I intended to write my column before heading to my sister Grace’s home in Florida but, being the world’s biggest procrastinator, I didn’t.
I had intended to write about the upcoming cobia season and the do’s and don’t’s when fishing for these extremely popular fish but, not having access to cobia photos stored on my computer hundreds of miles away, I figured instead I’d write about pelagic fishing in the Gulf Stream off our coast.
I know not many of you have boats and tackle big enough to make the 70-mile run to the Gulf Stream but maybe I can describe a typical day with this highly specialized form of fishing. Luckily, my father was an avid Gulf Stream fisherman and blessed me with experiencing the best of blue water angling starting at age 6.
From that very first experience I was hopelessly hooked, especially after catching my first sailfish when I was only 7 years old. Since then, every single year I spend countless hours rigging my collection of hundreds of lures and relining my reels. Being a sucker for new techniques, I add to my lure collection the newest and supposedly the best new lures to hit the market that particular year.
It’s kind of silly, because all I need are maybe a dozen of tried and true lures that account for around 90% of the fish I catch every season.
Our season runs from late March until November with the hottest bite from late April through May. First to show up are wahoo and black fin tuna, but come May, dolphin or mahi mahi show up in great numbers, along with blue marlin and any number of other pelagic species.
Considered the speedsters, wahoo hit a trolled bait with total abandon and make long screaming runs. Slender, with razor sharp teeth, it is said they can reach speeds up to 50 mph, so you had better have a rod and reel that can take such a whollop.
Excited, a wahoo’s body that is normally a drab gray lights up with vivid blue and purple stripes, which in itself is a sight to behold. The same goes for most pelagics like marlin, sailfish and probably the most spectacular, mahi.
Though lures vary from species to species, most include a baitfish called a ballyhoo behind the lure itself. The spread I put out is usually six to eight rods, with the baits staggered different distances from the boat.
Since the water out there is gin clear blue, many times you can watch a fish zoom in to inhale one of your offerings. With their dorsal fin erect and vivid colors, fish like mahi are a blast to watch. It still amazes me just how fast they swim and how quickly they can change direction as they go from bait to bait until they find just the right one.
Once hooked, they are like acrobats. They jump, do somersaults and, once they settle in for the fight, put their broad side to the angler, making it twice as hard to reel them in. It’s like trying to reel in a sheet of plywood with the flat side toward you.
Their colors will blow you away with a combination of yellows, reds, blues and greens. Once they expire, the colors disappear.
Trolling is the common way of fishing blue water, but skill makes the difference between a fair day and a great day. Setting the baits the right distance, the way they track through the water is definitely an art.
In addition, finding a two- or three-degree difference in water temperature or finding a Sargasso weed line almost guarantees a banner mahi day. One of fastest-growing fish in the ocean and delicious table fare to boot, mahi are worth the long run offshore.
Often, if you catch one and leave it in the water boat side, more mahi will join it. That’s when I stop the boat and pull out spinning rods and it becomes mahi-mania. All those that aren’t hooked are vibrant blue, but once hooked the rainbow of colors appear. To me it’s like a clown has stepped into party where everyone else is dressed in black and white.
Just writing this has me itching to go and for those of you that have never experienced the Gulf Stream during this prime time, it’s worth every penny to experience it at least once.
Collins Doughtie, a 60-year resident of the Lowcountry, is a sportsman, graphic artist, and lover of nature. email@example.com