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Fun fishing days are fewer and farther between these days. Due to the welcomed drop in fuel prices lately, Tom and I made plans to go have a nice afternoon on the water. My friend Tom, a.k.a. "Trolling Tom", occasionally likes to take a break from his trolling regiment and do some live bait fishing. We both decided we would target some Kingfish for the smoker.

Since this was a "fun day" we met at the dock and were on our way out the channel at the crack of noon. We throttled up the 600 restless ponies on the back of The BEAST and made our way offshore while discussing our game plan, election results, and generally anything else that came to mind. These type of days are quite enjoyable for the both of us and any time on the water is appreciated now, especially with all the worries of today's economy.

We busted out from the islands into the open water of the patch reefs and immediately had a good laugh at the supposed NOAA prediction of 3-4' seas for the day. The conditions were beautiful with seas of 1-2'. The skies were starting to show signs of Hurricane Paloma as a line of high overcast clouds were building in. No worries. I put us on a heading to my preferred bait patch and upon arrival realized that not a single anchor ball was there. What happens to these mooring balls, anyway? Oh well, let's head to spot #2 a couple of miles away. We arrived there in a few minutes and moved in one of the shallower areas. The chum bag is in place but nothing was happening. The tide was lessening toward slack high tide so after about 15 minutes Tom and I pulled the plug on that spot and moved to another. Ah, that's better. The bait started coming up and the Ballyhoo, although they were "dinks" were plentiful enough. We caught a little over a dozen on hooks. When they started bunching up behind the boat, I broke out the 10' Calusa net and topped off the well. We had enough bait for the afternoon since it was already after 2 o'clock.

We made the short run to the edge and pulled into the area with, surprising to us, another 8-10 boats. A nice turnout for a Friday. As soon as we settled in we set out 4 baits on top, 2 of my spinners on the port side and the starboard side had 2 of Tom's rods. We do that because Tom uses spinning reels with the handle on the wrong side of the reel. We laugh about that all the time because we both feel retarded when we try to use the others gear. I'm not sure why that is, because a conventional reel has the handle on the right side and I feel totally fine with them. After all these years, I have yet to feel comfortable with a spinning reel with the handle on the right. Weird, huh?

I pulled out the downrigger and set a bait down to the magic depth for our targeted Kingfish. We didn't have to wait long as I hugged right up against the edge. The down rod went off and I got after it. Minutes later we had a small, barely legal, 25" King in the boat. The skunk is off the boat. I moved in even closer but we started to have a problem with an Ocean Tally shadowing our baits and taking just enough nips to kill them. As I turned to make my way back over the drop-off, the left flat line (Tom's side) went off and a nice Cero Mackerel came aboard to keep the little King company in the fish box.

We bumped around for a time moving out deeper in hopes for a Dolphin or Blackfin bite. The sky was dotted with Frigate birds, almost everywhere we looked, from the edge and deeper. Several times we thought we were going to get into something as the birds would drop down on the deck, but nothing materialized. As I moved back in towards the edge, the down rod once again, gets the nod. The TLD 30 drag is telling us that this is a good one! You just have to love the sound of that clicker screaming! Tom takes his turn on the rod and putting good pressure on the fish, he turns his head back toward the boat. Tom yells, "He's coming to the boat, FAST!" I put the other motor in gear and powered up to help get pressure back on the line for Tom. OK, we are back in control of the fish again. The fish is tiring and we get it up on the Port side to see that it is a nice King Mack. Mr. Mack decides he doesn't like the port side of my boat and immediately heads for the stern. Tom does a great job of keeping the fish out of the motors and away from the props. The fish resurfaces on the starboard side now. I grabbed the leader and readied the gaff for a head shot but the fish says, "I don't think so." and makes us do some fancy dancing. Tom keeps the fish under control and brings it back to gaff range and I swiftly strike it with the gaff. It wasn't a head shot but at this point, I wanted the fish in the boat. I was done playing with him and given more time, with those razor sharp teeth, would've only ended in a lost fish. Dragging the fish over the gunwale and onto the deck with a thud, we realize we have a nice "smoker" for the smoker.

Some more time passes, and we managed to catch another Kingfish on the down rod. After eyeballing it, we figured it was another marginal fish about the size of the small King earlier, I released it to grow up. A few minutes later we had another taker on the downrigger. The TLD is steadily screaming as the fish takes a long initial run, trying his best to dump the spool. The fish takes a few seconds break and is off on another run. Tom and I agree that we have the BIG brother to that nice Kingfish chilling in the fish box, or quite possibly Mr. Wahoo. Tom keeps the rod bent on the fish as I leave one motor in gear to keep maximum pressure on the fish, and it stops him once again. The mystery fish takes a couple more bursts and it is obvious that we are gaining as the fish tires. Tom gets the fish turned toward the boat and seconds later I hear those sickening words, "Oh no… he's gone." muttering from Tom's lips. "No way!", I answer back. Yes way, folks, the fish was gone. Tom reeled in the line to discover it was cleanly bitten through the leader, most likely when he turned towards the boat. Wow, that had to be a big fish, because I had about 6" of wire on the stinger hook and 8-9" of wire between the leader and the main hook. That would have been a Kodak fish for sure, but instead it was the one that got away!

The remaining hour of the day was uneventful with only a few bites and lost baits. As the sun set on the horizon we called it a day and pointed the bow toward the barn. Tom and I recapped the day with the mystery fish being the hot topic. The possible weight of the nice Kingfish was in the discussion too, of course. When we leashed The BEAST to the dock I broke out the digital scale and weighed our big fish. It settled in at exactly 30 pounds. Not too shabby! Both, Tom and I, will be firing up our smokers this weekend. I can already taste my smoked fish dip as I type. My belly is growling!

Capt. Jim
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