We knew that live bait was plentiful on the closer in reefs and wrecks, and our tackle was up to snuff, so there was no need to hit the tackle shop on the way. That meant a very early start.
We made it to the launch ramp at about 4:30AM. Too early, you say? We were about number ten in line to launch. Yes, on a holiday weekend it gets that bad. Had this been a normal weekday, we would have been all alone. We launched and headed out the inlet in the dark along with several other boats.
As we approached the GPS numbers we set in, locating the nine-mile reef, the sky was just beginning to show light in the east. Because the water was so calm, a school of Spanish sardines and cigar minnows was easy to make out in the early half-light. We caught a live well full of bait on our Sabiki rigs and once again headed east into the sun.
Knowing the water would be crowded with boats today, we opted to run farther than we normally would. The bottom we chose to fish first was twenty-seven miles off St Augustine. Its not an unknown bottom, but because of the distance, it takes a while for boats to reach it, and on this morning, we were the only boat headed that direction.
When we reached the good bottom, the Garmin lit up like it was in simulate mode. Fish were everywhere in the water column. We decided not to anchor just yet, so that we could cover some of this bottom.
We drifted slowly with what little current there was, and immediately got slammed on two rods. One legal red snapper around 15 pounds came up, along with one an inch too short. Another drop yielded two more short fish. It continued that way for about two hours. Red snapper, lane snapper, short grouper, and some beeliners made for fast and furious fishing.
At that point, two additional boats showed up and anchored right over the area we had been drifting. Before we could get anchored, a 60-foot party boat with 40 anglers on board arrived and anchored so close to the other two boats, I thought that some words were going to be exchanged. Evidently the party boat skipper figured this was his reef. We figured it was time for us to exit!
We ran to a number of other good GPS numbers and found several boats anchored on every one of them. Lots of the boats were divers, which didnt make things any more pleasant.
It was 10AM, and the fishing was done for the day. Our plan had worked to a point. We got out there early and beat the crowds, and we did catch fish. Perhaps if we had been able to anchor before all the other boats got there we would have caught more, but I doubt it. I think we got what we went after and headed home at the right time.
When we got back to the ramp, the parking lot was overflowing and about twenty cars were in line waiting to launch. I have no idea where they planned to park their trailer.
Putting the boat on the trailer was easy with no exiting crowd, and one lucky angler was very pleased to take our parking space so close to the ramp.
Days like this happen up and down both coasts of the country when the weather is nice and people have time off to fish. As more and more people acquire boats and take up fishing, days like this will be even worse in the future.
My solution is easy. You have two options. Either go early and come home early like we did, or plan to fish during the week.
I fished again this past week on Thursday. We took our time and stopped to shoot the breeze with a few friends at the local tackle shop. We got to the ramp about 7am with the sun up, and there were a total of six boats that had already launched. The parking lot was almost empty. Reminded me of fishing trips long ago when things were much less crowded. I think Ill just keep fishing during the week!