Thursday, August 6, 2015

Going for Goliath Grouper on the Gulf

My second Goliath Grouper of the day!!

A summertime soiree of seafood options and Gulf coast adventures made my second trip to Southwest Florida remarkable. Charleston Mercury readers may recall my October 2009 sojourn to Pine Island and inshore fishing out of the Tarpon Lodge. This 2015 trip focused on nearshore fishing for goliath grouper in Boca Grande Pass, and tours of Gasparilla, Placida, Cape Haze and Manasota Key.
Whole blue crab that was expelled by the grouper,
when it was trying to get free of the hook!
The greater Charlotte Harbor area is anchored by the city of Punta Gorda. This niche along Florida’s Southwest Gulf coast is about an hour north of Fort Myers and an hour south of Tampa Bay. The Peace River and the Myakka River make up most of the  Charlotte Harbor flow and each are massive in width, making this the second largest harbor found in Florida. It’s no wonder that Sail Magazine lists them in the Top Ten sailing destinations and Yachting Magazine has them listed in the Top 50 Best Towns.
Capt. Leroy Bennett displays a nice Goliath Grouper
Charleston is no stranger to 'Best Of' accolades and the Gulf Islands earn points for being off the beaten path somewhat. There are any number of hotels rooms and rental homes offered in Southwest Florida, but for an exclusive stay take a clear look at Cape Haze, and the Palm Island Resort.  Only accessible by ferry, this private island offers villas that overlook pristine Gulf beaches with white sands and colorful seashells. Guest Relations specialist Lisa Halpin is always glad to help visitors navigate their amenities which includes a marina, tennis courts and the Rum Bay Restaurant where I dined on fresh pompano.
Ken Cook battles a Goliath grouper,
and Capt. Leroy is working hard.
Our fishing trip was based out of Gasparilla Marina and included two fishing guides. Both Chris O’Neill of Tail Chaser Charters and Captain Leroy Bennett of Tap Out Charters worked hard to get four anglers into position to catch and release their first ever goliath groupers. I was with Captain Bennett in his 22-foot Aquasport boat with an Evinrude 150 Etec engine as we idled up to a small island covered in mangroves. “We’ll stop here to catch some live mullet, and I’ll be throwing a 10-foot cast net,” said Bennett. A net full of big mullet looked good to me, but Bennett emptied it back into Charlotte Harbor and declared that they weren’t big enough. “We are going for grouper that will likely be 100-pounds or larger, so only a horse-sized mullet is going to interest them as bait.”
After successfully securing enough bait for both boats, we moved to the old phosphate mine dock at the Boca Grande Pass. A menagerie of dock pilings about 200-yards from shore provide the structure and habitat the goliath grouper seek out as a place to take up residence. Since there is no chance to fight these fish inside the pilings, the best tactic is to yank them away from their lair using a Penn 50-wide reel spooled with 600-pound test line and attached to a 20-ought Mustad hook.
Dinner at Rum Bay Restaurant after a day of fishing;
Lisa Halpin, Chef, Jeff and David Hawkins
Capt. Bennett pushed the bow of the boat into the pilings so that my bait could tempt a goliath grouper to bite while sitting on a cooler holding a stout rod and heavy tackle. It did not take long for a grouper to latch onto my offering, and for a moment it is simply angler-versus-fish while the Captain puts the boat in reverse to aid in the process of getting into open water. If you have ever had a rod bent over, and the reel would not turn due to the force the fish is exerting on the other end of the line, then you know what it is like to fight a goliath grouper! Yet once alongside the boat, they become a gentle giant and are seemingly willing to pose for photos, perhaps knowing that they will soon be released.
Even this lifelong saltwater angler had to pause and give thanks for the natural resources of the Gulf that can produce such a grand gamefish! Needing a rest break, we ate lunch while running to a backwater slew that would soon be flowing with inshore fish with the incoming tide. We picked at the small snook, caught a decent spotted trout and just missed the inshore slam since the redfish stayed in the shade of the mangroves. The early afternoon offers hot weather, but the routine thunderstorms during their rainy season of July serves to cool Southwest Florida down before dinner, drinks and other endeavors associated with island time.

To view the entire article in the newspaper click on Charleston Mercury.

To view more blog entries from 2015 SW Florida click on Offshore Fishing - Field Notes - Gulf Islands - Sustainable Seafood

To view blog entries from my 2009 SW Florida trip click on Tarpon Lodge - Ding Darling NWR - Backcountry Fishing - Charlotte Harbor - Babcock Wilderness shooting range

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.