Steve Weisman with a nice stringer of beeliners.
I had to keep it quiet, but I must share something with you. I havenâ€™t had to shovel any snow or bundle up to avoid the freezing temperatures. Thatâ€™s what a trip to Panama City Beach and the Florida Panhandle can do for you. Oh, and Iâ€™m blessed with good neighbors that keep the driveway clean! However, I am sure there will be a price to be paid for that.
Let me tell you how nice it is to not have to battle snow, cold and wind! However, there are issues here, too. Like last Saturday night, when we had heavy rain, thunderstorms with winds of 40-plus mph and tornado warnings. It is still cool here, but highs have been 55-65 degrees for a high and lows usually in the 40s, until this morning when it dropped to 31 degrees. Yes, there was steam coming off the gulf.
You know me. Wherever I go, I must try my hand at fishing. First, I thought Iâ€™d maybe get a shared charter with three other fishermen and hire an individual charter boat. However, many of the captains are either still fixing their boats from the hurricane, just getting them ready for early spring fishing or commercial fishing.
So, I happened to go to a local marina and saw a sign: â€śDeep sea fishing $65.â€ť The boat is the Jubilee and can handle up to 70 passengers. This was a five-hour trip and includes fishing rod, bait, tackle and fishing license. Well, I signed up for last Friday, knowing that they want to get at least 20 on the boat to make it worthwhile. Sure enough, late Thursday I learned that only four of us had signed up, so that was cancelled and they moved it to Saturday.
I was apprehensive with the forecast showing winds 20-30 mph by late morning and a chance of thunderstorms. Sure enough, I received a call from the Jubilee office at 3:30 on Friday afternoon canceling.
Ah, but there was a six-hour trip scheduled for Monday. Yup, I signed up, and, yes, the wind went down by Sunday afternoon and the trip was a go!
However, as I mentioned earlier, the temperature was below freezing at 7 a.m. However, we werenâ€™t to depart until 9 a.m,, and the temperature was 38 degrees when we left. There was a little concern as we left the harbor when Captain Charley came on the microphone and told us â€ťWeâ€™ll give it a shot and go around the corner, but the offshore forecast is for 4-plus-foot swells. We will give it our best shot.â€ť
Thank goodness I had taken a Dramamine for movement sickness, so my stomach could handle the 4-foot swells and the 90-minute, 10- to 12-mile trip out to the gulf.
We were going to be bottom fishing in 100 feet of water with heavy baitcasters, a 4-ounce sinker to get the bait down quickly and keep you relatively straight up and down and not into nearby anglersâ€™ baits. It was a two-hook rig with a hook set at 12 inches and another at 24 inches (similar to a crappie rig), and we put a chunk of squid on each hook. The hook was a circle hook, so you didnâ€™t have to do a hard hookset and so the fish never became gut hooked.
We were fishing over rock reefs and rock piles for any number of fish that frequent those depths. We caught several fish that were in closed season: red snapper and trigger fish. The most commonly caught and kept fish was the vermillion snapper, also known as a beeliner, along with a few sea perch.
Do you realize how far down 100 feet is when you are letting out and reeling up a heavy 4-ounce sinker? I think I contracted a little â€śreeling elbow.â€ť Itâ€™s just like straight lining over the side of the boat on Big Spirit for perch. Drop the sinker to the bottom, when line is slack, reel up till the line is taut and you know the sinker is on the bottom and the two hooks are at 1-2 feet off the bottom. Then you wait for a peck, peck, peck … just like a perch bite would be. And sure enough, it takes a while to get the feel for the tiny bites. Our deckhand explained, every 45 seconds to a minute reel up to check the hooks. Even though the squid is tough, the fish can snap off the squid just like that. So, check your bait every minute or so. Over the course four hours of fishing, thatâ€™s reeling up probably 200-plus times!
As with any other type of fishing, it takes time to get the feel and know when to give a little jerk upward and hopefully start reeling up a fish. I did end up keeping seven nice beeliners and a sea perch. I also caught a couple of bigger red snapper that needed to be released.
At two of our spots, we were surrounded by dolphins swimming and surfacing as the ship held its ground so we could keep our lines pretty much up and down. Talk about graceful.
Thereâ€™s something about fishing with a bunch of people. You might be strangers, but as the fishing begins, so does the laughter, the joking and the words of encouragement and praise.
As we docked, the captain gave instructions of what to do with the fish. For a fee, the crew would clean them, wash them and bag them. As I waited for my fish, so did another group … a group of pelicans. Some were in the water, but some flew right up and stood on the round metal railing. Yes, they were looking for their handouts. When they didnâ€™t come, some flew back down, but some jumped down and walked around the fish cleaning area-within a couple feet of the fish cleaning crew.
Yes, it was a good day. Will I go back again? Well, thereâ€™s another trip on Saturday, and my wife said, â€śSteve, you better go!â€ť How can I turn that kind of encouragement down.