Five in the morning came early on saturday. I shook off the sleepiness and took my first step outside of the house to load the truck – the wind was blowing a single direction off of the forecast and a few miles per hour over. I had the feeling that you get when you take a bite of a chocolate chip cookie only to find out that it was oatmeal raisin when you start chewing. The wind shift meant we would get a quartering sea straight to the port side of the boat for 60 miles vs. having a following sea all the way to our destination. Regardless, we loaded up and left for the marina just as a touch of sunrise was showing up on the horizon.
The crew of six of us loaded the boat to the gills with tackle, ice, bait, and much needed spare dry clothes to put on after what would be like riding a water park ride for 2.5 hours. with “god bless the usa” blaring over the radio and a sunrise coming up over the horizon, we caught a handful of live bait just outside of the Destin pass. The trip was our first overnight trip to the fads deployed by Okaloosa county and we specifically were targeting yellowfin tuna and wahoo. There were good reports of yellowfin coming off the FADs before eta passed and we planned on utilizing the same techniques: live chumming, chunking, and trolling--to catch them that we usually reserve for fishing around the oil rigs.
Once the bait had been secured, we pointed the boat towards the two western fads with a steady 2-3-foot swell coming straight out of the east. Once we got a good bit offshore, the swells built up to being 4-6s at 6 seconds, hitting our port side with vengeance as we slopped along the 60 nautical miles to the first fad. I pulled the boat out of gear just as we sighted the fad from a distance and the crew peeled off their soaking wet clothes and rinsed the saltwater off their faces like a football player leaving a hot summer practice.
The five-rod spread was deployed, and we started making some passes and marking where the fish were holding on the depth finder. We hooked up to a double of chicken dolphin, which a shark decided to munch on one for a midday snack, then we pulled the spread in so we could drop some live bait bombs on the areas we marked some fish at. The crew loads up a bucket with 3-5 live ones and we put two more baited on a hook, then with a count of 3, 2, 1, we throw the live bait bucket behind the boat and push the throttles into gear as two people free spool the ones with hooks. with two unsuccessful bait bombs, we packed up and moved onto the next FAD.
I re-rigged the golden Tiagra 50ws with a fresh live bait leader and after catching two more Blackfin on the jig we deployed them behind the boat and put them in a clip on the outrigger. 15 minutes into the bump trolling session, one bait pops out of the outrigger clip and then nothing happened. We figured that the bait was swimming hard enough to pull it out and nothing started running with it, so we put it back up in the clip. 30 minutes into this drift the crew pulled the baits in to check them and lo and behold the one that got popped out of the clip had windshield wiper marks like it had been whipped back and forth by a bill. chalked it up as a big 0/1 on blue marlin and we put a fresh bait out on the clip.
No other action happened the rest of the evening and I made the call to run the 17 miles back to the spur in the dark to set some nighttime swordfish baits out. The crew would get some much-needed rest and get to watch god paint an incredible picture in the stars that night. It is the real-life version of those glow-in-the-dark stars we use to stick to the ceilings of our rooms and a million times better. I pulled the throttles back on our spot and we were hit in the face with the literal pitch-black darkness of a new moon night. The spread was deployed with one bait at 100 feet and one bait at 50 feet and the crew let out a few sighs of comfort as they settled into their bean bag mattresses for the night.
Lacey Hagler, our special guest from south Florida, was on the boat and went to work getting the fish cored out and iced down. I moved back to deeper water to give us another solid drift across some of the gulf’s famed swordfish grounds. The rods were deployed at the same depths – 100 feet and 50 feet – and the crew laid back down in their resting spots after doing a bit of tidying up from the mess the first fish made. We hardly had time to take a deep breath as the reel started doing that same familiar song. I had thought I was just hearing things at that point, there was no way a fish was on that fast, but then another one of the crew, Kevin, quietly tapped me on the head letting me know that there in fact, was another fish on.
Kevin slowly raised the drag, took back the slack, and the fish went absolutely berserk running a few hundred yards off the reel with 15# of drag. We harnessed Kevin up like getting him ready for his favorite roller coaster ride and after 10 minutes the fish was not getting any closer. We pushed the drag up a touch and that only seemed to piss her off a bit more and she peeled off 200 yards of monofilament like it was butter. At this point we knew we had a good one on and the fish had almost hit the braid backing of our reels which only becomes visible on the biggest of fish. 20 minutes into the fight, we were at a stalemate and Kevin had shed a few top layers of jackets. we bumped the drag up yet again to be between 18-20# of drag as I am a firm believer in increasing the drag just a touch every 10-20 minutes until you either reach the max allotted for the line class or the fish starts turning. We found that sweet spot on the drag and Kevin put on an absolute clinic the next 10 minutes in the harness with a technique that was flawless – like watching a well-oiled machine.
The crew all sat down around the fish for a few minutes just in awe of the battle we just witnessed and the fish that was laying on the deck of our boat. We slid the fish into a fish bag like stuffing a giant fish burrito and threw a couple buckets of ice on top of it for good measure then headed back to start another drift at 11:00pm. The crew was starting to finally catch their breath after two back-to-back fish when Max yelled out that one of our blue sword lights was off the starboard side… the complete wrong side of the boat from where it should have been. I jolted up and threw the boat into reverse to try and get the fish that had taken our bait and swam upwards out from under the boat. The hook never came set on that fish and everyone plopped back down into their spots and finally settled in to get some sleep with their dreams laying in cold ice on the back deck of the boat.