19 Mar Jiggin’ The Key – Scott Wilson
Jiggin’ The Key – By Scott Wilson … A Shorebound Northerner lookin’ for action down south
Heading south for a family trip recently I had hopes of spending a little time with my fishing gear squeezed into and around the girl’s agenda for the week. There was not likely to be any budget or time to dedicate to a boat trip or guide so I prepared to beat feet and find what I could along the shoreline…preferably within walking distance from our lodging. My biggest concern was a travel rod which I do not own, as I rarely see reason to leave the island to fish. But the Iron Man came through at the last minute with exactly what I felt I needed for my determined strategy and he and Daphne both provided some “coaching up” just prior to take off. Iron Mike was with me in spirit and in travel rod.
I have to relay what was probably the most poignant moment of the trip and it occurred during the boarding of our first flight. As I waited with one of our 8 year olds in our seats near the back of the plane, a gentleman dressed in full fatigues with a camo backpack moved down the aisle toward us and took the seat two rows directly in front of me. A few minutes went by and I noticed one of the flight attendants making her way toward the back of the plane. She stopped and pointed to the military gentleman and said “excuse me sir, one of the passengers in first class would like to exchange seats with you if you wouldn’t mind”, a moment passed as the surrounding passengers heads all turned awaiting the response. Then, he slowly stood and humbly said, ”well that would be very nice, thank you”, and made his way forward. The first class passenger appeared a short time later and quietly took the seat, I was sure that applause was going to break out but the moment seemed satisfied by smiles and nods of approval as he sat down. I tried to explain to my daughter what had just occurred… my eyes welled up and I could barely get the words out. It was a thoughtful gesture that said so much from an individual with an apparent big heart and a patriotic notion. I think he spoke for a lot of people that didn’t have their own first class seat to exchange. It was clear that the flight attendants were all deeply moved and were very proud of what had happened on their aircraft. Anyway, back to fishing, I just thought it was a remarkable moment. I still get emotional thinking about it.
First stop was to get a license so that I could jump on the closest opportunity to wet a line, which I was certain might only occur during late night or pre-dawn hours when the Wilson women were sound asleep.
It didn’t take long to locate the population of southern choggies. They do ensure that you stay motivated to fish as they seem to be willing to provide endless splashes, smashes and baitfish sprays. I watched a number of large barracuda follow my offering right to shore and then turn away. I quickly learned that there was activity everywhere although there was an element of timidity and everything seemingly had sharp teeth.
A day spent at Bahia Honda provided a great wading opportunity with plenty of sea life to admire. The only fish it produced were these little screamers with yellow tails. They were small but as soon as they were hooked they began acrobatics that were impressive for such a little fish.
The water was crystal clear and you could walk forever in the shallow flats.
Much of the fishing that I witnessed from shore folk was the targeting of the smaller, plentiful fish. While this kept fish on your line I was determined to find something that would get my drag singing. I worked Jumpin’ Minnows which were well received but provided more splashes than hookups. I was determined to have success with the new Albie Snax and those attracted a lot of attention but I think their design is more geared with something with a solid bite and large mouth as the hook set up does not leave much hook or hook gap exposed. Bucktails generated much of the same …follows, occasional whacks and chewed up Red Gill trailers. I also gave the new Spro Snaps a try. I will only say that I will continue to stick with Breakaways……….
In and around the mangroves I tried adding a shrimp fly as a dropper in front of my Jumpin’ Minnow. I also tried some shad darts rigged the same way. These were quickly inhaled and bitten off….the Jumpin’ Minnow allowed me to accurately place them in tight to the mangroves and then work them with the current as it moved around these structures. It was fun to watch the fish slapping around in there like trout.
So many interesting creatures………. wading the flats with my kids gave me a better idea of what I was throwing at in the wee hours regarding the bottom structure and layout, it also gave me and the twins an up close and personal look at a Bonnethead shark that was somewhere between 3 and 4 feet long ……it swam right up to us then headed off as gently as it had arrived, I was very impressed that the girls were more curious than scared.
We found an ideal location at a state park. I say ideal because I could fish on one side of a rock pile and the girls could enjoy a gorgeous beach on the other side. The kids would wander over occasionally to show me how it is done.
I’m a big fan of palm trees.
My rock pile buddy was having good luck collecting small fish by throwing bait. The current was really pushing from right to left in front of me and the wind blowing pretty solidly over my left shoulder setting up a nice scenario. I threw a variety of offerings finally settling on a tin and began swinging it through the current trying to get as deep as possible. It wasn’t long before something struck hard. I realized immediately that the weight was substantial, no shaking… just a few steady tugs pulling line against my drag in bursts, as I leaned back into the fish it began to peel drag and then it was gone. My friend at the end was on his feet staring, as he’d noticed the big bend in my rod. I yelled … ”bit off” but was surprised when I reeled up the lure….I immediately checked the hooks thinking one or more must be straightened but that was not the case..I guess, as George likes to say…”just came unbuttoned”.
I continued to work the night and predawn hours and while I saw tons of fish, sharks cruising the shallows and and occasional liquored up tourist…. I caused plenty of fish to strike but found nothing significant or worth losing sleep over, it was great being up and at least “catching” the sunrise each morning and enjoying the solitude.
I finally isolated the deeper water and a favorable tide within walking distance and discovered the excitement that is “the jack” which attacked a 6” pearl RonZ . These guys really pack a punch. A cross between a blackfish and a bluefish they will take screaming runs as well as hunker down for a serious tug-o-war.
And then served with Mrs. W’s famous mango salsa.
Some of the most impressive fish that I observed were right at the docks. These Tarpon were in a couple of feet of water and they ranged I’d estimate from 10-25 pounds. We also witnessed schools of what we were told were mullet that appeared to range between 5-15 pounds peculiarly circling the waters near the dock in Bahia Honda….they would leap clear out of the water on occasion putting on quite a show.
We took the long ride to the Dry Tortugas where I thought I’d find fishing paradise. After snorkeling for a bit the fish in this preserve seemed more like pets than something to target so we stuck with the snorkeling and underwater photos and I never unpacked my rod.
Give a kid a mask, fins and an underwater camera and they’ll stay busy for quite a while.
Fort Jefferson, a massive brick structure…. I can’t imagine how they moved the materials all the way out there to build this. AMAZING!
One of the twins holding up her big catch.
They fished with me a little but were generally preoccupied with other things.
I snuck out the morning of our departure for what were likely my last casts till April/May. I watched bait fish being stalked and crashed all morning without hooking up. There was a tremendous splash at my feet as I stood at the end of a jetty at sunrise that left me covered in spray and frustrated As I made my way back to our condo a little dejected I stopped to work the deep area that I’d been drawn to on previous outings. It wasn’t long before my jig was stopped dead in tracks and I found myself back pedaling while reeling to keep tension on a drag that was too loose. I gained a little and tighten down just a bit on the drag not wanting to clamp down jeopardizing what I felt were less than ideal hooks. Each time I worked the stubborn fish toward shore it would exit the shallow water with another screaming run. It finally relented, posed for a quick pic and then went back into the water. While not a huge fish, it was the best landed of the trip and it certainly packed a punch which made the ride out of town much more enjoyable and put an exclamation point on the week.
In closing, here is a pretty neat quote that I found:
One of the memorable catches for a saltwater angler is their first Jack. The hard fighting Jack Crevalle fish’s reputation preceeds itself as one of the most contentous bullies in the waters. Jack’s, as most anglers call them, are almost always ready for a brawl and when you present them with jigs, bait or lures they’ll often crash the party by breaking tackle and/or fishing lines in an instant. Captain Richard’s childhood experience with a Jack Crevalle was a defining point in his angling life. “When I was only seven years old my father took me fishing in the Banana River Lagoon and I hooked up on a Jack near the Port Canaveral locks. It took me at least 10 minutes to reel it up to the boat without dad’s assistance and you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for the rest of the day. I’ve never forgot that scappy little jack that pulled me around the turning basin and caused me to spend the rest of my life in pursuit of another fish fight.”