Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? I’m OK with confessing to the new tricks part, but I’m not too happy about the old dog part. And maybe this isn’t a new trick at all. Maybe this is just something that I used to do but may not be doing now.
The best part of this whole mumbo-jumbo is I’m catching more fish lately because I’m doing things a little differently than I have been recently. You know I wait all year for the summertime mahi mahi fishing. I love keeping a schoolie mahi in the water, then casting chunks of cut bait on spinning gear to other members of the school my first fish was travelling with.
People who know me, know I am not a big fan of live bait. “Are you crazy?” you might say. But, in my alleged mind, I have very good reasons and/or excuses for this. My wife and I have become very spoiled about the fish we eat. We do eat a lot of fish but don’t like eating frozen fish or fish that was caught more than 12 hours ago, we call it same-day-fish. We both believe we can tell the difference right away. And this gives me a perfect excuse to fish more often.
“I could go for some blackened mahi with fries for dinner,” my wife will say. “OK honey, I’ll fish in the morning, and we’ll cook ‘em up when I get back.” See, anything for the wife, right? Because I don’t need more than one or two medium mahis to make a fabulous same-day-fish dinner, I can usually catch them in the time it would take just to catch live bait.
So here’s what I’ve been doing lately. When I catch a schoolie mahi on the troll, I leave him in the water with enough line that he can swim deep enough to be seen underwater from any side of the boat. I call this fish “the sleeper.” Then, I throw chunks of cut bait into the water and wait to see if anything follows him or the bait up to the boat.
Lately, instead of waiting for other fish to show up close enough to see them, I cast a piece, or two, of chunk bait on circle hooks, and let them drift way back, beyond where I can see approaching fish. Then I put the rods in holders. Sometimes, I let the boat idle forward. My friend, Otto Pilot, keeps the boat moving in a straight line, or I stop the boat completely if the conditions are right.
And here’s what happens almost every time. I’ll start to neaten up the cockpit, sit down with an ice-cold Coke, maybe take half a sandwich out of the ice chest, or just sit still and enjoy the view. And sooner or later, the cut bait gets hit and mahi mahi skyrocket out of the water, trying to shake the circle hook. They lose almost every time. Of course, all of this would work at least just as well, if not better, with live bait.
I don’t really know if this is anything new or just something that slipped my mind. Either way, it works well. At this point, I’ve got all the fish I need for Loretta and me. Now, I can fish with the pressure off. I always like hunting for big fish. A lot of times, I run big baits behind the boat, and try to keep the schoolies away as I look for just one big fish. Wahoo is my preferred species of choice, so I load up with wire leaders. I have several friends that share with me when they have a good day on the water and I, in return, share with them once I pass my personal limit. It’s a beautiful thing.
Last week, my buddy Dan hooked a schoolie on a piece of chunk bait and as he was bringing his feisty finned friend to the boat, A monster wahoo charged the mahi and cut him right in half. The whole thing happened so close to the boat, Dan felt as though he was right in the middle of the whole event. How exciting.
I remember the day the same thing happened to me. I was within spitting distance of the Marathon Hump, reeling a medium size mahi to the boat when I saw a huge form approaching from behind the boat. I figured it was a shark and reeled as fast as I could with a 20-pound spinning outfit. I was hoping to get this fish to the boat before Mr. Shark stripped him from my line.
As I was preparing to lift the mahi into the boat, the water right behind the boat turned into a frothy maelstrom of splashing and sparkling blue and white muscle. A monster marlin hit that mahi so close I could have touched him. He took the mahi into his huge mouth at the surface of the water and greyhounded away. My spinning reel screamed like a banshee in a bear trap, the rod nearly folded in half under agonizing strain.
I remember his pectoral fins lit up like blue neon, his thick silver stripes strobed like fluorescent bulbs. He turned on his side and splashed his tail pulverizing the water. It was the fastest I’ve ever seen a fish move. And it was the most exciting four seconds of my life. Snap! The line broke when the reel emptied and the knot at the end of the line gave up the ghost. It sounded like a 22-caliber handgun. I will never forget it.
My buddy Dan took two friends out fishing recently and caught tuna and mahi using the find them, then drift bait to them tactic. And now they agree that life is good in the Florida Keys, life is very good in the Florida Keys.