I was using my same rig as described here.
This was the largest fish we have caught using the solar powered canoe!
How we landed this 22 inch Sheepshead
We put out around 4:10pm on a beautiful April Sunday afternoon. The tide was wrong, the wind was strong and we were heading into unknown grounds. We just felt like fishing, fishing somewhere new. We set up ankle deep in muddy sand and headed out with minimal bait. About 3 minutes from shore we looked at each other and one word summed it all up; “Yeah”. This is why we fish, not for the catch, it’s the pursuit. The catch is the icing on the icing.
We dropped some bait in a couple places that looked like holes. Being in a canoe, we really cannot stand up and visibly search for holes in choppy waters. I still don’t own a depth finder so it was a touchy-feelie kind of thing. While I am in our canoe, I can somehow sense deep water, no kidding, it is like a magnetic force. My youngest son, who was with me that day, felt it too. Maybe it is the sound of the water or the vibrations of the thin aluminum on our bare feet that clues us in but, whatever the indicator, we do our best to tune into the environment.
Our first spot was interesting in the fact that our anchor could not hold us. The outgoing tide, along with the wind heading in the same direction, was just too strong and our anchor became a mini dredge. My solution was to motor past the spot, turn bow into the wind, tie the anchor rope to the bow (which is usually tied to the port to position us sideways) and click the motor to “1” in attempt to stay stationary. We then would cast toward the hole allowing the current to take the bait off its’ rim and into its’ depths.
Ahhhh, no luck there, let’s try another spot.
The second spot, a hundred yards away or so, yielded the same. Our next attempt was in an area that was in the outskirts of a mangrove which shielded us from the wind a bit. There were lots of “bait fish” and mullet jumping but, no hits. There was only about 4 feet of water there but, we have been successful in shallower. Fish usually like the mangroves but, not these mangroves so, off we go around the bend, yet again to no avail.
We were coming to accept that it would simply be a sightseeing and exploring day. I motored northward looking to find a path that would lead us into the mangroves. Moving along at full bore the water immediately became shallow and the bow began to crash into an oyster bed. With blazing speed, I pivoted the motor up in attempt to save my brand new prop. Success, a couple scratches were the only ramifications of my carelessness in these unknown waters. Usually, the person in the bow is responsible for alerting the stern of an upcoming questionable depth or eminent grounding but, the current was moving out so fast that the water was murky with silt and only around six inches below was visible.
We took the oars and pushed ourselves backward off the razor sharp oyster beds. A thought then struck me. Sheepshead do eat oysters so, lets find a deep spot here. Immediately after we pushed off the bed the wind and tide began to move us at a substantial rate. By the time I was able to drop the motor, we were pushed into a narrow passage between two very large formidable beds of oysters. Concerned about depth I turned into the wind and motored on “1” allowing the current to push us slowly backwards. “I feel deep” I said quietly to my son, “do you?”. He replied “Yup”. At that point I kicked the motors speed up a couple notches and pushed past the edge as we did on our first hole. “Drop anchor” were my next words.
As we were positioning ourselves to drown some bait two morons on a waverunner came tearing up the channel a couple hundred yards away. This is a no wake zone manatee area and they were hauling ass. As a matter of fact, they were blasting right toward the area where we ran aground. My son and I looked at each other as we knew what was coming. Sure enough, the ominous sound of hull crashing against shore and the high revving of the waverunners motor followed by the yelling of all the choice words filled the air. What a couple of idiots. Fortunately for them they were not thrown into the beds or we would have been fishing out diced up bodies instead of fish. Hopefully, they were scared enough and damaged their craft badly enough to serve as a reminder to them. Your life is in your hands on the water, you are one less link down on the food chain. This is not a swimming pool but, a fickle unforgiving environment that will swallow you up as if you never existed. They got the thing running again and tentatively puttered back from where they came.
After the dumb and dumber indecent was off into the horizon we re-focused on drowning some bait. I re-positioned our craft and tightened up a wingnut on the motors shaft to keep us from turning. I threw out my 10lb test line with my home made 24 inch 30awg leader sporting a small gold hook crimped directly on. The exact set up that has worked so famously for me in the past. In fact, these are the original parts from my first attempt at leader making. I have never changed them. I verified my drag was set to a practically non-existent resistance and allowed the current to take the bait into the hole.
Whizzzzzz! In less than a minute there was fish on! Holy crap! We stared at each other in disbelief of the intensity. Whizzzz the drag buzzes like a whizzer while the line is being unreeled like a bat out of hell! What the heck did I catch and how long until the line snaps? A huge stingray, dolphin, a snook were species we bounced off each other while the line continued to buzz out. I did my best to position the pole downward and in the direction of whatever has latched onto the other end while the canoe was being pulled around in circles. I did my best to manage the pole, get the motor up, grab an oar to ward off the oyster beds while I wrestled this creature. Slack finally arrives so I reel in quickly about ten rotations then, whizzzz out she goes again. We both thought for sure we would never even catch a glimpse of what took the bait. After around 5 minutes of the same routine the mystery creature was getting tired. A striped flash appears then whizzzzz! “Wow! Did you see that” I yelled. My son replies “That is the biggest Sheepshead I have ever seen!”.
Oh yeah, there is no way we are going to be able to get this thing in the boat. Ill-prepared for such a large fish we are without a net or even a bucket big enough to put the damn thing in I just did my best to keep the line from breaking. He finally quit fighting and I was able to get him next to the canoe. I noticed that the long leader, and my awesome knots , were the only reason this beast did not escape. I reached over the side with a pair of pliers to grab him by the lower jaw and pull him into the canoe. He was so large that I had to open the pliers all the way to fit around his powerful oyster crushing jaws. He had actually even crushed the hook around his jaw when he bit. He’s in the boat! Yeah! I looked at my son and said “Call it a day?” he replied, “yup”. We agreed that since we had no means of keeping him alive or gutting him on the spot that we should get him home ASAP. We kept him wet and headed to shore.
Ten minutes later we have finished lashing the canoe to the roof of my weather beaten ’86 Camry and were off to prepare our catch for an evening of smokey mesquite filled air. Gutted, scaled, not filleted and sprinkled with lemon pepper we allowed this bad boy to smoke, tented with foil positioned high over a small brick fire pit for about 20 minutes a side. A cold Yuengling and a fork were soon my preferred tackle. My other son and his friend were just returning from a fruitless day of bridge and seawall fishing. The fish barely fit on the cookie sheet I served it up on. Wow, that is the best fish I ever tasted and I have tasted many. All four of us agreed as we dug into our days bounty with our forks. A little home made herb, garlic, peppercorn and chive seasoned vinegar was the perfect compliment to this most awesome meal for four.
All that remained was the huge head. My son said “Wrap in in foil and let’s go Andrew Zimmern on it!”. Ok, I was easily convinced. I sprinkled it with lemon pepper, and placed it in foil. Poured a little Yuengling in there along with a little of my popular vinegar and wrapped it up. I put it over the fire at first but eventually moved it directly down to the coals since the embers were failing fast. A half an hour passed and we unwrapped our fish head. I tentatively pulled back the skin to reveal a whole bunch of tender goodness. Man o’ man people throw these things away! The tender meat at the top of the head and the cheeks were superb. The tongue was the size of a large chicken nugget. I did not try an eye but, was told they were delicious. I’ll take your word on it, not that I had a chance around these hungry teens.
Now finally, all that remained was an in-tact skeleton, the huge jaws and this blog page describing the experience. Well, there is something else too, more lessons. We learned to come even more prepared for the un-expected. We learned that tide, moon wind and weather conditions are irrelevant if you find the right spot. We learned that you can catch a fish beyond the capacity of your gear if you are patient. Finally, we verified that any day of fishing is better than hanging around the house.