Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | Blue Water and Golden Fish

From late 1981 till the Summer of ’83 I lived in Ft. Lauderdale with Sunshine, my 1966 Boston Whaler Sakonnet 16 and an assortment of mostly fresh water tackle.

Sunshine was a great boat for trolling in the Gulf Stream. Her Johnson 70 would put-put her along at about 3 knots for many hours on just a few gallons of fuel. No fancy, modern electronics. I kept in touch with other fishermen with a CB radio. In those days you could use a CB for communications . . . before it became a tool for exchanging insults and threats.

Many locals who fished for recreation had commercial fishing licenses so they could sell extra fish for gas money. I had mine so that I could swap extra fish for shrimp and lobster at the wholesale fish market!

My primary prey were mahi mahi, but I caught a lot of small tuna. An occasional wahoo or sailfish would swim off with my lure and a lot of line. I persisted in using light tackle (for salt water) because of the thrilling fight put up by the mahi mahi. I also targeted mahi mahi because they are truly a gourmet’s delight when prepared any of a dozen ways. I didn’t object to a blackfin tuna in the catch because they make the very best sashimi, another of my favorites.

The first year I was there, Sunshine lived on her trailer in the garage of my rented house and we went to Pompano Beach to launch into the ICW – exiting at Lighthouse Point into the Atlantic..

April is the very best month for small boat trollers. The Atlantic is frequently as smooth as a millpond, and it was on this day that my son, John, (15 at the time) had come to visit from Minnesota on his Spring Break and was up for his first salt water fishing experience.

We idled out of the inlet at Lighthouse Point in flat water at around 7:00 AM. It was about 70 degrees, the sky was cloudless, and I put Sunshine up on plane at around 25 knots and headed East.

The water, at first, was the color of grass. There was a bit of sargassum weed floating about, but I ignored it.

A couple of miles out there was a weedline of floating sargassum. I cut Sunshine back to an idle and crossed it into water the color of the sky. We deployed four lines; two hollow headed green skirt jigs and two 1 oz. Krocodile silver spoons. Then we slow trolled parallel with the weedline. Under cover of floating weeds or flotsam, in blue water, is where to find mahi mahi.

The sea comes to life when you are just putting along in blue water. Tiny fish abandon the weed rafts for your boat and school up under your keel. Various species of dolphins cruise alongside to check you out and flying fish flee in a glittering air show to escape the dolphin.

Then the action starts. One of the rods bends and the reel squeals like a stepped on cat. John grabs the rod out of the holder and gradually increases the drag until the fish turns and heads for the bottom. Not a mahi mahi sort of a fight at all. Sure enough, a small bonito eventually surrenders to the pressure and comes alongside. We discuss rigging it as bait for marlin, but have no tackle suitable for marlin, so the bonito goes back into the sea.

Then we hit a school of “schoolie” mahi mahi . . . 5 to 10lb. Just what we are looking for. The first one grabs one of the spoons and begins the dazzling sort of flying gymnastics that make them so popular. Leaping 6 to 8 feet in the air scattering glittering drops like rain and showing off their brilliant green with blue markings, it is a show worth the admission any day. We are using tackle meant for bass, pike or musky, so the fierce fight is a true contest.

As I work the first fish near the boat the rest of his school follow him. John then hooks one by casting. As long as we keep one hooked fish near the boat the school stays around and stays interested in whatever lure we cast to them. Spoons and jigs seem to work best and we soon have a dozen mahi mahi in the cooler. We catch more but release them, including one that jumped into the boat in his frenzy to escape.

We cruise back to the ICW and down to the fish market. There we trade some of the fresh mahi mahi for fresh shrimp and a couple of lobsters.

The finale, of course, is a banquet fit for royalty: mahi mahi filets broiled in garlic butter, steamed shrimp and steamed lobster tails with more garlic butter for dipping. Can it get any better?

(JB Cornwell writes from “The Hideout” in Whitt, TX, and is also an expert moderator, instructor, and fountain-of-knowledge in the Boating Forums.)

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