Finally, our fishing season is ready to swing into high gear. Mangrove snapper, red grouper now, then ARS and gags. What a line up! Care to 'join us' on the Grounds?
Easter Sunday weekend, a weekend to celebrate. What better way to start our celebration than a trip to the Marina, Hubbard's Marina? To help us celebrate we were honored to have with us seven sportsmen from Maryland, team Maryland. These sportsmen/woman have been reading about the fabulous Florida Middle Grounds for a long time. Enough is enough! They had to see for themselves. And boy did they ever see. We, all of us, proved to our Northern friends that good old Southern hospitality is alive and well. Team Maryland Leader, Ms. Katherine Fiedler, Doctor Fiedler, PhD in Chemistry, proved to be a very gracious young lady. The, 'Free State', Maryland my Maryland, can be very proud of 'Team Maryland.' It was a real honor to have them with us. I was thrilled when Katherine (L) suggested that I, (Bob...red outfit in middle) appear in their group photograph. What a way to start a trip, a 39 hour adventure to the Florida Middle Grounds. Seven new Northern friends, and many old friends, together, together to celebrate Easter.
So much to see and do around John's Pass. First things first! We watch the Friendly Fisherman, and our boat, the Florida Fisherman, return from very popular half day trips. Both boats were loaded with happy anglers. By our standards the catch was small; never-the-less, it was a real thrill to see the excitement on their faces, happy faces. Their excitement only adds to our anticipation. We are ready! But first, the bait must be loaded. Hundreds of pounds of Spanish sardines, and live pin fish, will be needed. Finally, it's three P.M., let's go fishing!
Mister Tony Baker, a Florida Fisherman regular, watches as we depart Hubbard's Marina, John's Pass, and the beautiful beaches of Madeira Beach. Next stop, the Florida Middle Grounds. The fabulous Florida Middle Grounds, one hundred miles NW. Time to relax, tell tall tales, read, and eat. And eat we did, Tammy burgers style. Even Northerners love Tammy burgers, Tammy burgers...the best of the best! Our new friends, team Maryland, were fascinated with the NJ based Big Game Fishing Journal, and our own Woods'nWater Magazines. Tammy burgers and the best magazines on the market, this is going to be one heck of a trip. Hope we have time to actually do some fishing. But first, let's consider a very important subject, food!
Breakfast of champions: Good old Southern, and Northern, biscuits and country gravy, bacon, and eggs, proved to be a real winning combination.
Lunch: Beer batter dipped fresh rudder fish, caught that morning, was a real hit. Tammy, as usual, did herself proud. We are stuffed!
Dinner: Master Chef Tammy Kotta, a NJ transplant, does it again. After a garden fresh green salad we are served the best Lasagna in the entire Universe. Talk about good! Lasagna loaded with real cheese, only the best is good enough for Chef Tammy, for the fishermen/women of the Florida Fisherman. Move over Italian Restaurants, here comes Tammy. And for dessert, only the best carrot cake will do. Talk about a feast!
OK! after a good night's sleep, it's time to do some fishing. One AM Saturday morning. Captain Mark Hubbard eases back on those huge diesels. But first, Chef Tammy wants to make sure we are well fed. Think Northerners will like Southern Cooking? It did not take long to find out. Ladies first! Katherine, team Maryland, loved those hot off the grill, grilled cheese sandwiches as much as Southern 'Crackers.'
NIGHT FISHING ON THE GROUNDS:
The fishing was never fast, in fact, slow by our standards. Team Maryland proved that they were serious about fishing, they could hold their own with anybody. The entire team was catching fish. Ms, Fiedler, Doctor Fiedler, and Mister Eddie Dillon did particularly well. The team proved to be very quick learners. Even the hard to catch mangrove snapper fell to these sportsmen, these Northerners, these new friends. AJ's gave them, and us, real battles. Some fights were won, some lost. Katherine caught her limit of Amber Jacks, she reported that they gave her the fight of a life time. Think this could be as hard as earning a PhD?
Even the Middle Grounds trigger fish were over-sized. What fishing! OK! Time to catch some lunch. Right on target, a school of banded rudder fish. They were all over the place, and hungry. Properly prepared, rudder fish proved to be very good eating. This stuff is really getting fun.
We were fortunate, once again, to have the very hard working FWC biologist, Nate & Jon with us. These dedicated professionals collected a wealth of data, on the water data.The science is there. Many fish were tagged and released for future study. In fact, much to the delight of the FWC, we caught a previously tagged red grouper. Venting really works, it gives deep water fish a chance to fight again. Captain Hubbard insist that every fish released be properly vented.
The weather was far from perfect, in fact, at time it was really nasty. The wind was blowing like a bat out of...well it was blowing! That big old cat, Florida Fisherman, provided a great platform from which to fish. I saw no one sea sick the entire day. Fishing was relatively slow, however, we managed to fill one of the Florida's huge fish boxes before sun-up. Did I say sun-up? We did not even see the sun until afternoon.
Not too many ARS were caught, we try not to target them. Come ARS season that will be a different story. Same with gag grouper. However, numerous gags were caught, vented, and sent home, home to fight another day. With a four month gag season this year, we really have something to look forward to. Is July here yet.? Suggest booking early for ARS & gag season. Spots on the Florida Fisherman will be at a premium.
Mister Sung Yi had a field day with grouper and AJ's. Mister Yi was equal to the task. What a fisherman, what a gentleman.
Mister Jim Downing had the fight of his life, a huge cobia, cobia, a real fighting machine, but no match for Mister Downing. What a fish, what a trophy!
And, talk about grouper, Chris caught a most respectful gag. He, along with Joe, likes nothing better than to show off gag grouper. Who wouldn't? Nate & Jon, FWC, quickly vented, tagged, and released these most prized treasures. See you in a couple of months.
Not to be left out, Mister Steven Muenzel caught a monster red grouper, that one he can keep! Joe and Tyson are proud to show off beautiful red grouper. Tyson, one of several deaf mutes we had on board. We were proud to have them. Northerners, Southerners, Black, White, Asian, all came together, together in harmony on the fabulous Florida Middle Grounds. We are all sportsmen/women. In fact, the companionship is what makes these thirty nine hour trips so wonderful, so cherished. By trips end, there are no strangers.
Well, as all thing must, our adventure has come to an end. Decision time! Do I want carrot or chocolate cake? Carrot for me! A quick hot shower and it's off to the bunks. The ride in was pretty darn rough, rough even for that big old cat. Glad we had seven-two foot of boat under us.
Next Florida Fisherman trip, April 20, is sold out. In fact, it has been sold out for some time. These trips are really popular. Two trips are scheduled for May. May 4, 18 still have a few openings, but not for long. Starting in June, 39 hour trips will be offered every weekend. The 40 days of ARS fishing is really something to look forward too. And then, four months of gag fishing. What a line up. 'Join us!'
Team Maryland Katherine Fiedler (L) Bob H. (middle-red)
Florida Fisherman returns from a 1/2 day trip:
Bait for a 39 hour Middle Grounds trip:
Florida Fisherman leaves for Middle Grounds. Tony Baker watches:
Team Maryland reads on the long trip to the Grounds:
Even Northerners love Tammy burgers:
Breakfast of champions:
Best Lasagna in the Universe:
Great carrot cake:
Katherine loves Tammy grilled cheese early AM sandwiches:
Eddie Dillon...Team Maryland:
What a trigger fish:
Banded rudder fish (lunch):
Nate, FWC, @ work:
Previously tagged grouper. (always report to FWC):