Fishing in Florida Keys waters can sometimes have a strange and wonderful effect on a person. Take local âKeynoterâ newspaper editor Larry Kahn, for instance.
Regular readers of this blog may recall my account of his angling misadventures (âLarryâs Dilemma: Perplexed by a Pilchardâ) in an earlier post. If you havenât read it, you should. But letâs just say that, despite Larry comparing his angling skills to those of Ernest Hemingway, the picture wasnât pretty.
On a recent angling adventure, however, he proved he’s come a long way since then.
It was my final hurrah for the summer. We set out in my Sailfish 2660 boat about 7 a.m., headed for a local spot known as the 409 hump, literally an underwater mountain about 21 miles south of Islamorada. I was full of anticipation after scoring a banner catch of blackfin tuna the previous weekend and hearing from other anglers the fish were still there.
But when we got to the hump, we were a bit disappointed. An overnight wind shift, with the breeze coming out of the west, probably was responsible for pushing most of the bait out of the area. We saw some tuna, but not the acres of fish experienced the previous weekend.
We did see a few birds feeding, so we commenced trolling Rapala red-and-white lures, feathers and a few ballyhoo. We caught plenty of skipjacks â some of them quite large at around 18 to 20 pounds. They’re terrific fighters, but not great eating.
We did manage to catch a half-dozen blackfin tuna as we continued working the area through the morning and early afternoon. We also had one sailfish strike, but couldn’t get a hook into it.
Around 1 p.m., we hooked into a big skipjack and Larry began to battle it. The fish peeled off line but was finally stopped. Larry started gaining line and the fish began to come in much easier.
As I looked back, I saw the fish about 50 feet behind the boat â but something was not right. Upon closer examination, I realized it was missing its tail.
Then I saw a huge flash and figured it was a barracuda. Larry continued reeling in what was left of his catch â and thatâs when I spotted the biggest wahoo I’ve ever seen about 10 feet behind the boat. I figured the fish would easily go 75 pounds, probably heavier.
Clearly, the wahoo was the culprit that was cannibalizing Larryâs fish. Even when only one-third of the skipjack remained at the end of the line, the wahoo continued to hang around the boat eying it.
Now, you must understand that a wahoo is a highly prized gamefish. Theyâre incredibly strong, lightning fast and make for fabulous dining.
Unfortunately, we didnât have any live bait, so I casted a previously frozen ballyhoo.Â The wahoo showed no interest. Then I brought in the skipjackâs remains, cut a slab off it and tossed it out. Still nothing. Finally, I baited the remainder of the skipjack, but the wahoo had swum away.
At that point, we decided to head back. On the way in, about 15 miles off Islamorada, another friend, Roy Hughes, saw a piece of bamboo that we passed and almost missed. We managed to pull in half a dozen gaffer dolphin (a/k/a mahi-mahi, which is the fish and not the mammal) â an excellent way to end the trip.
And Larry? Well, first of all, despite losing a few blackfin tuna earlier in the day, he made up for it by catching one eight-pound dolphin and one 11-pound dolphin on a spinning rod with 10-pound-test line.
And after reeling in the mangled skipjack, he picked it up and looked at it with an almost tender expression â an expression Hemingway would have recognized â as though saluting a vanquished foe that lost its life in the good fight.
Only a few years earlier, Larry squeamishly complained about baiting his own hooks. That afternoon, he was cuddling a bloody fish carcass. Truly, fishing in Florida Keys waters can have a strange and wonderful effect on a person.