I'm late, but here is your present. A fish story by Ron Brooks (I love reading this guys stories.) http://saltfishing.about.com/cs/fishspecies1/a/aa960430a.htm
Goliath Grouper - The biggest fish you ever saw caught on a cane pole!
I grew up in Key West from age seven to age ten. I tell you this because it is pertinent to understanding some of this story. You see, a kid living in Key West in the early 50’s had nothing to do in his spare time except fish. What time I wasn't fishing, I was thinking about fishing or wishing I were fishing.
We used to go to the little tackle shop on Roosevelt Boulevard next to the culvert in Garrison Bite and buy a “shiner rig”. A shiner rig consisted of about 20 yards of what looked a lot like sewing thread with a hair hook and a split shot, wound figure eight onto a matchstick. For a dime, you could get a shiner rig and one whole shrimp for bait. We would sit on the culvert and catch shiners and take them across the road to the charter boats. An occasional mullet was sold to the tackle shop for a nickel.
All this to say that fishing was the major activity back then - no television (only those people with enough money to afford a very high antenna could pick up a very snowy channel 4 from Miami some 150 miles away), and no tourists. Back then in Key West you were either Navy or Conch, and you never really saw anyone else.
Our neighbor back then, Mr. Knowles, was a carpenter by trade during the week. It was his son that I fished and fought with most of the time. On the weekends Mr. Knowles turned into a commercial fisherman. He had a 15 foot wooden skiff that he had built (fiberglass had not arrived on the scene except as a covering for wooden boats) and he would fish the inside shoals for jewfish.
Jewfish are members of the grouper family that grow to 700-pounds or more. The shoals are those shallow (8-16 ft) kind of reefy areas full of holes for fish to call home. Mr. Knowles had a gig of sorts - actually more of a flying harpoon, one where the head would detach from the handle when it struck home. That head was attached to half-inch Manila hemp rope. With a glass bottom bucket he would locate the fish in a hole and gig him. The head detached from the pole and Mr. Knowles would handline the fish to the boat.
On most Saturday and Sunday afternoons you could find Mr. Knowles in his back yard, small as it was, cleaning one or more fish weighing anywhere from 50 to 300 pounds. I think he got about 30 cents a pound cleaned. I want you to know that a fish two to four times larger than yourself leaves an impression on a 10 year old boy. It also left an impression on my Dad, an impression that quickly became an obsession.
The leaky skiff we kept at Eddie’s Fish Basket on Big Pine Key never left the dock without the requisite “jewfish” bucket with handline (rope), heavy wire leader and 12/0 hook. Everywhere we stopped to fish, that handline went into the water with some type of live bait. It was during that time that my Dad’s obsession began. It would be many years before he caught his first jewfish, and the obsession would never leave him.
In Florida Bay, on the north side of the Florida Keys, Jewfish are very common. Shoals, cuts, and inside reefs can hold a number of fish. My Dad and I fished Florida Bay almost exclusively from the late 50’s until his death in October of 1995. Florida Bay is fed on the north side from the Florida mainland by numerous salt-water creeks and rivers. These tidal bodies flow into and out of estuaries, some as large and famous as Shark River or Lostman’s River, but most just small creeks going only a mile or so into the mangroves.
These rivers and creeks are the breeding grounds and nursery for any variety of fish, including the Jewfish. Curiously, Jewfish are among several species of fish which are born female and change sex as they grow. Some remain female and some change to male. One study says the number of fish that change is dependent on the surrounding population and changes will occur as required to insure survival of the species.
We caught our share of Jewfish over the years in Florida Bay. The first was 80lbs in 1959. The heaviest was 347lbs in 1966. The last one was 40lbs in 1990. The ones in between those years are what my memories are made of. Most of the small to medium size fish we caught were caught in the rivers and creeks. The most memorable ones were not the big ones; the most memorable ones were the ones we caught on cane poles in the creeks - no, not shellcracker cane poles, but Calcutta cane poles about 2 inches in diameter at the butt.
Many of you are probably by now saying, “fish story!” Well, here’s exactly how we caught them, beginning with the pole rigging:
Starting about half way up a 16-foot Calcutta, we tied eighth inch nylon rope, looped it all the way to the tip, and tied it to a 00 stainless swivel. To the swivel we tied about 10 feet of the same nylon rope with the terminal tackle on the end of that. Terminal tackle consisted of double stranded 120lb-test wire leader with a 10/0 or 12/0 hook and 00 swivel. We loosely wired a 6 oz weight to the swivel, in such a way that it came off easily during a fight.
Bait consisted of a small live fish, usually a salt-water catfish with its spines cut off (for our safety, not the jewfish) or a mangrove snapper. We fished in the creeks and rivers at slack tide.
Places like East Cape or Middle Cape canal, Little Sable River, and Turner River come to mind. Slack tide is that 30 to 45 minutes that the tide takes to slow, stop, change directions, and begin moving again. The outside banks on curves in the creek are usually as deep or deeper than the creek is wide, sometimes 12 to 15 feet, and always undercut. Jewfish love to hangout in these undercuts. They are not fast moving fish, being members of the grouper family, and they hang tight to cover until the current slows and stops. Slowing current is a dinner bell for them and they readily take most live baits presented to them during the slack period. High slack tide seems to be best, the theory being that some fish came into the creek on the incoming tide.
Pulling ourselves along the creek with overhanging mangrove limbs, one of us gently placed the bait down next to the bank and waited 15 to 20 seconds. If nothing happened we lifted the bait and let it down a little further down the creek. We continued this until we got a bite. Someone asked me once how you could tell if you get a bite. Trust me, you know when a 40 or 50 pound fish grabs a bait and runs back under the bank with it! Trust me, you just know! When you feel the fish, there is but one thing to do, and that is set the hook as hard as you can with the Calcutta pole! You never know what’s going to happen next. That, my friends was part of the fun and excitement! This bite could be a 5 pound baby (which you will promptly launch about 20 feet into the air with your hook set) or it could be a 200-pound monster. I liken the anticipation to flippin’ worms or jigs in heavy bass cover. The hook set there can give you the same type of excitement; you never know how big the fish is until after the hook set!
Generally, a fish up to about 60 pounds can be handled and fought with standard cane pole techniques. Over that weight, the fish will begin dragging the boat and you end up pointing the pole straight at him. Remember, you’ve got rope for line. They eventually tire and are easily gaffed and lifted aboard.
My memory takes me back to a time when fishing with my Dad was all I looked forward to. My Mom used to say that if we weren’t fishing, we were either getting ready to fish or cleaning up from fishing.
You may notice that all of this is in the past tense. Oh sure, you can still catch jewfish the same way, but severe commercial fishing pressure on the offshore wrecks and reefs depleted the breeding stock so badly that Florida, in 1990, closed the season on jewfish indefinitely. Over the next five years they made a dramatic comeback and the population continues to grow today, but it isn’t the same anymore.
I took my Dad fishing in Florida Bay for the last time in May of 1995. We couldn’t fish for jewfish. Even if the season had been open, Pop was no longer strong enough to handle a Calcutta. In fact, he had a hard time even handling a small rod and reel. We fished a shoal area and I caught several nice mangrove snapper in some really clear water while he watched. As we looked at the baitfish and snapper moving in our chum line, a small jewfish showed up. We watched him swim through the chum and with tears in his eyes my Dad said goodbye to him as he moved away.
We took my dad’s ashes to Florida Bay last year, my brother and mother and I did, and spread them over the shoals where we caught our biggest fish. And with tears in our eyes, we said goodbye to him.