Jim Darnell had success catching all kinds of fish in Florida.
Photo provided by Jim Darnell
A successful unguided-guide fishing trip
As mentioned in an earlier story, I was intimidated by so much water, islands, canals and bridges in the Florida Keys. I needed help. And I found it in a young man named Blake.
He is 24 years old and is in the process of taking his tests to be a fishing guide. He fishes most mornings and works in a tackle store in the afternoons.
He can’t take people for money since he is not yet a licensed guide. But, I visited him several times in the tackle store. We agreed for him to take me in his boat and I would pay the expenses – paid fuel, chum, etc. It worked out great and I gave him a big tip each trip.
I made several trips with Blake. He took me across a big flat to a mangrove island with a deeper channel against it. We had a live well full of live shrimp. I prefer to catch fish on artificial lures but most fish in the Keys are caught on live bait.
“Pitch your shrimp under those mangrove limbs as close as you can to the bank,” Blake instructed.
My shrimp hardly touched the water before a nice mangrove snapper snapped it up. By the time I got my fish in the boat Blake had one on. In less than an hour we had our 10-fish limit.
We then went to one of the many bridges that tie the various Keys together. The water was flowing strong with an incoming tide. Blake anchored the boat so that the tide would carry our baits under the bridges. Then he put out a chum bag. The chopped menhaden in the bag began to put out an oily trail behind the boat.
As we cast out shrimp into the chum line action was immediate. We caught some larger mangrove snapper than some in the box but we released them since we already had our limit. But a variety of fish ate our bait – yellow tail snapper, grunts, yellow jackets. It was fast catching.
Since the bit was hot, I threw a few lures and caught a good snapper on a Gulp Shrimp. I tossed a tiny crappie jig into the current and hooked a good jack. It was on my lite rod and what a fight! When we netted him the jig was hooked in his tail. No wonder he was so mad.
By noon we were back at the dock where Blake keeps his boat. Great trip!
A few days later, my wife Beth and I went out with Blake again. We ran to another one of Blake’s hot spots for mangrove snapper. Action was immediate on the live shrimp. Most of the fish were small but we put five nice fish in the ice box. I don’t know how many small snapper we caught but it was many.
Blake then took us on a long run across the flats to a deeper channel. The depth went from about four feet to 12. Blake anchored the boat and we saw lots of fish on the fish finder.
“This is one of my good spots for baby tarpon in the spring but there should be snapper here,” he said.
The chum began to drift with the current. On her first cast Beth hooked a strong fish. It was a nice Lane snapper. These snapper are so beautiful. Long yellow and blue stripes run from the head to the tail. A dark spot is obvious under the dorsal fin. I soon put another Lane snapper in the boat. Beth then landed a big yellow jack. Jacks are powerful fish, even a smaller one.
At 12 p.m., we lifted anchor and ran for the dock. Our relationship with Blake was working out good. He got practice guiding and we caught fish.
I fished one last time with Blake before we left the Keys. Beth didn’t go. We ran to an area that didn’t look very good to me. But what did I know. We weren’t in Texas. It was a off color, almost muddy area. This trip was all lure fishing. I cast a Salt Assassin soft paddle tail minnow. An immediate strike. It fought like a big fish – all jacks do. Before I could even release my two point Jack Cravelles, Blake has one on. It was constant action.
Then I hooked a stronger fish. He made strong runs. The fish was a bluefish. Bluefish are long and rather plain looking. They have a mouth full of sharp teeth. We took a picture and released him.
“Do you want to go to the flats and sight-fish?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. Let’s go.” We ran many miles to some of the clearest, most beautiful water I have ever seen. Blake got on the poling frame and polled us around watching for permit, large barracuda, pompano and bonefish. We didn’t see much. I caught one small barracuda. But at least I got to see the most awesome fishing water in all the world.