Mak­ing the most of an off­shore fish­ing trip be­tween cold fronts

The Bradenton Herald (Sunday) - - Sports - BY JON CHAP­MAN Her­ald cor­re­spon­dent

With fall in full swing and cold fronts now rolling through Florida, it may be dif­fi­cult to find win­dows of good weather to run off­shore.

The po­ten­tial for an El Nino pat­tern would mean a wet­ter and windier win­ter over the Gulf of Mex­ico, but the calm weather around the weather events will pro­vide great fish­ing.

On Thurs­day, I was able to sneak a trip off­shore be­tween last Sun­day’s and Fri­day’s cold fronts. With the fore­cast pre­dict­ing an af­ter­noon of calm weather, I joined Caleb Grimes aboard his 32-foot Con­tender ST with Steve Gam­ble, James Sharpin and Capt. Josh Bi­bler slightly af­ter noon.

I was con­cerned the pre­vi­ous night’s full moon would make fish­ing a lit­tle slow, but with few op­por­tu­ni­ties to run off­shore, we took the chance.

Af­ter ac­quir­ing 20dozen shrimp and two live wells full of pilchards, we pushed west at 50 mph with the help of the twin 300 Yama­has. It didn’t take long for us to reach the pop­u­lar Fin Barge just to see what was home.

One of the amaz­ing ad­di­tions to the Con­tender is a Rho­dan GPS trolling mo­tor, which helped us stay put af­ter de­ploy­ing with­out the use of an an­chor, and more im­por­tantly re­po­si­tion up cur­rent of the wreck.

Any doubts of a slow bite were soon put to rest as Gam­ble was hooked up on a light jig head with a shrimp on the first drop. Un­for­tu­nately, the bat­tle was quickly lost when his fish was do­nated to either a hun­gry Go­liath grouper or bar­racuda.

All around the boat, fish seemed to be go­ing crazy. There was sur­face life and bait as far as we could see and the schools of sar­dines over the wreck were con­stantly am­bushed by preda­tors.

We chummed heav­ily and soon a flat line in the rod holder was scream­ing that Grimes grabbed. Bi­bler hooked into some­thing huge on a jig­head with a shrimp on a light 4000 Shi­mano reel that would test his tackle.

About 10 min­utes later, we could see the long sil­ver shine from Grimes’ fish. It was a king­fish prob­a­bly push­ing more than 30 pounds.

It made a last run be­fore a bar­racuda took off the back half of the fish. I stuck a gaf into the huge head as bled poured out of the dis­mem­bered king­fish. Even what was left was prob­a­bly over 20 pounds.

Bi­bler kept work­ing on his fish, mak­ing what lit­tle ground he could with the light tackle. Even­tu­ally it made its way to the sur­face, a huge am­ber­jack around 40 pounds.

The hook on the jig­head held up and it was hard to tell who was more tired, Bi­bler or the am­ber­jack. With only a few days left in the am­ber­jack sea­son, we added it to the fish box.

Back to the jig fish­ing, we kept hook­ing into qual­ity fish that would meet their demise at the mouth of larger preda­tors be­low. Be­tween the sharks, bar­racuda and Go­liath grouper they were re­lent­less.

Even­tu­ally we were able to sneak one beau­ti­ful yel­low­tail snap­per past them, only fur­ther­ing our de­sire to get more. Un­for­tu­nately, we do­nated more fish and tackle to the mon­sters un­der the boat than we were able to add to the fish box.

It was clas­sic fall wreck fish­ing with an in­sane amount of life be­tween the bait and preda­tors.

In a few weeks, I ex­pect king­fish, co­bia and more pelag­ics to be cov­er­ing most bait hold­ing struc­tures off­shore.

The rest of the evening we bounced around to more rock piles and ledges, able to pick off some grouper, snap­per and hog­fish. At two of the ledges we do­nated more fish be­tween a 10-foot bull­shark and a cou­ple of Go­liath grouper who were hun­grier than us.

De­spite the full moon there were some re­ally hun­gry and ag­gres­sive fish to be found. The prob­lem for us was most of those ag­gres­sive fish were mas­sive and felt like tak­ing ad­van­tage of hooked fish.

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