I wasn't present for this one, and this time there was not a release, rather a "legal" catch. If you are from South Florida, you may be familiar with the story. Hold on for this one:
As told to me by a reliable source (my Dad who passed away a few years ago), a record jewfish was caught on fly by a relatively well known area fisherman. Now, to me, catching a jewfish on a fly rod is something akin to bagging a bull moose with a pellet gun. "It just don't happen", as the saying goes. But apparently this story did, in fact happen.
As told to me, they were fishing Florida Bay out of Flamingo in Everglades National Park. This area is famous for reds, trout, and tarpon on the flats and in the cuts. The area outside the shallow bay running north past Sandy Key is marked as the Intracoastal Waterway with large 5 pole pyramid markers. Those of you with a chart, look for markers "2" and "6" just north and south respectively of Sandy Key. These markers are made so that four poles come together at the top in a sort of pyramid shape with one pole straight up and down in the center. On the bottom the area inside the poles is probably 100 to 150 square feet. At the surface and above the surface, 2x6 planks hold the poles together and form a ladder of sorts used by the Coast Guard to replace the batteries that run the light on top. They also form a roost for seabirds, and you can imagine what these planks look like!
It was these markers they were is search of, looking for a jewfish. Jewfish love structure and these markers provide a safe haven for them and the small bait fish in the area. Because it is a natural attractant, it is not uncommon to see boats anchored up current from one of these markers, fishing back to and under the marker. Lots of terminal tackle has been lost to fish that the unknowledgeable angler simply could not turn. In all likelihood it was a jewfish that took his tackle.
I have fished this way a number of times, and in addition to catching a number of jewfish from these markers on handlines (ropes), I have seen a huge jewfish following, all the way to the surface, a small snapper I was reeling to the boat. When the jewfish saw the boat, a giant swirl of water came up as he turned and went back to the bottom.
Getting back to our fishermen, I think they were aware of this same phenomenon when they began their pursuit.
The boat idled up to the marker, I believe it was marker 2, and allowed the angler and a friend to climb onto the marker with two items. The angler had his fly rod and the friend had a small live snapper on the end of a line. Are you seeing the picture yet?
As the friend dabbled the live snapper in and under the marker, the jewfish that was down there became increasingly excited. He made numerous runs at the snapper, each time being disappointed as the line was pulled away from him. As the jewfish became more brazen and came closer to the surface, the angler prepared his "fly".
On one perfect attempt, the jewfish came all the way to the surface to engulf the snapper. At the exact moment the fish opened his huge mouth to inhale the snapper, the fly was dropped in the water in place of the snapper. One whoosh later, and the fish was hooked. Actually, I think the fish was attached to the end of a fly rod, but hooked would not be a term I would use. Maybe "attached to a locator line" would have been a better description.
With the fish under the marker, the boat now came along side and took on the fisherman and his assistant. Several revs of the engine and a few splashes in the water with a pole ran the fish away from the marker, and the chase was on. It probably was much like the O.J. slow speed chase most of the time, but the boat followed the fish toward shallower water. Using the boat's engine noise and continued splashing the fish was gently guided to ever shallower water. All the while, the flyline was still "hooked" to the fish.
The water in Florida bay is not crystal clear, but it is clear enough to make out the bottom when the water is less than 6 feet deep, and this shallow water was exactly where they wanted the fish to be.
Enter the "flying gaff". Remember this tool from last week? 30 feet of rope and a huge removable hook on the end of a pole are no match for a fish. The pole was eased into the water and the jewfish was gaffed while swimming on the bottom! A handline fight with the rope and a few minutes later produce a 350 pound fish at the side of the boat, and a new record in the books!
Now the question of the day? Was this a legal fly rod catch? By the strictest interpretation of the rules, yes. But, by my own instincts, this was an attempt, albeit an ingenious attempt, to get into a record book on a fluke. I applaud the fishermen; I wish I had thought of it first!! But a record catch? No way!