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Rod & Gun News – 3/1/2024

Epic Sailfish Days at Ocean Reef

Fish Counts Are Way Up!

By Christine Patton, Rod & Gun Club

In what can only be described as the best week of fishing for sailfish ever seen in Club history, a number of boats from Ocean Reef participated with distinction in posting record numbers of sailfish caught. By my informal survey, the headcount of fish caught midweek, February 20 and 21, ranged from Carl Lindner’s “Seraphim’s” one-day catch of 31 to 37 for Tom Ripley’s “Bad Fish” (who ran out of bait — and flags!), or Benson Ford’s “Sweet Release” taking in 47, again in just one day, or “Double Take’s” 50 or even better, “Jolene’s” 61. Or the amazing record of 96 sails caught by Carmen Sferrazza’s “Carma” over two consecutive days — one day alone catching 65. The previous record was held by Rob Gothier’s “Bar South” with 45, so the record’s been broken by 50 percent! This suggests that fishing in these waters is getting better and better…

What Happened?

An early predictor of last week’s epic fishing was Tucker Ersek, a professional captain who has spent his life in Ocean Reef. His study of weather, current and seasonal aspects led him to conclude early on that this week’s conditions would be ideal, and he acted accordingly, from accumulating extra bait of a specific kind to borrowing more flags. Capt Ersek says it was the combination of springtime, winds and current that set the stage — winds out of the north go against the northbound currents and create huge wave action that the sailfish love to “surf”. Tucker said he had seen free-jumping sailfish earlier and knew the scenario was setting up. What no one had expected was the sheer number of fish. Packs of 6-8 fish fighting each other for the bait and having all lines hooked up, more lines than there were anglers on the boat, was a new experience. Just think of catching 65 in a day as Carma did with three anglers. That works out to a fish every seven minutes for eight hours. I am reminded of the Lucille Ball comedy routine at the cake factory with the conveyor belt bringing a new cake, one after another, whether she was ready or not…

The Record Numbers Don’t Stop With Sailfish

There have been consistent reports of increasing fish populations in the Key Largo waters. Russ Fisher, a devoted bonefish chaser, has tracked his favorite quarry over the decades and, as a Founder of Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, has studied the numbers. He has no doubt the bonefish are increasing in the Key Largo area and more significantly, are larger — an important piece of information for scientists studying the species. What I found interesting was that Russ, out in the flats on one of these remarkable days last week, saw massive numbers of bonefish — schools of 100 to 200! — and caught 12. Not a record, for Russ anyway, and he modestly gives all the credit to his guide, Jared Raskob, who he thinks is superlative. But still…you have to admit that the fishing has been better, year after year and that there seem to be more fish of all kinds in our waters.

Is the sailfish population growing too? These big fish are migratory, and their numbers are influenced by a wide range of factors, but last week’s activity argues that the numbers are vastly more than we ever suspected. This bodes well for the Reef Cup, the biggest fishing event of the season, which is coming up March 13 to 16 and will bring out the most competitive fishermen.

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