My buddy Richard from Key Colony and I loaded the EP-2 and headed out to catch some mahi mahi.
As we idled through the no-wake zones and Sisters Creek, we lamented over the fact that our last two mahi trips had resulted in only one fish each trip. My experience this year with mahi mahi has been fairly lackluster. For some reason, or maybe a plethora of reasons, we could never bring a big, hungry school of mahi to the back of the boat.
It’s been like that all this season. So, our goal was to find a weedline, or a big patch of weeds, and work the heck out of them until we could raise a school of decent — good-eating-size — mahi mahi. We had spent some time, as usual, looking up current fishing reports and information. The Gulf Stream had moved way offshore again, and mahi reports backed up our recent history of only catching mahi one at a time. I guess it’s pretty late in the season for that type of action, but we still kept our positive smiles and optimistic mindsets.
I always like to run a full spread of trolling lures, and baits, over the deep side of the reef. I can’t count the number of times, a big, roaming-mahi, wahoo, blackfin tuna, or kingfish has hit a bait and started the day out with a bang. Bang! After passing over the reef, I usually continue with a full spread and depending on how I feel for the day, will continue trolling until I get out to about 450 feet of water. And that’s exactly what we did.
Somewhere along that path, there is a good chance for success. Fortunately, we saw very little weed in the water, and I opted to use all the resources in my little bag of tricks and put a black-and-red Iland Lure with a bead-chain-rigged ballyhoo behind it on the downrigger. Richard hasn’t had much experience with downriggers and was intent on seeing it, hopefully, in action.
I also ran a dredge-teaser that trails behind the boat with mylar streamers festooned with colorful ballyhoo and look like a school of ballyhoo flashing in the water. Both the teaser and the downrigger are prone to snagging on Sargassum weed or bay grass. Given the thick weed coverage over the past several months, I had not taken it out of the cabin for quite a while.
We had four trolling lines out as we headed directly into the wind and waves. The seas were larger than forecasted, and we could hear the wind whistling in our ears. Although the tightly spaced chop was more of an inconvenience than a real problem, it was enough for us to change our plan and continue at trolling speed as we headed for deeper water rather than gunning at high speed.
When we hit the 450-foot mark, I said to Richard, “Usually, I’d pull the lines and run, but with this wind I think we should stay at trolling speed.” He agreed, and we kept moving south to deeper water.
Snap! The downrigger popped. Line was screeching and we saw a mahi jump behind the boat. Richard grabbed the rod, and I cleared the teaser, downrigger cable and the two short lines. I always keep the EP-2 running at an idle with the autopilot on. This keeps my lines from crisscrossing and keeps the hooked fish moving toward the back of the cockpit.
This was a gaffer-sized fish, and we knew we had to decide between bringing onboard or leave him hooked so he might attract more mahi toward the boat. I threw handfuls of cut-up ballyhoo behind the idling boat. Richard did a great job of keeping the fish from panicking and possibly shaking off the hook. I pitched more cut-up ballyhoo. My heart rate had risen, and I was sweating in the deadly sun-heated cockpit.
I heard the drag on Richard’s reel chirp several times, the hooked fish, becoming antsy and panicked, pulled line off the reel.
“Forget looking for more fish,” I said. “Let’s boat this big boy before he gets off that hook.”
“Will do!” Richard answered. His face grimaced with the strain of the now fearful, feisty fish.
I took a position next to Richard. We talked in short sentences, as to what we needed to do. When the fish came within range, I gaffed and pulled him over the gunnel.
“Over the rail and into the pail,” I joked, quoting the “Wicked Tuna” TV show. We placed him carefully in the ice-filled fish box, sprayed the cockpit clean with a saltwater blast and got back on the troll.
I asked Richard if he thought the downrigger — and the teaser — might have had something to do with catching this fish. “I would have to think so?” he answered.
We talked about fishing strategies, experiences we’ve had with different equipment and resulting successes, or failures. My fishing buddies and I spend countless hours rehashing our past fishing trips. Some trips were so long ago but were big enough learning opportunities — or failures — we’ve relived them dozens of times or more and never get tired of them.
We worked our way out to nearly 20-miles offshore, stopping to investigate floating debris, and trolling along well-formed weedlines. We caught three more mahis. Not a one of which brought any following schoolmates.
Back at the dock, protected from the wind, with absolutely no breeze, the temperature and incredible humidity took its toll on both of us. We’d been on the water for seven hours. About halfway through the cleaning up process, we took a break and sat in the air-conditioned house, guzzling bottled waters and diet sodas. Refreshed, we were able to finish up, put the EP-2 on her lift and divvy up some beautiful fresh mahi mahi filets.
As Richard headed for his truck, we both looked at each other and said, “Life is good in the Florida Keys; life is very good in the Florida Keys.
C.J. Geotis is a life-long fisherman who followed his dream more than 20 years ago to live in the Florida Keys. His books, “Florida Keys Fish Stories,” and “Double-Edged Sword” are available at Amazon.com. He lives in Marathon with his wife, Loretta, and her Coca-Cola collection. His email is email@example.com.