Tough as Nails

I was recently going through old pictures and found mixed in with the pics a little piece I had written about a flats fishing trip I had taken with an old friend nearly two decades ago.  The pics that went with the story were there, too.  Since I had never published it I figured now would be a good time.  I have also included some other old pics from fishing around St. Marks at the time.  They are not digital because they are from back in the day.


I recently got up early and stole a day away from work.  My buddy, Ricky Redfish, joined me for the outing.  It was a cool, still morning as we slipped the boat into the St. Marks River, just south of Tallahassee.  The only sounds were the birds in the marsh pursuing insects, shrimp, crabs and small fish and the occasional splash of a mullet jumping.  We eased the boat down the river toward the Gulf of Mexico, as the sun climbed over the horizon.


We were a few hours ahead of high tide, but passing the lighthouse we had enough water to cruise over the flats and up into the bayous where we liked to hunt early morning redfish.


We made stops at several of our “can’t miss” spots, but the fish just weren’t there.  I guess you can miss.  But we pushed deeper into the bayou and found a small cove with baitfish being pushed hard by some unseen predator.


We staked out the boat in a good position to start working the area.  The light was still low, but we were able to make out a school of nice redfish rolling along the edge of the sawgrass, their heavy armor glinting copper in the early morning sun.  Over my shoulder, a porpoise was teaching its pup to fish.  Surely it was having more success than us as these redfish were turning up their noses at everything we offered.

Finally, after about thirty minutes of working this school, a single fish came charging out and nailed a gold spoon offered by Ricky Redfish. There is a reason he got that nickname!  Ricky deftly worked against the strain on his six pound ultra-light outfit.  The fish dragged him around the boat several times, including one pass under the staked out push pole.  But Rick’s an old pro and he gently worked the fish to the boat, taking care not to over stress the light tackle.

Eventually Ricky subdued this volunteer and brought it aboard the boat.


To our amazement, this redfish had a large wound wrapped around his back.  Just behind his head the wound was so deep you could see exposed bone.


On closer examination, it was clear the wound was in the shape of a large toothy smile.  It appears a shark had grabbed this redfish across the back, but apparently he had used the same energy and determination displayed in the struggle with Ricky to break free of the shark and make his escape.


The wound had begun to heal, but this twenty-seven inch redfish only weighed six pounds.  He had clearly suffered, but was tough as nails.  He is living proof that nature can be brutal, and strong.


A few other pics from back in the St.Marks days. The wife getting in on the action.


Note the absence of grey in that beard! And the fly in that fish’s mouth.



Tag and release.


Cleaning up a bit with the boys from CCA.


Moose or Sheepshead, not sure which.


Two fisted





I am a lucky man.


Spanish.  Note ol’ yella in the background.  Now, that was a boat!




Frankie, queen of the flats, chillin’ out.


Thanks for indulging me a trip down memory lane.  Until next time, catch ’em up!

Ballyhoo Dredge

Man, it’s prime white marlin season in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, Hurricane Matthew has it stirred up out there like a Maytag washing machine.  So, let’s talk about how to rig a bait dredge that can really increase your chances of getting one of those white marlin as soon as things settle down enough to get out there and back without knocking out all the fillings in your teeth.

I found this cool video on YouTube that shows a mullet dredge in action. We will do a ballyhoo dredge, but they are very similar. I don’t have a dredge cam to take video like this, but its pretty slick  and it gets my blood moving.  Especially check it out at about 1:25.

Ours ends up looking like this.


Here are the pin rigs we will build.  The video walks through how to make these, and then how to rig the ballyhoo onto the pin rigs.  If you do not want to make the pin rigs you can purchase them already made up from most offshore tackle shops.


Check out the video (sorry about the vertical orientation) and see what you think.

In the video we deployed the dredge behind a planer.  You can use a swivel like this to rig the dredge behind a planer or a stretch 30.


It looks like this:



These rigs or just a trolling weight will work, but a downrigger is a better solution. This video is an excellent demonstration of how to deploy your dredge from a downrigger.  This is how we are now managing on our Sea Vee.

O.K., now you have all the info to build your own ballyhoo dredge.  Get out to the garage and get on this while we wait out this weather and then we can all get out there and catch ’em up.

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Thanks for the Hook Man!

Allen and I wanted to take advantage of the great weather and get out a second time last week.  Our eyes were on the tuna grounds, but we were having trouble finding others to join us.  People had crummy excuses like:

  • I am on an oil rig in the Caribbean
  • It’s my wedding anniversary
  • I’m having hip replacement surgery

etc….  Clearly priorities in the wrong places.  But complete stranger, Wayne, had his priorities in the right place.  Even though he was scheduled to work, he got his start time pushed back.  Talk about hard core, he rides with us on a 38 hour tuna trip arriving back at the dock two hours before having to be on shift.  Still stuck around to help clean the boat and fish.  That’s my kind of crew.

Fishing at our first stop was slow.  No surface activity and not much showing on the sounder, but we did eek out one nice fish.



It was Wayne’s first, but he put the wood to it.


The water was pretty blue and since it was calm like a mill pond, it was no problem to move on to try some other spots.  While we found a nice rip with a wide scattered weed line, the troll was not very productive.  It did provide a chance for the crew to catch up on their beauty sleep though.


We found some tuna showing on the surface and on the sounder and bump trolled live baits to see if we could entice a bite.  There were not many boats out (I guess many fisherman had set other priorities). There was a charter boat working the same area and he was nice enough to give us a really good tuna hook.  When some tuna started busting off our bow he bee-lined it in there to try to get a shot.  After pushing in front of us he informed me that we had run over his lines. Not even being in gear, I thought that was pretty rich.  I am sure he can do no wrong.  Well, when we reeled in our baits, we did find one of his lines tangled with one of our baits and harvested this sweet little circle hook.


Allen decided to rig that bad boy up and put it to use.


That mean little hook did a great job on this nice tuna.  Just wanted to say thanks to that nice captain on the other boat for the little hook that could. Super nice of him.

We continued to pick away at fish overnight, but the bite was not really fired up.  We did get a few flyers.  They make great bait.




In the morning, though, things heated up.  At one point Allen and I were hooked to a double header of really nice fish.  Unfortunately, I pulled the hook early and lost some serious sashimi.  Allen, however, settled in for the slog with a fish that had to be over one hundred pounds.


But after 45 minutes, heartbreak as the mainline was cut and the fish cruised away.  We are not sure exactly what happened, but the fish may have hit the line with its tail.  Regardless, it sucked.

We did get a shot at some smaller fish on topwater.  That is always a special blast.


We had to leave them biting (and there were some really nice fish busting all over) so we could get hard core Wayne back in time for work.  It’s a long ride back to Destin, but weather was nice and we made great time.  Just want to send out a special tanks to Wayne for volunteering to join us despite work.  Good guy.  Oh, and here is what he did with some of his tuna.


You can find the recipe here.

Can’t wait to get out there and do it again.  Until then, hope you catch ’em up.

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Sometimes the Fish Jump Right in the Boat

Allen and I played hooky from work this week and did a quick trip in hopes of a wahoo or two and some sword fishing.  We had a great time and checked all the boxes.

We knew things were good when a mahi free jumped right in the boat.  If that fish was in an Olympic jumping competition it would have gotten a ten for form as its jump was pure poetry in motion.  I wish I had a video. What a beautiful display, but it ended with a bit of a thud on the deck.  Its luck was not all bad though as we quickly released it in hopes of catching it in more conventional fashion on a future trip after it puts on a few pounds.

Wahoo fishing got off to a quick start with the first fish on literally within 90 seconds of putting the first bait in the water.  Man that fish made me look like a pro.  I pulled back the throttle and said, “This is the place.  Let’s start here.” Bam, fish on!  It was like I had X-Ray vision.  O.K., I was just plain lucky.

Here are a couple of shots of Allen with his quick start wahoo.  That is going to taste great.



The sunset cruise to the sword grounds was nice and smooth.  Sunset was beautiful and just as it faded to dark, we had a pod of porpoise come up to check us out.  It was pretty cool.  Video embedded below, but I noticed these are not embedding in the emails that go to blog followers so I added a link as well (or you can just view directly in the blog at: (

We set up for sword fish just after dark and things were quiet until the moon came up at about 9:30. As soon as the moon came over the horizon we were hooked up.  The fish came up to the surface and was streaking along towing the disco light through the darkness.  Allen was on the rod and it seemed like a solid fish, but then it was gone.  The hook and bait came back to the boat in good condition so it seems we were never really hooked to the fish. May have been wrapped around the bill or the fish may have just been holding the bait.  Disappointing, but at least we were getting some action.

We redeployed the baits and were soon catching some z’s and storing up energy for the sword fights of which we dreamed.  We were the only boat anywhere in the area without a single blip on the radar.  I love mid week fishing.

About 11:30 the 80W goes off.  Again, the fish is up on the surface trailing the disco light through the dark.  The rod was in the bow and the fish was bee-lining it back around the transom to the other side of the boat so I had to go from fast asleep to full on fire drill trying to prevent a break off.

I was able to get the rod around to the transom and get in good position to fight this fish. Allen was up and helping me get into a fighting belt. Unfortunately, I took my eye off the ball as I tried to get strapped in and something went horribly wrong as the fish surged and the 80lb mainline snapped with a large bang. Shit!  Not sure if it crossed the other line that was still out, hit something on the transom, wrapped the tip or what, but the fight was over. Not sure how big this fish was, but have you ever tried to break 80lb test line?  It ain’t easy and this fish did it like it was dental floss.

I have been several times with zero bites.  One or two bites a night is a good night.  We had blown the first two with no guaranty of another. A little depressing, and it was disturbing our sleep with no reward.

We redeployed the baits and settled in for another nap.  I was in the bow and Allen was in the cockpit when the transom rod started screaming drag.  I got up yelling “Allen!” as I headed aft, but he was fast asleep.  A few more exclamations and he was up and on the rod, alert as if it were high noon!

The fish put up a good fight, but Allen was on the job.


It was now occurring to me that there were just two of us and no flying gaff or harpoon.  It might turn out to be a bit of a challenge to land this fish.  Note to self, bring flying gaff next time!  We were surprised when the fish came up that it was not as large as it seemed during the fight.  On the smaller size, but this fish had heart.  We had decided to release it to fight another day, but unfortunately it was bleeding profusely from the gills. This is one of the few times I have seen a circle hook catch deep in a fish rather than the corner of the mouth.  Checking to make sure it met the legal limit we decided it was unlikely to survive so we brought it aboard and put it on ice.


Mission accomplished.  Wahoo and swordfish in the boat.  That was our goal.

As the sun came up we put out a spread and started looking for a weed line we had drifted through during the night.  Water color was decent, but not great and no bites as we searched.  When we finally found the line it was very scattered and presented a slow conversion from blue water to blue-green.  We worked this for a while, clearing lines constantly, but had no luck so we packed up and headed north.

On the way home we put the high speed lures back out in search of another wahoo.  We worked it for a while without any luck so we decided to change our position a bit and immediately saw a nice hoo skyrocket 12-15 feet out of the water scattering hundreds of flying fish.  Again, I wish I had a video to share.  That fish was a high octane hunter flying through the air like a jet fighter with its afterburners on.  I swear you could see rippling muscles as his tail continued to pump in mid flight.  The flying fish were in full on panic.

We brought the boat around pulling the baits through the kill zone and boom!, fish on.  Yeehaw! Nice fish, now we have two wahoo in the box.  My favorite fish to eat of any species, full stop.


We decided it was time to head home and get everything cleaned up so we stowed the gear and pushed the throttles down for the run back to the hill.  On the way we ran across this interesting debris.


It looks to be a bulkhead, all from a boat and it has a coffin box for an EPIRB mounted on it.  The hydrostatic release seems to have been tripped and the EPIRB released, but not any time soon as there was some growth on the debris and it was covered with small cobia and mahi.  We played around for a bit catching a few of those and then continued on to home. We reported this to the Coast Guard primarily because it would suck for someone to hit that thing while running.  Sounds like they were going to try to tow it in.

We flew the flags as we came through the pass.


Once we got the boat cleaned up (except for the squid that I apparently left in the fish box (yuck)), we set about making up that wahoo sashimi.  The recipe is simple: Filet wahoo.  Cut filet into small pieces.  Eat after dipping in soy and wasabi.  Lick lips. Pairs well with Ranger IPA 🙂



Great trip.  Lots of fun.  Good company.  And watching that wahoo sky was worth the price of admission.

Until next time, catch em up!

Marlin Provides Proof in Execution

Last week I blogged up how to rig an Ilander ballyhoo combo.  So on Sunday I figured I better see how my prototypes worked in the field.


There was the blue and white one I used in the video and the black and red one I used for the pics.  I decided to pit them against each other with the blue and white on the right short and the red and black on the left short. It didn’t take long for whitey to find them both.  We hooked up on the black and red and Logan made short work of getting him to the boat.  Allen was the wire man and Tom put in the tag for a successful release.







We were able to get a bit of video.  This fish was a little lit up.

As we cleared the lines we saw that the blue and white had also been smacked around.  Could have been the same fish or his brother.  So can’t say if blue and white is better or perhaps black and red, but they both work, that is a fact!

We tried overnight swording, but not a single bite.  There were a bunch of other boats doing the same, but only heard of one that got a fish.  I must say, it’s a much slower more relaxing gig than the tuna fishing at the rigs. Speaking of tuna, we had a bunch of nice ones crashing around the boat in the dark and flying through the lights, but it all happened pretty quickly and we just didn’t get enough baits in the water fast enough.  It was a typical tuna smash and grab job as they were gone before we knew it.

The trolling was pretty slow.  Aside from the white we picked up a few small dolphin and bonita, but not much else.


We tried high speed for a bit and got a big wahoo on.  He took me deeeeep into the 50 wide before we got him turned.  Just as we were about to sink the gaff, though, he shook the hook.  Heartbreak as he was 50+ pounds of sashimi in the making.  Here is what he hit.  Do you think the hoo like this lure?


I might change those hooks out for the big single J Hooks on swivels.  I don’t like them coming unbuttoned like that.

Hope you all had a great weekend.  Until next time, catch em up.

J Hook Rigged Ballyhoo under Blue and White Ilander

A rigged ballyhoo trolled behind a blue and white Ilander lure is probably the single most popular trolled bait there is. This is really the first natural bait presentation you should learn when getting into bluewater trolling. Blue and white is the go to color of choice, but there are many options out there like this black and red (a good choice for wahoo).


I like the mahi colored ones as well as bright yellow and pink.  It’s probably the nice contrast of blue and white that helps make that color effective and particularly versatile.  One consideration on color is to contrast dark skies with light colors and bright skies with dark colors so with blue and white on the same lure you can pet two dogs (I don’t kill birds) with one hand.

Circle hook rigs are required for tournaments and are great to improve survival rates on released fish, but if you are rigging your baits under trolling lures, you are going to need to use a traditional j hook.

These rigs will catch pretty much anything that swims near the surface of the ocean.  They are great for mahi, wahoo, tuna, kingfish, sailfish, white marlin, and blue marlin.  You can rig with mono or wire leader, it will work either way.

One big benefit of rigging under an Ilander is that it is very forgiving of imperfect rigging.  When you rig a naked ballyhoo, it better be right.  If not, it will spin, fail to track straight, or wash out (tear up and start to break apart).  That does not mean it won’t catch a fish, but your chances fall significantly.  Put an Ilander lure over top of the ballyhoo and it becomes the principal driver of how the bait tracks in the water.  You can screw this up so bad not even an Ilander will save the day, but no doubt, you can live with some imperfections in your rigging with little or no consequence when set up under an Ilander or similar skirt.

With a little help from my wife as camera woman and creative director, I put together this video that goes through step by step just how I rig a ballyhoo with a j hook.  I did this under a blue and white Ilander, but the same rig will work under any trolling skirt.  Take a look and let me know what you think.  I know some folks will likely rig differently, and so I would invite you to post up your videos for others to see how your do it too.

If you like what you see, please register to follow the Bluewater How To blog by clicking on the registration link in the right margin.  Hope this helps you catch em up!

Triple Threat for Triple Tail

The weather was right so we decided to pull together a crew and head to the rigs in search of tuna.  We put out the word but could not scratch together a four man crew so it was just me, Allen and Stephen.  We figured if the US Women’s Gymnastics Team could pick their own name (“The Final Five”) we could, too.  So we dub this crew, Team Triple Threat.

We consulted FishTrac and Roffers and it was clear that blue water was far away so we settled in for a long run.  When we did find rigs in blue water there just did not seem to be a lot of activity, so we kept moving.  We ended up way southwest with Tuna busting the surface in nasty green water.  We chunked, we live baited, we trolled, but the bite was slow and completely died overnight despite the full moon.  We only had one decent bite and the fish came unhooked before we got it to the boat.  We were in good company with several other boats seeming to have much the same experience.

We tried some other rigs and found another in green water with a decent bite going on.  Saw a couple of other boats hooking up on live baits, but our live bait had not held up.  Lots of dead ones and just a few left to try. Bridled up the biggest hard tail in the live well and boom, we were on.  Let him eat it and take line for perhaps 30-45 seconds and then brought the line tight.  Fought the fish for a couple minutes and then it came unbuttoned.  When we reeled the line back in we found the hard tail was still on the hook and you could see it had been bitten and held on to, but never swallowed.   I guess next time I need to let the fish eat it even longer.

We were out of live bait and strangely the fish were completely ignoring our nice fresh chunk.  We had caught some blackfin, skippies, and small yellowfin, but it was just not our day for Tuna.  A bit frustrated we decided to start back toward home in hopes of finding a good rip to fish on the way.

On the way out we had run across a  debris line from the Mississippi in lovely river water.

3 Tail Habitat

We had worked some schools of tuna nearby picking up some blackfin, skippies, bonita etc… but nothing exciting enough to hold our attention. There was a huge shark lurking among them and it was tempting to try to hook it up, but it was not a Mako and the idea of fighting it for a couple hours was not something we wanted to embrace.

Checking the debris line we found it was loaded up with triple tail.  That is when Team Triple Threat let its colors shine.  Using highly unconventional tactics we set about selecting a few of these fish for the ice box.  Allen struck first putting a nice one in the box.

Allen 3Tail2

This was a nice specimen that was literally hand fed the jig.

I jumped in and found a second volunteer.

Me and Allen with Tripple Tail Thumbs up

But Stephen did not feel we were being adequately selective so he went moose hunting and dipped this one out of the fish tank.

Stephen with Moose 3Tail Close

I am astounded that triple tail are not extinct.  I do believe they are the most docile, least spooky, most incredibly willing to die species on the planet.

On the way home we found a bit of a rip and light weed line and pulled some small tuna off it, but never found what we were looking for.  What amazes me about this trip is that despite a really long run and failure to catch the target species, we just had a great time.  Those triple tail were a blast, the weather was great, company superb and it was just awesome to be on the water.  Beats work any day!

One last shot of Team Triple Threat back at the dock.

All 3 3Tail

The payoff was pan fried triple tail dinner.

3Tail Dinner

Straight forward preparation.  Dipped in flour, salt and pepper and seared in a cast iron skillet with olive oil and butter.  A great salad and tomatoes caprese for accompaniment along with your beverage of choice.

Next time, we will get those tuna!  Until then, catch em up.