Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bahia Honda Channel: Cero Mackerel, Groupers, Snappers, Bar Jack, Florida Keys Bridge Sharks

 Our third day boating, we tried once again to make the reef and beyond, only to turn back, sure we would, but I had to give it a try for my son. Better that a 13-year-old learn by experience than by being told. Once again, he felt it was best we go back, in fact wise, seas just as high as the previous day. Fishing inside the Bahia Honda bridge was a rough experience itself, whitecaps rocking the boat constantly, although neither of us really felt much discomfort. First consideration against reaching for the reef was not how unstable the boat would be for fishing, but whether we would make it there or not. But certainly if we did make it: 1. The boat would be extremely unstable. 2. To go beyond over deep water (sloping sharply to over a thousand feet deep) would have been tantamount to suicide as seas gathered height without bottom resistance. I wonder how high seas may have been over the reef, since those high swells would have been rolling right into them.

Lots of memories of manning my 17 1/2-runabout craft through enormous bay swells many years ago as a commercial clammer. But a bay can only roar so ferociously, because shallow. Nevertheless, the 15 to 20 foot deep Bahia Honda Channel never pitched up and threw anything at us as fierce as Great Bay and Little Egg Harbor used to challenge me on occasion. I loved that action with a passion rooted a lot deeper than the bottom muck reached. All there with nothing in reserve, I didn't feel it with any affectation. No one fishes the bay when the wind hounds that hard. But a few shellfishermen did.

Five years ago, we got to the reef and beyond in a 19-foot boat with a 90-horsepower outboard. That's how light the seas can be. But even on that day I refused to go further out than 120-foot depths not far from the reef. The swells very widely spaced (not so these two days this year), they sank deeper and rose higher the further we ventured away from the reef. The 23-foot Mako could have gone well out beyond; we could have fished Mahi with reasonable seas. 

A nice cero mackerel by Matt. Hit on the retrieve, not surprisingly--shrimp. We used live and frozen. All real anglers feel an affinity for at least one fish species. I have felt affinities for different animal species from early boyhood; I desired to go to the Arizona desert to find gila monsters, for example, something uncannily compelling about these creatures. Since I was 17, I tried to catch Spanish mackerel on North Carolina's Outer Banks, having seen one laid out on the wooden planks of Kitty Hawk Pier, feeling awestruck by the beauty. Those golden spots--like gold for a second. I fished the Outer Banks five or six non-consecutive years before finally catching Spanish on a charter trip trolling, and they were wonderful. This is when cero became distantly fascinating to me, just enough possibility of hooking one in Ocracoke Inlet to tantalize interest. It is uncanny how these affinities take hold, and I doubt psychologists understand the phenomena, although it involves intuition. It is almost as if it involves a complex, but greatly simplified foresight, because it's a gut feeling and must have origin in our ancestral foraging. But to me, a cero felt worth more than I could assign value somehow; here, my son caught one, that golden, horizontal line edged by gold spots suggesting some arcane code by which nature teases the mind and tempts me to proclaim that the pattern is absurd, without meaning.

More groupers, grunts. As the photo demonstrates, grunts have large, narrow mouths. They have a kissing ritual. Those mouths open as they face off. And yes, they grunt.

That's an undersized mutton snapper with the red tail, nearly a foot long. My bar jack was a real pelagic fighter on the light tackle, also hit on the retrieve after I missed the strike from another (can tell), schooled obviously.

The cero got my thumb; I guess that prompted the camera close-up on the teeth.

This was a long, deeply involved yet simple day of fishing. As a clammer I had spent day after day for most of 13 years on the water in the hot sun as well as bitter chill of January, which both simplified my life enormously and awakened me to complexities I couldn't have begun to approach any other way than by prolonged exposure to given nature. But the complexities came about through intellectual stimulus: I would come off the water and go directly to my notebook and write. And I would read, often hours each day.

I haven't felt so closely reacquainted to how I was those years, since those years.

That night we went for sharks with our head lamps on, casting from the No Name Key bridge. Nothing this time; five years ago Matt caught the bonnethead I estimated at 25 pounds. Perhaps it was 18, but if so, a big bonnethead.

Nurse sharks beneath Keys bridges are often eight feet long.

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