December came and went pretty fast. I hardly had time to update photos, my blog, and keep up with all the trips. I found myself fishing double shifts a lot of days, and some just straight 12h+ days with the same anglers. The fishing was spectacular when the weather cooperated, and was not so bad on most of the days that it didn’t. I made several trips offshore to slightly deeper haunts than the usual inshore trips. These ventures were met with with coolers, boxes, and even baitwells filled to the brim with Gag and Red Grouper, Cobia, Amberjack, Tripletail, big Snapper, and even a few Yellowtail. The catch and release action was hot on Amberjack up to 85lbs, with an average of 25lb+. These fish were all caught on relatively light tackle that made for a great battle. Sharks, Goliath Grouper, and the typical inshore catches rounded out the month.
I have been working diligently to perfect Goliath Grouper fishing with minimal impact on the fish. I have seen far too many Goliaths lately with 2, 3, or even 5-6 hooks in their mouths, many of them stainless…often with leader trailing. I have even caught a few smaller fish around the phosphate piers that have heavy gauge stainless aircraft cable leaders down inside their gullet where it cannot be removed. These fish are unfortunately not going to survive whoever is putting them through this. I mainly blame people not thinking about the fish and only thinking about landing one of these monsters. Having seen the same fish landed on my boat several times within a matter of a week or two, I feel a connection to the fish and see that managing them on a local level with respect to our treatment of the fish as guides and fisherman is the key to their long term viability as a target. I am proud to say that I did not lose a single hook to a fish throughout over 150 landings this month. I lost some rigs to the bottom, but never to a hooked fish. All fish landed were lip/jaw hooked with only non-offset, non-stainless circle hooks (even though this is not required by law inshore). This allowed my anglers to enjoy the sport that these behemoths provide, as well as allowing me to remove not only our hooks and line, but hardware left by less informed/respectful anglers. I have well over 100 hooks removed from fish that we landed. This is not counting the numbers of J-hooks and leaders down the gullet that could not be removed.
Its important to think about the management of a fragile species such as Goliath Grouper not only in order to keep the population healthy, but to realize that is uninformed and irresponsible handling of these fish that causes there to be excessive regulation that could one day make it impossible to fish for these valiant fighters even for sport. Many people cannot believe that these fish exist, don’t know their story and history, and are eager to learn about them and learn what they can do to help manage the species. Nothing makes an angler (Even a novice or “Vacation Angler”) more protective of a species than viewing that fish as a worthy adversary. This is why fish such as Tarpon are so heavily protected by both law and peer-angler action, while other species such as Bonito (little Tunny) dint receive the same scrutiny and protection.
Goliath Grouper grow slowly and are found in limited numbers. Though it may seem like twenty to thirty of these fish in a single spot is a huge number, when you see how many anglers are targeting them on a more frequent basis you realize that it is an extremely limited resource. I welcome anyone to try to fish for these beasts on their own, or with an experienced guide (yes many of the issues described are caused by guides themselves) with an eye towards conservation of the species. Your primary goal should be to fight the fish for as little time as possible (usually less than 5 minutes even on the largest catches), remove all hardware, revive and release them in a healthy manner. The use of stainless hooks and leader, J-hooks, and fishing in a manner that causes you to hook and subsequently break-off many fish rather than landing those that hook is dangerous to this fragile fishery and can ultimately ruin the great time we are all having with such a magnificent fish. Educate yourself (yes even guides may have something to learn, including myself), think about the fish and put their health and safety above your desire to catch and land these fish. Nothing is worse than seeing a 50lb juvenile Goliath that you know will die because someone chose not to think about the consequences of their actions. That is one fewer 300, 400, 500, or even 600lb Goliath that we will have later to latch onto.
With my rant over, The fishing has been spectacular. Goliath trips have seen an average landing number of 10-12 fish on a 4-6 hour trip with no less than twenty fish this month over 225lbs and a few over 400lbs. Gag and Red Grouper, Amberjack, and even stray Cobia have been reliable when the weather permits getting to them. The Redfish and Snook were off to a finicky start in December, but really shaped up to be one of the best months yet for oversize fish. It has been difficult to find fish inside the slot limit (max 27″) on some spots this month. Fishing has become so reliable for these overslot fish that when I have folks out that really want to keep a red for the grill, I purposely don’t fish these spots because I know we wont end up with a slot fish if our life depended on it. Catching fish too big to keep is always a good problem to have.
On a side note, Sharks have been showing up more and more frequently lately, and I think an off-season shark excursion may be necessary over the next month or two as I have seen several IGFA line class quality Blacktips and Whalers that someone needs to take a crack at. It takes a lot of preparations, patience, and perseverance to pursue some of these records, but nothing holds more weight to a fisherman than an International Game Fish Association world record.
I’m putting a few photos from a group of guys that came down for 8 days from Texas and fished every day for 10+ hours. I am pretty sure they had a great time as 2 of the 3 had never caught a fish over 10lbs before they arrived. You also can see some videos of their Goliath trips on YouTube. If you have photos from a recent trip with me, by all means email them and I will try to use them wherever I can. There is always room for more photos. As time goes by and things settle down (those of you who have been out on trips with me know I never sit still and am always working to make sure we catch more and bigger fish) I will try to take more photos of my own so I don’t have to rely so heavily on your guys!