Monday, November 23, 2009

My Buddy Chad - Punching Bag For The Great Baracudda

Several years ago, my buddy Chad (he's deceased now) and I went to the Keys for a week of fishing. 5 whole days of being in the boat, on the water from first light and returning to the dock just before dark. Of course there were a few nights of fishing in the marina at the motel that we stayed at, but most nights were spent sleeping and tending to sun drenched skin. The middle of June in the Florida Keys can be quite sweltering, especially when spent in a 14 ft Carolina Skiff. Staying in Marathon has it's advantages when on a trip like this....being pretty much right in the middle of the island chain, we could go just about anywhere.

We had spent the previous 2 days chasing tarpon in Vaca Cut, catching yellow tails on the deeper flats and combing some backwater areas, sight fishing redfish on the Gulf side....but Chad had an idea for day 3.

We had left early (5am) to make it to the ramp past 7 Mile Bridge to launch the boat. The seas were utterly flat calm, like glass, as they say, when we passed under the bridge, the rosy colored horizon giving us just enough light to navigate. I asked Chad "Where are we going?" to which he grunted something I couldn't hear but mentioned something about "going offshore"....Offshore? In a 14 foot Skiff?

We stopped to catch some bait on the way....8 inch Blue Runners, and some sort of choice white bait that I've forgotten. Now, I have to state that before I realized the joys of tossing feathers and bucktail, I used to chuck 2 oz sinkers, live bait, and Bomber A's attached to 25 lb test mono and broomstick sized Ugly Stiks with a big Penn spinning reel. We had all of the big guns out on this trip.

We went far enough out where we could still see the shore in the distance....maybe out a mile and a half or so. We anchored and Chad strapped on a mask and fins and dove over the side to check if anyone was home on the reef 30 feet below. He surfaced an said "This is the place"....Grouper and Snapper we in the rocks below.

Before long, we had a few smaller snapper and a few Red well as some HUGE barracuda. They showed up like we had rang the dinner bell and hung around the skiff like a half dozen wild dogs. They were smart buggers. They wouldn't take the smaller fish as it was cranked up from the bottom. They would wait until you'd take it of the hook, and just hammer it as it swan back down.

I decided to try to catch one of these toothy predators, connecting a pre-made 80 lb wire leader with a snap swivel on the business end, 3/0 hook and one of the choice white baits....toss and WHAM! off to the races with a 4 ft torpedo. It was doing the "porpoise" thing where it was rocketing out of the water every 20 ft or so and then the line went slack. Upon review, the steel leader was bitten through! 80 lb steel leader bitten through!

While this was going on, Chad was trying to build a 100 lb steel leader and put a hook through his finger. almost all the way through, past the barb. He was trying to get it out , without success. After a while, He said "pull 'em in...I've gotta get this thing removed at the hospital". I was reeling in his gigantic Penn, You know, like the one Quint used in the movie Jaws? It had a blue runner on it and when it arrived at the boat, I could see there was a half a blue runner left on the hook. I mentioned something about that, and just as he looked over at it, a 6 foot reef shark did the eye roll and took off with it....reel screaming as the shark blasted off, with the half bait, bird nesting the reel.....and broke off.

At that point, Chad had reached his limit with the hook, Manned up, bared down, and ripped it out, wrapped it and stated, "we're not goin' anywhere". He made sure that he used pliers to finish the leader he had been building. Lining up a 'cuda, he looks over and says, "this is how you do it".

The hooked barracuda flew off just like mine had, but this one had something else in mind, turning toward the skiff, leaping every 15-20 feet. When it was close enough, traveling at top speed, it blasted out of the water and clobbered Chad right in the jaw, momentum carrying it over his head and back in the water.....

When he woke up a few minutes later in the bottom of the skiff, Chad asked me, "Dude, why did you hit me?"

Yes, nothing quite like being a punching bag for a Great Barracuda.

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