Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | The Fathers' Day Present
Father’s Day, 1983. I was living in a townhouse in Treasure Cove on the Dania Cutoff Canal, south of Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
My 1966 Boston Whaler Sakonnet 16, Sunshine, was moored in a slip a few steps from my door. I had owned her for some years and had fished with her all over the upper Midwest and Canada, everything from the Great Lakes to small rivers.
Now, in South Florida, I was becoming a Gulf Stream troller for dolphin (fish) and small tuna. It seemed to me that the majority of Gulf Stream trolling was done by charter boats with tourists seeking billfish . . . sailfish and marlin. There was a cadre of locals who fished mainly for dolphin and tuna to sell in the local markets and to local restaurants.
I fished for food. My favorite fish is the dolphin, or mahi mahi. I am also fond of sashimi from small (mostly blackfin) tuna. On those occasions that I had more dolphin than I needed for my own use I traded the surplus for shrimp and/or lobster at the local market. I had acquired the commercial license that allowed such trades. Surplus tuna went to my Asian neighbors who were sashimi aficionados.
On this bright, balmy Sunday I was looking forward to a day on the blue water. I had agreed to take a co-worker lady out with me so she could sunbathe on Sunshine’s optional casting deck while I fished.
The roughly two mile trip east on the canal to get to the Intra Coastal Waterway was always a delight. No-wake all the way gave us an eclectic view of South Florida. Towering mansions with arboretum-like landscaping lay beside neat, retirement “trailer” parks. Marinas full of pricy speedboats lay beside magnificent old trade schooners quietly fading away in the tropical sun. Finally, a mangrove flat of half a mile that harbored the most ferocious biting flies I had seen since Canada. That brought us to the ICW and planing speeds north to Port Everglades, where we exited into the Atlantic.
On this day the sea was flat enough to run east on plane. We found the color line about 7 miles out. The color line is where the deep green coastal water meets the sky blue of the warm Gulf Stream. There is the playground of schools of dolphin, often lurking below floating mats of weed or other floating material. Flying fish darted away like glittering arrows and porpoises came alongside in curiosity.
I had Sunshine rigged to troll four lines with artificial lures, two 30lb salt water trolling rods and two freshwater casting rods loaded with 20lb mono. I preferred the spectacular dolphin fight on the light tackle, but even the small tuna were a lot like hooking a freight train and were easier to handle on the tougher salt water gear. Not always did the fish pick the rod I preferred. I regularly got “spooled” by tuna on the freshwater rigs and broken off. Nevertheless, I persisted.
After about an hour of trolling I had a strike on one of the 30lb rods. Whatever it was decided to head for Bermuda. I wasn’t able to even slow it down. It finally emptied the spool and broke the line somewhere near the shock leader. I am sure it was not a shark, because they rarely attack artificial lures, but it was mighty strong.
I re-rigged and we resumed trolling. There just wasn’t much dolphin action on that day.
By the time the Gulf Stream had moved us about 10 miles north it was mid-afternoon, so I headed for the Boca Raton Inlet, still trolling.
My favorite fresh water rig was a stiff, Fenwick 5-1/2 foot musky rod with an Ambassadeur 7000 reel. It held about 300 yards of Stren 20lb monofilament. I had boated a lot of dolphin and small tuna with it, not to mention a few muskys and northern pike. That was the magic combination for this day.
Just after we re-crossed the color line I had a strike on the Fenwick rod. The drag screamed like never before as the line raced off the spool. I tightened the drag bit by bit until the fish slowed and finally stopped. About 200 yards off the stern a sailfish jumped and tail walked across the water about 50 feet.
Holy Cow!! A sailfish!! I wasn’t prepared for a sailfish. So fast, so strong, and on musky gear!
I kept a steady pressure on the fish and worked her toward the boat. I asked my lady companion to take the helm and keep the bow pointed at the fish as it tore about the water. I moved to the casting platform and lightened the drag against new runs.
I finally had her alongside after about 20 minutes. I thought I had her.
Then she leapt again, nearly into the boat, and took off on another 200 yard run. Sweat dribbled into my eyes. I had to keep her within the reach of the line on my reel! She was tiring now (me, too) and was a bit easier to move.
Alongside again, she was passive and I donned my fish glove. Reaching over the side I grabbed her bill and lifted her up so my companion could get a picture.
I unhooked her and placed her back in the water and held her until her energy returned enough for her to spurt ahead. Then I released her and watched her swim slowly away.
What a thrill!! I wasn’t fishing for trophy sailfish. I thought of them as prey for the pros on the charter boats and here I was with a 16 foot boat 7 miles offshore using fresh water tackle.
It was my good luck to have a companion aboard who could man the helm and the camera.
Certainly one of my most memorable Father’s Days.