Saturday, August 6, 2022

Our Last Summer

    My last summer before going to college is nearing its end. Just thinking about it is rather bittersweet, as I'm ready to move on and am excited about the future, but of course it is not easy to put an end (or at least a pause) on big parts of my life. Being in such a reflective situation, I look back at, among many things, my fishing accomplishments, the friends I've made through it, and most importantly, the memories and good times I've been fortunate to have by fishing. Fishing is definitely something I look forward to taking with me and continuing exploring in college and beyond.

    Before heading off to college, my friends Davis and Milan and I wanted to go on at least one last fishing trip (for now). We'd been talking about going to the Keys for a long time, but especially considering the roughly two hour drive to and fro the preferred bridge and our busy schedules, any plans had fallen through. This time, however, we set out the time to embark on an epic final pre-college fishing trip to the Florida Keys bridges.

    I woke up at around 8 before heading to Davis', from where we would then go to pick up Milan and head down. Throughout the whole trip, the three of us would often remark on the fact that the drive was really not that bad from our houses, and how cool it was that we made the trip. It's an interesting realization, and one that I've begun to experience fairly recently with the acquisition of my driver's license, that we can really go and do whatever we wanted. We are fortunate to live in Miami, which is not only a world renown travel destination itself, but is also so relatively close to the fishing paradise that is the Florida Keys. If we want to wake up one morning and spend the day in the keys, nothing is stopping us. It may seem like a straightforward epiphany, but it's nonetheless an important lesson. We all sort of appreciated our ability to do these types of things easily.

    On the way over, we just spent our time talking about things like college, summer so far, and of course fishing, with stories about our techniques and experiences in the past and possible trips in the future. We also poked a little fun at Davis, an easy and willing target. I also mentioned how after fishing in different places around the country, I've come to really appreciate the relative ease of catching a large variety of fish in South Florida. At one point, while Milan and I were saying that it would be a nice, relaxed day on the water with fish as a bonus, Davis partially joked that he would be fishing competitively.

    It rained as we picked up bait at Key Largo Bait and Tackle on our way down to the Channel #2 bridge. It was about a half hour from the fishing spot, but we stopped there because I called ahead and found that it was one of if not the only bait shop that had live shrimp. As I'd found out previously, live shrimp is rather rare in the keys in the summer months.

    We arrived at the bridge to find it quite packed. It was alright, however, as we walked further down and found a few vacant platforms. The water around us was also beautiful, with all different colors and shades visible. It was a great place to fish. We had five dozen shrimp and a chum block, which we threw out as soon as possible. Immediately, tons of snapper, jacks, sergeant majors, and more surrounded the block. With that came HUGE barracudas as well. They would lurk behind the fish at the chum block, then dart over to snatch an unsuspecting fish. We tried catching one by rigging Davis' heavy rod and throwing out a grunt that someone near us caught, but the smart fish inspected it then turned away each time Davis brought it near.

    There were two problems with the shrimp that plagued us: although the bait and tackle shop did have live shrimp, many were tiny and almost unusable. I definitely had to downsize to a small snelled hook under a snap swivel and egg sinker, while Milan and Davis had a very tough time with larger hooks on larger jigheads. Also, the fish were extremely pesky and often stole the bait from our hooks before we even realized it was gone. I felt nibbles almost immediately after I would drop it every time, but they would subside almost as quickly. It was frustrating to keep on repeating the process of baiting the hook, dropping it, reeling in to see I lost the shrimp, and re-baiting. The fish in the keys bridges clearly don't get so big by being fooled so easily.

    We were pretty stuck until Milan asked a fellow fisherman for some squid. Luckily, he was willing and graciously gave us much more than we thought he would. It was just one of many examples that showcase the helpfulness of the fishing community worldwide. This was great because squid is much stronger and thicker than shrimp, and is significantly harder to steal off the hook. Sure enough, it worked - and quickly. After about two drops of prolonged nibbles, I stayed patient and tightened the line at the perfect time to hook up on our first fish of the day. I was using my old, slightly rusted Ugly Stick/Shakespeare combo, which has clearly seen better days. Although it has served me very well over the years, today's trip showed that I am in need of a new rod and reel. As I was trying to reel in the fish, which fought well and took line (thankfully the drag was still working well), the reel would sometimes lock up on me. I was very nervous that I'd lose the fish, but I somehow managed to reel the fish up to the surface. At first it looked like a flounder or some other flatfish, but as I handlined the fish over the side of the bridge, we identified it as a Grey Angelfish. A new species for me! It was a really cool tropical fish, and we were all glad to avoid the skunk and get on the board. Davis wanted to take it for his aquarium, but it was too big to carry back to Miami in the cooler we brought.

    The next fish was a Porkfish that I caught. Always glad to catch a fish, but it wasn't the snapper we were looking for. Milan started fishing on the other side of the bridge, away from the road and facing north. He was able to bring in two Mutton Snappers, which are really cool looking (and great tasting) fish, on the jigheads we picked up at Key Largo tipped with squid. As our time and bait was running out, however, it was Davis, who said he would fish competitively, that had yet to catch a fish. We were joking with him about that until he pulled up the chum bag to pack up and saw that a big sergeant major was caught in it. We had earlier cut a small hole in the bag to free Davis' hook, which had snagged the rope of the bag. It seemed like a consolation prize or something of that sort, as it seemed he did end up catching one!

    Before we left, we gave the ice we bought to the friendly fisherman who had given us the squid earlier. A YouTuber, he explained that he was getting back into making videos for his channel The Tactical ECD Outdoorsman and that so far he had caught a few grunts and a 40 inch Moray Eel.

    As we were walking off the bridge and deciding where to get food, Milan said he was in the mood for a fish sandwich. I knew exactly where to go - Robbie's, on the other side of that island. I'd been there before with Sam, and had been craving the hogfish sandwich ever since. It did not disappoint.

    Also at Robbie's, you are able to buy a bucket of threadfins and feed the huge Tarpon that surround the dock. It was a really fun experience, and topped off a great day fishing in the Keys. Milan will be going to college in the Keys soon, so we were saying that it was like a good sneak peek for him. It had just hit him that he'd really be living there, and he sure was excited, as am I. I'm sure he'll have a great time there. We also discussed possible plans to meet up with him and fish again in the winter.

    We had a great time enjoying the weather and reflecting on the day driving back to Miami with the top down in Davis' convertible. It really was a memorable day, and a great send off before college. Until next time... tight lines!

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