Well, I've done it again. Well, I've done it again. Why did I say that twice, you might ask? Because, I've done two different things again -- at the same time. One, I put myself under pressure to perform ... catching fish that is. And, two, I left fish to find fish. As the computer programmers would say, "These two events are mutually independent." Huh? As you will see, these two events became indistinguishably intertwined.
My wife Loretta's Aunt Ruby has come to visit us from Virginia. Ruby is one of the nicest, most sincere people I have ever met. Loretta and I have been looking forward to this visit for quite awhile. Ruby is not really a boating or fishing person, so we did not plan to be doing anything boat related, but, almost two years ago, Loretta and I took some fresh yellowtail filets on a jet airplane and brought them to Illinois, where Ruby was living at the time.
Ruby had never eaten fresh yellowtail before. In fact, she had never eaten much fresh fish at all. So, it was a bit surprising when she tasted those delectable "sea treats" and instantly fell in love with fresh yellowtail. I love when that happens. Ruby isn't really much bigger than a decent-sized wahoo, but she ate enough yellowtail snapper that it made Loretta and me laugh.
Ruby moved up to Virginia and although we have stayed in touch with letters and email we have not seen her in person since that time. When her visit was finalized and scheduled, Loretta and I decided that we should have at least one night when we cooked fresh yellowtail for Ruby. I immediately agreed and began lining up a fishing trip that would coincide with her arrival.
This was when the trouble started. I have a waypoint that always gives up yellowtail snappers. Usually, plentiful yellowtails are small but legal at this spot. It is rather shallow, so light fluorocarbon leaders, tiny No. 8 hooks and small pieces of bait camouflaging the hook are keys to success here. My first thought was to go to this spot, catch some 13- or 14-inch snappers and fry them up when Ruby arrived. Those of you who know me, probably already know that plan was too simple and predictable for me.
I made a few phone calls and learned about some bigger yellowtails in deeper water. The general consensus was, the fish are there, but they were tough to get to the boat because of sharks and cudas. It was suggested to use heavier tackle so the yellowtails could be "horsed" into the boat ahead of marauding predators. I love the thoughts of bigger yellowtails and -- I guess -- I love the thought of challenging marauding predators.
I headed out with my buddy, Larry, to catch some yellowtails. I drove right past my regular and predictable small-fish spot and headed to one of my deeper locations. We threw the anchor, set out a block of chum, sprinkled some oats in the water and prepared to do battle. Before long, bait showed up in the chum slick. Remoras showed up in the chum slick. Filefish showed up in the chum slick, and flashes of yellow could be seen way behind the boat and deep in the water column.
I free-lined a piece of bait into the chum slick. After a while, line started to evaporate off the reel and I slammed the bail closed. Nothing was there. I reeled the line in and it was cut clean above the hook. I tried this several more times and had the same results. I re-rigged with heavier tackle. Here was the classic man-against-nature battle, and I had no intentions of losing. In the back of my head, I kept thinking about Aunt Ruby winging her way from Virginia in a couple of days and I was sure she thought of nothing except the yellowtail snapper extravaganza Loretta had promised her. There's the part about my feeling pressured to perform.
"I cannot fail," I admonished myself. The heavier tackle was not working. The water was crystal-clear and the current was next to non-existent. The yellowtails would not hit the heavier tackle. I knew there was a balance point somewhere. So, I tried heavy leader with little hooks, light leader with big hooks, jigs, flies, big pieces of bait, small pieces of bait. I even tried "chumster diving." That's when you reach into the shmutz at the bottom of the chum bag and go digging around looking for likely looking pieces of bait to put on the hook. This works, it really does. How many times have you heard fisherpersons say, "Match the hatch"? Well, this time it didn't work. We both had appointments for the afternoon and we fished until we ran out of time. We returned to the dock with not even enough yellowtail snapper to feed a hummingbird. That's sad, isn't it?
The day of Ruby's arrival, Larry and I left the dock early. We ran directly to location number one. You know -- the one that gives up fish all the time? The water was crystal-clear. We rigged with 12-pound fluorocarbon, No. 8 hooks and small pieces of bait. I sprinkled oats. I could see the bottom clearly. The current was moving leisurely. In short order, the yellowtails balled up behind the boat. We drifted baits into the chum slick and quickly limited out with 13- to 14-inch yellowtail. Hallelujah. The pressure was off. We never left fish to find fish, although I must admit we did talk about it twice but convinced each other to do the right thing and stay right where we were.
We cleaned the boat and filleted the fish. Loretta and I jumped in the car and drove to Key West to pick up Aunt Ruby. It was wonderful to see her again. We jibber-jabbered all the way home, heated up some peanut oil and cooked a mess of "same day" yellowtail snapper. Aunt Ruby made both of us smile when she asked for more yellowtail. This was just the way we hoped it would be.
Aunt Ruby, we both love you and we're so glad you're here. And, as always, life is good in the Florida Keys; life is very good in the Florida Keys.
C.J. Geotis is a life-long fisherman who followed his dream to live in the Florida Keys 11 years ago. His newly published book, Florida Keys Fish Stories, is available at Amazon.com. He lives in Marathon with his wife, Loretta. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.