It had been one of those days we all have, where you just could not buy a bite. We were in Whitewater Bay around marker 36, drifting for seatrout with popping corks and live shrimp. Fishing was simply terrible, with the hot sun, almost no wind to aid our drift, and of course, no fish.
Whitewater is a pristine estuary, arguably the largest inland breeding grounds for a variety of saltwater fish. Located in the Southwest tip of Florida, it is a maze of mangrove islands, creeks, cuts, and open water. Those who are new to the area are ill advised to venture too far off the markers, because after a couple of turns around some islands, everything looks the same.
To get out of the sun, and eat a sandwich or two, we idled around to the back of a mangrove island and tied up under an overhanging branch. The relief from the sun was a welcome change, and it allowed us to cool off and relax.
We set a couple of rods out on the bottom with a shrimp and cut mullet. As we ate, we could see the telltale slow pecks of a crab on our bait. Slowly, we would reel in the bait, with the very stubborn crab hanging on to its newfound meal. A quick dip of a net, and we had ourselves a nice blue point crab.
We began catching these crabs at a fairly fast pace. We took some of the mullet backbones from which we had cut chunk bait, and pitched them in to draw more crabs. I had my little Orvis 100 spinning reel and rod with six-pound line, so I took one of the backbones, hooked my white bucktail to it, and pitched it in. The backbone with the remnant meat was just what the crabs wanted, and I was bringing in two at a time! Did I mention that it was six-pound line?
A while later, as my bait once again began moving as if a crab were on it, I slowly and gently began pulling the resistance back toward the boat. This one seemed as if it had more than two crabs, because it was a lot harder to move toward the boat. As it moved closer, the resistance increased. I reached for the net thinking I had really gotten a huge haul of crabs. Slowly I lifted my rod to bring them to the surface.
As I watched, a dark shadowy area was rising toward the surface. At about the same time that I realized this was a jewfish, he swirled on the surface, throwing gallons of water everywhere, and headed away from us like a miniature freight train. He had swallowed the backbone and my bucktail, as well.
Know that first and foremost, my dad was a meat fisherman. Put food on the table! Any of you who have read any of my features know of his obsession with jewfish. So after him we went! Only, he wasnt going anywhere. He had run off about fifty yards and stopped.
We idled the boat over until we were right over him. The water was about twelve feet deep, so in the dark tannic water, we could not see him. As we sat on top of him, he would occasionally move two or three feet in one direction or another. I kept pressure on him, trying to lift him off the bottom, but he simply would not budge. Did I mention that I had six-pound line?
For over an hour we tried anything and everything with the fish with no success. On one occasion we took one of the boat paddles and poked it around him to get him to move. He would move only when he saw fit, and only where he wanted to move.
The definition of fishing includes patience, but after about two hours of attempting to budge this fish, my father had apparently run out of that particular commodity. I guess he figured that if the line had not broken by now, he might be able to apply a little more pressure.
At any rate, he took the line in his hand just where it entered the water, and began to lift. Low and behold, the fish began to rise! For just a moment we could see the entire fish about four feet under the water. And for a fleeting few, heart-pounding seconds I think we both believed that we may catch this fish. Did I mention that I had six-pound line?
The sound of taught monofilament line snapping could be heard all over the bay. The fish had seen the boat, and with one quick swirl he broke off and swam away.
The next thirty minutes was a school of sorts, taught by my father about the need to be prepared for something like this in the future. After all, had we hooked that fish on his outfit with twenty pound line, "It would be in the cooler right now." He really disliked the fact that I fished with light line. We had just let fifty pounds of great eating jewfish steaks swim away, and that was hard for him to take.
I guess I didnt learn my lesson, because I still fish with six-pound line when the urge arises; but, whenever I do, I am reminded of that day when I failed to expect the unexpected.