With this disastrous coronavirus going on, it's incredibly comforting to sometimes just talk about fishing. After all, fishing is my passion in life and the reason I made the move to the Florida Keys in the first place.
The last time I ran the EP-2, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the Florida Keys as seen from the water and the majesty of the Atlantic Ocean. I many times think I am more comfortable on the edge of the Gulf Stream than I am standing on solid ground. As I left the dock, my daydreaming led me to thinking, if food becomes as difficult to find as toilet paper, we all live in an area rich with seafood.
Traveling through the crystal-clear turquoise shallows, I surprised myself with thoughts of the ocean more as a food supply than a sporting arena with man versus fish as recreation, or hobby. I suppose crisis sometimes opens the human mind to enlightenment and different ways of viewing of our everyday lives. Bottlenose dolphins, large turtles and airborne flying fish cavorting and hunting for food were doing the exact same thing I was. Hunting for food.
In the back of my mind, I realized the grocery stores were still open, but feeling that I was part of nature was really cool. When I grew up in the city, we had no opportunities to feel this way. I wonder how different my life would be had I grown up in the Florida Keys.
I approached one of my regular “hot spot” yellowtail snapper waypoints. The surrounding area was nearly empty. I cruised around for a while with my eyes focused on the fish finder. Juvenile flying fish scurried on both sides of the boat. My mind focused on the quirks of the bottom structures. My goal was to catch one big yellowtail that I would bring home and prepare as a meal for my wife and myself.
I took more time than usual to visualize what the marks on my electronic device meant. Where was the spot that would supply my dinner? The ocean floor went from flat and smooth to areas with “nooks and crannies” where upside-down cone shapes signified fish lurking in search of food just above reef boundaries and hiding places. Cones of different colors and sizes had different meanings this morning. I was seeking food, not recreation.
Strangely enough, I thought of Bible stories with fishermen in motor-less vessels casting nets and baits in search of food. How did they do it? How easy is my life compared to that? I stopped thinking of Bible stories when I got to the one about Jonah and the whale. I found a sandy area just down current from a well-defined ledge with fish holding on the high side. Hello, modern age of electronics.
I anchored, began chumming and pitching handfuls of oats into the water. I believe in the idea of dominant fish (basically large fish) being likely to hit the first offered bait. I let the chum flow as I prepared bait, scaling a silvery ballyhoo and cutting thin strips of miniature fillets. After a while, I shook the chum bag, pitched some oats and cast a tiny hook with bait on it into the drifting chum.
Line evaporated from the open bail. I closed the bail and the fight was on. I cautioned myself that this obviously very large fish was caught on a tiny hook and light fluorocarbon leader. The drag screeched as he made a second run. “Big fish,” I said aloud. “Keep your wits about you, C.J.”
Big yellowtails on light gear are a challenge. It's like a race. Do you get the fish to the boat, or does he spit that tiny hook, or snap that light leader? Does some monster shark come up from the depth and steal your prize fish?
I talk to myself a lot when I fight a big fish. “Keep his head turned and keep him coming toward the boat,” I said. Then I reminded myself, “Find the sweet spot between pulling as quick and hard as possible without losing this fish before a shark takes him.”
The fish pulled another length of line from the reel. The siren-sound from the straining drag washers and ling passing through rod eyes scared me half to death. Shark, I thought. But the fish stopped running and returned to his bump-bump-bump style of trying to shake himself free. This was one big yellowtail.
Finally, he came to the side of the boat. I held the rod in one hand and the landing net in the other. He came aboard and when I looked closely, the tiny hook was hanging by a thread. All that talking to myself must have helped. All the preparation and practice over the years came together and paid off.
I fished for a while longer and then headed home. I had accomplished what I set out to do. I had dinner in the ice chest and totally enjoyed my day on the water. As I motored home, I realized the beauty and power of nature. There is a balance in the world, that we are but a small part of. Better days are coming. Life will return to normal and life is good in the Florida Keys; life is very good in the Florida Keys.
Please be careful and stay safe.