Thursday, April 21, 2011

I'm On A Boat: You Say Dolphin, I'll Say Mahi, Lets Eat!

We were invited to go fishing in the Keys on a boat chartered by my friend Kendall, who has way to much disposable income since he's a 40's-something bachelor with a major position at a Fortune 500 company (yep ladies, he likes ya'll and would like a good one who will put up with his peculiar self).  Unfortunately, for Craig and I it was to be a whirlwind trip, work half day Friday then drive down 7 hours, get up at the butt-crack of dawn to spend Saturday on the boat, then back home Sunday in time to pick up the dogs from being boarded at the vet by 6 pm.  It was amazing though, first we'd been in the Keys in about 9 yrs or so.

We stayed at a quaint (for want of a better term) historic inn on Tavernier.  Actually, it was perfectly fine for what we needed, which was a cheap clean place to sleep.  I wouldn't go there for a family vacation, but it served great as a base of operation.

I slept as well as I could (don't do well in hotels the first night) and our party of four made it to the marina by 6:30 with no problem.  This charter is run by Capt. Ron Allen aboard the Fish Tales, a 50-footer that was amazing.  Our extremely competent mate, Pete, handled all the chores of getting the lines out.  It was a low-stress trip, we just basically helped out where Pete told us to and waited for the fish to bite.

Cruising out of Whale Harbor Marina on Islamorada in the early twilight.
A beautiful morning awaited. We drove out to the reef and the Capt Ron and Pete caught some live bait with a cast net.  We attracted a turtle and a shark while doing it, cool to see in the crystal clear water.  Then we slowly trolled outward.   We had a few minor bites but not much, Our Benefactor (my friend who hired the charter) caught a Mahi that was too small to keep and the other guy with us caught a tuna relative that the mate assured us wasn't worth eating.  The Capt. and Mate were old-school and called mahi "dolphin", of course, and called the real dolphins porpoises, as to differentiate.

We were taking turns at the reals, and my first up produced a nice mahi. This was the first time I'd ever seen a live mahi in the water.  Words can barely describe the incredible colors of these fish as they flare up and fight for their lives in that ultramarine and azure ocean.  The only think that I've seen that can compare is maybe a blue-and-yellow macaw, but even so it isn't really that close.

Fish on!

Pete holding my first.

The biggest excitement of the day came shortly afterwards.  Craig was next up, and his bite was a good sized female mahi.  As he was reeling it in, Pete threw out a fresh line with a scrap of fish meat on it and handed it to me, since I was closest.  A few seconds later, it went taunt, and I had a fight on my hands. Craig and I both had fish out at the same time, and they were both big time firsts for both of us!  Mine didn't break any records, but it was a 18 lb mahi, and it put up a damn good fight.  It jumped 3-4 times as Pete coached me on my crude reel skills.  I was half afraid the fish would would win, but the line held, and before long we had a shaking ice chest as they thrashed their last before cooling down into the dark abyss.

Not a lot to report after that, the fishing dried up for the afternoon.  According to Capt., the other boats weren't having much luck either.  We had a nice cruise though, Pete explained how the ocean floor features affect the fishing, and the behavior of the various oceanic bird species.  Pete says they become really good birdwatchers, since the birds are great natural fish finders in their own right.

We made it back to port late afternoon.  We collected our fillets after the mandatory fish photos.  We cleaned up at our hotel and then headed over to the place Kendall was staying for dinner, which happened to be the Hilton Key Largo resort (he's got a penny or two, I guess).  We all had the chef prepare some of our mahi three ways: grill, blackened, and jerked.  They did a great job, serving it up on a platter of citrus slices.  We devoured it as the sun left us on time (see the pic at the head of this post).  I forgot to take a before pic, but here is the aftermath of the carnage:

Good bread, good meat, good God, did we eat!

We only ended up with about three meals worth of fish to take home, but I'll be working on something to show you for it.

BTW, I would have loved to have had a permit like this for our canoe trip on the Suwanee River a few years ago: