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The Perfect Catch
The pressure is on to locate big kingfish, before a big money SKA event. The captain's decision making can sink your team's success, or make them rich too.
With dark clouds and bolts of lightening cutting off our return to the St. Mary's Inlet, our fishing boat soon began to slow down, suddenly coming off it's plane. Captain Chuck Tuell tried in vain to throttle his twin outboards up the next on coming wave, but the boat's power soon lost the battle. Dead in the water, we now faced an on coming, summer storm and a sinking boat as well.
The morning started out very promising, as Captain Chuck Tuell welcomed Jack Healan, Wally Mizell and myself on board his charter boat, "No More Lies". First mate, Bronson Stubbs tied the final two kingfish rigs to a pair of twenty-pound kingfish rods, as we departed Northeast Florida's, Fernandina Harbor Marina.
"Normally this time of year, we are catching some big kinglish in close to the beaches and St. Mary's inlet," Chuck said. "I think our best odds today, are to run offshore and live bait a series of rock ledges. There, we have been catching several nice kingfish to thirty-five pounds."
We were actually fishing the VIP portion of the 2000, Nassau Sport Fishing Association's Kingfish Tournament. Chuck Tuell was also the tournament director and hoped to find a school of big kings for the tournament sponsors on board.
As we navigated the tip of the St. Mary's, south jetties and headed for the beaches of Amelia Island, diving pelicans indicated that menhaden were patiently waiting for Bronson's ten-foot cast net. On our arrival, Bronson readied his net at the bow of the 25 foot Sea Pro, waiting patiently for a few flips on the surface to uncover the location of menhaden down deep.
"Throw the net now," Captain Chuck Tuell shouted to his mate. "Great toss, you tossed the net right over the school, which I am now marking with my fish finder."
Bronson tightened up the rope on the cast net and began hauling in his net from the shallow depths of the surf. Down under the surface, the large net revealed several nice menhaden were captured in it's webbing.
"Great job Bronson, lets go fishing," Captain Tuell instructed!
We all began to search for a comfortable spot on the boat, for our ten-mile offshore run. Captain Chuck throttled down the twin Mercury outboards and adjusted the trim tabs for a smooth ride.
"The winds are kicking up pretty good from the southeast today," Captain Tuell instructed our fishing party. "NOAA is forecasting 15 - 20 mile per hour winds out of the southeast today, with a good chance of a thunder boomer this afternoon. Hopefully we can get out there and catch a few nice kingfish before the weather worsens."
The further we ran east, the rougher the seas became. Now the tops of the four-foot waves were being windblown by steady 15 - mph winds. We were all thankful when Chuck pulled back the throttles and instructed Bronson to set out his spread of kingfish baits.
The first bait to taste the saltwater depths, was a two-foot ribbonfish, which Bronson sent down deep with a downrigger. Two flat lines and a second downrigger bait, were rigged with live menhaden. Now we waited patiently, as captain Tuell slow trolled the "No More Lies" over a series of deep, rock ledges.
At first we all waited with interest, watching the rod tips for the first signs of a kingfish strike. But after several minutes of trolling, we were still without our first strike. Our interests soon turned to local matters, including business, family, and fishing of course!
Obviously the recent cold front, which had passed through a few days earlier, had slowed down the kingfish action, both in close to the beaches and offshore as well. Actually the cold front was the reason why Captain Tuell had elected to fish offshore, hoping that the cooler water temperatures would not effect these deep-water kingfish. And much like the motion picture, 'The Perfect Storm,' Captain Tuell decided to make that extra long run to insure the tournament sponsors a fun day of king mackerel fishing. Fishing chatter soon filled the vhf radio, where many skippers cursed the days fishing action. King fishermen were also talking about the weather and a possible storm, which was brewing from the northwest.
Now the winds were blowing up to 20 mph and our window of opportunity for catching fast swimming kingfish, was slowly closing. Then, just as in the motion picture, 'The Perfect Storm", the fishing action improved dramatically!
"Fish on", shouted Chuck TueIl "Grab the downrigger rod. Listen to that drag scream, it's a real smoker!"
Jack Healan grabbed the kingfish rod and began to hold on for dear life, as the speedy kingfish made its first run.
"This has to be a nice kingfish," Healan said. "Amberjack and barracuda don't swim this fast!"
Healan's kingfish emptied some 150 yards of twenty-pound fishing line from the Penn kingfish reel, before stalling in the middle of the chopping seas. After a brief rest, the refreshed kingfish took off on another speedy run. However the tiring kingfish had simply run out of steam and came somewhat unwillingly to Bronson's kingfish gaff.
Now the chunky twenty pound kingfish laid on the floor of the 'No More Lies", while another big kingfish was burning kingfish line from the lightly set reel drag. Shortly afterwards, two twenty pound kingfish were iced down in the tournament bag.
The pair of deep-water kingfish were far from tournament winners, at least during most events that is, however they had provided our fishing party with a lot of excitement and with perfect timing.
Clouds from the west were building and promised a coming storm. It was time to reel in our kingfish baits and head for the safety of the St. Mary's Inlet. The first five miles of our journey went without a hitch, then the weather began to reach out and touch us. At the same time, the sea began to build and the winds freshened.
"I hope you all brought along rain gear," Captain Chuck Tuell announced, as he retrieved a nice set of rain gear from dry storage. "We are going to need it in a few minutes."
Back at the helm, captain Tuell throttled his kingfish boat up the steep foot of a cresting wave. Halfway up the wave, the boat's power seemed to bog and suddenly we were bobbing in the Atlantic Ocean without a course, direction, or power.
"Open up that inspection plate," Chuck instructed Bronson. "Check and see if there is any water in the bilge. Terry, check the bilge and see if it is pumping?"
As Bronson removed the inspection plate, a rush of water surged from the bilge. This had answered both questions in a hurry. Yes, the bilge wasn't working. Yes, we were sinking! "Shut off the sea cock," Chuck instructed Bronson. "Everyone get to the bow of the beat and lets see if we can gel this boat back up on plane. The live well must be leaking into the bilge and at the same time, the bilge stopped working."
With the extra weight at the front of the boat, Chuck was able to get the boat back on plane again. And we actually made It back to the safety of the Fernandina Harbor marina, without a problem. Which made our day perfect!
A later Investigation revealed a broken live well hose as the culprit. Luckily, the weather did not worsen and the sea cock was able to shut off the flow of water to the broken hose. Otherwise, you may have read about us on the front page of the "News Leader"!
Two days later, a second storm threatened Amelia Island, during the final day of the 2000 Nassau Sport Fishing Association Kingfish Tournament.
"It was late in the day and our baits were almost dead," sad Jacksonville's, Greg Garrett. "The clouds were building around 3:00 PM when I decided to reel in a "Double Pogy" rig. As I reeled the big baits up to the transom of my "Full Tilt" fishing boat, a very large kingfish attacked the baits!"
"With Alison Perkins at the helm we chased down what I thought was the largest kingfish I had ever seen! Thirty minutes later, Alison stuck the kingfish with the gaff and began to lift the fish into the boat. However I soon saw that the fish was too heavy for her and grabbed the gaff and fish. With one big heave, I lifted the huge kingfish into our boat!"
With two hours left before the end of the event, the Full Load fishing team headed back to the SKA weigh in scales.
"I thought that we had plenty of time to reach the tournament site, until one of our motors blew," Greg said. "Then the weather began to worsen and the clouds thickened! Navigating the entrance of the St. Mary's Inlet was a real challenge, with an outgoing tide and twenty knot winds!"
Fortunately, the "Full Load" fishing team made the the weigh in scales with time to spare. More importantly, their 48.12 pound kingfish won top honor as well. Making the Full Load's kingfish, "The Perfect Catch"!