Sunday, May 13, 2012

Florida Keys' Stand-Out Fish: Live Shrimp & Ballyhoo Wire Rigs

We caught some other strange reef denizens I got no photos of--even tried eating one and it was awful--the names of which I don't know and haven't looked up. The head shot below is familiar of course.

This was 2007 and we plan to return this summer. I rented a 19-foot boat with 90 hsp after watching weather three days. I have so many thousands of hours of experience behind me because I spent 13 years as a licensed commercial shellfisherman, so I knew what to hope for and what to avoid. That's life or death when you go six miles out in a small boat.

I caught the barracuda on my 5 1/2-foot St. Croix medium-power rod I use for bass, freshwater. It ran like a freight train and came within yards of spooling eight-pound test, weighed about 15 pounds, took a live shrimp up on the reef intended for yellowtail snappers and such as these tropical fish photographed. Matt hooked another just as big that cut a snapper in two right in front of us in the crystal clear water, but the barracuda got the hook.

That one I caught was tussle. But we went out further, over 85-foot depths, to try the ballyhoo and rigs from wire like piano high notes require, rigs I tied with needlenose pliers myself rather than blow money on someone else's effort. I'll never forget making the rigs with that wire; it was craft. We drifted the ballyhoo with weight enough to get down 30 feet or so for whatever column cruisers might be there. Something plowed the bait, made my heavy 11-foot surf rod feel like a noodle. It dove, ran line through coral, and that was all, three times as fast as the barracuda. I've fought 50-pound fish, and this felt three times as big at the least. Wahoo! 


From the bridge to a small island a very short walk from our vacation place, Matt hooked a barracuda larger than the one I caught, on a Bomber floater/diver. It jumped six feet into the air three times on 10-pound test--this fish at least 20 pounds--and finally cut the line on a concrete bridge abutment. He did catch a bonnethead shark 4 1/2-feet long at night, which I blithely estimated at 25 pounds and released, thinking small hammerhead, puzzled at how the hammer didn't look right.

So Matt looked up the local fish the next day in the literature I had gathered.

"It was a bonnet hammerhead," he said.

And the world record at the time was 23 pounds and some ounces.

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