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A Big Bull for John

My great friend John Beall and I do some dolphin fishing

By

John and Ron Headed Out

John Beall and I head out from Homestead for a day of dolphin fishing

Photo by Ron Brooks
The country was at the mercy of Fidel's random act, for he had inexplicably decided to allow boatloads of Cubans to flee their country in any craft available. They were floating in the Gulfstream for miles like a rag tag parade of boats. Relatives from South Florida made the ninety mile trip from Key West to Mariel in larger boats in hopes of finding and claiming brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.

John was a captain in the Marines, an avionics officer at the time, and he was in Homestead with a detachment of reconnaissance F4 phantoms for two months. They would evidently fly recon missions over the straights while the boatlift was underway.

It was not a crisis situation as far as we were concerned, so the world event that brought us together again became a welcome chance to do some fishing. We had not fished together for several years. The Marines had taken him on another WESTPAC tour, and I had settled into my family raising duties in South Florida. The time and distance between us had been all too long.

This particular Saturday found us together on the water once more. Homestead Bayfront Park was the closest launch site for us, and we were there at the break of day. We had the boat with us and the weather forecast was perfect.

We spent the evening before pre-rigging fresh ballyhoo on six-foot wire leaders and 7/0 hooks. The ballyhoo had been caught by a commercial bait fishing friend and were in an icy salt brine. The salt brine actually made them firmer and easier to work with than fresh bait, and not only were they the freshest in South Florida, they were free!

Just off the mouth of Caesar's Creek, marking the shallow reef is Pacific Light. Not a real light house, but a large metal structure, it lies between Carysfort Lighthouse and Fowey Rocks Lighthouse. So through Caesar's Creek and out past Pacific Light we went, in search of the blue water and a good weed line.

I often use terms like "smooth as glass," or "like a lake," to describe a particularly calm day. Today was one of those that needed a good description. There wasn't even a ground swell to break the endless horizon.

We ran probably 10 miles off the reef, past the southbound shipping lanes and toward the middle of the Gulfstream. Southbound ship traffic always runs just inside the stream to avoid it's six-knot northerly current. Northbound traffic rides the middle to take every advantage of the extra push. We found a small weed line of Sargasso and put out our baits.

We were flat-line skipping two ballyhoo, one on each side of the boat. We trolled for only a short distance when we saw some floating wooden debris away from the weed line. I eased the boat that direction to see if we had some company under the wood.

Before we could get there, we both saw him coming out of the water. A bull dolphin (a male Mahi Mahi), probably 35 pounds or so, was off the starboard bow about 200 yards away and heading toward the baits. He was airborne twice as he streaked toward the skipping ballyhoo. We call it "crashing the baits" for a reason. He hit that first 'hoo from the air and immediately grabbed the second bait! But somehow, his missed the hook on both baits!

With our hearts racing, we stopped the boat and began reeling in the flat lines. As we did, we noticed that the water around the boat was teeming with small dolphin. We immediately picked up our pre-rigged spinning gear and started catching these "grasshoppers" on chunks of ballyhoo.

As I reeled in a schoolie, I noticed a large form lurking just out of casting range. It was that big bull dolphin, and he was staying out there watching the other fish. I put a whole ballyhoo on a spinning rod that I could cast and tried to bring him in closer. He paid no attention to it on the first few attempts, but then he finally nailed the bait.

We fought and landed that bull, and made up for all the lost time the years had put between us. We would fish together several more times during those two months, but none of the trips would be quite like the first - a perfect day, a perfect ocean, and two good friends reliving their time together. It probably would have been just as special even if we had not caught any fish. The fact that we did, made it even better, and John got his big bull.

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