “the guys in that boat are leaving” and as time wore on the stress level was mounting.

Searching for an idea to salvage the day and their trip, I blurted “Hey, you guys ever fish for barracuda?”

Instantly, they were at attention.

“You got those around here,” questioned Jim.

“We have a reef fives miles out that two or three charter captains had barracuda action on last week. I’d be willing to give it a try but no promises.”

A unanimous “let’s go.”

We stopped along an inshore reef and used a couple light rods to land a handful of small blue runners for bait and set sail for the notorious Five Mile Reef. Just a few other boats there bottom fishing out there when we arrived. We set up where there was good current flow and got a block of chum in the water right away.

We put two rods in play with small blue runners on mega hooks with wire leader.

Just then one of Jim’s buddies yelled, “what’s that” pointing to a four foot shadow just under the boat.

Barracuda! Now the crew was psyched. But not the cuda. He wasn’t interested in this unmoving bait.

So, we changed “gears,” pulled anchor, pulled the chum block and reset the hooks in the runners then payed out another 100’ of line and started a slow troll back across the target area with major rods in the water. We hadn’t gone two minutes when the port rod went off.


The hooked, writhing, barracuda cleared with water by five feet and spit out the runner which was still on the hook. One of the gang began a super-fast retrieve of that bait with the barracuda after it.

Before I had a chance to scream “stop” he had the bait airborne over the port gunnel of the boat with the enraged barracuda right behind and doing likewise.

I think I screamed “hit the deck” as everyone dove down as the flying toothy barracuda just cleared the starboard gunnel by less than a foot and careened back into the water.

There was total silence for a least two minutes. Then there was a string of unprintable expletives with the first word being “Holy … ”

This was now a shaken bunch of bankers. But they didn’t quit. We went over what went wrong...........cuda after bait....us reeling bait very fast back to boat; ‘cuda serious to get bait no matter what.

Correction: If ‘cuda miss bait leave in water where it is. All nod.

We repeated the exercise twice more and these times we had the good and safe fortune of getting cuda’s alongside and carefully hoisted for camera shots and the thrill for the participants.

Both barracuda were released and the leaders cut.

On the way back to the marina, there was raucous conversation on the “flying ‘cuda” as well as the catches.

They all agreed for the next trip it was barracuda here in Southwest Florida.

“Tarpon are wimps next to the ‘cuda.”

More:On The Hook: Deep sea? How deep?

More:On The Hook: Complicating a simple sport

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