Not Capt. Greg’s First Sailfish

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Prior to the last day of the 2010 Maryland Rockfish Season, I had a charter booked for a group of us to catch those big trophy striped bass. Capt. Greg Madjeski was kind enough to call the day before to cancel the trip due to lingering windy weather. We were all disappointed, but Capt. Greg put our safety above his profit margin. We are looking forward to scheduling a trip with him this coming Spring.

My son John came home from med school in Alabama over the Christmas Holiday. As a young boy he was a heck of a catfish catcher. I called Capt. Mike Starrett of Indian Head Charters to see if we could get a shot at catching some of those monster blue catfish that have made the Potomac River their domicile. A picture of my son holding up a fifty pound catfish would surely impress any Southern Belle who might make it over to his place.

Capt. Mike called back after he checked the boat ramp at Marshall Hall. His report was that ice floes were drifting in the river. These big cats feed year round. For our safety, Capt. Mike recommended we move the charter date. Spring Break should give us a window to better, warmer weather to launch his guide boat..

We are fortunate to have professional charter captains in Southern Maryland who know when to keep their boats at the dock or on the trailer.

Capt. Greg did promise a few months ago to get me a picture of his first sailfish that he caught this summer in North Carolina. However, that picture is still in a disposable camera somewhere in his buddy’s possession.

So, with the cold winds blowing over crusted snow on the ground, I will tell you about the sailfish that hangs on my wall.

Thirty plus years ago, Capt. Fred Wheeler, Rick Norling, and I escaped from our day jobs running snorkel trips in Key Largo for a day of meat fishing for snappers and groupers. In January, the big Black Groupers are spawning. It was not unusual to bring in a fifty pound fish to sell at the Pilot House Restaurant for a dollar a pound. Throw a couple big Mutton Snappers in the catch and old Captain Charlie said it best, “You’re in Fat City now, boys!”

Fred (also known as Fard) had a 20′ Shamrock center console open fisherman that was a real fine fishing machine for either trolling or bottom fishing. Three guys could fish very comfortably from this boat though he could fit far more ladies on board with skimpy bathing suits. But, that is another story.

So, on that blustery January afternoon, Fred, Rick, and I found ourselves anchored over a deep reef in 120 feet of water north of Molasses Lighthouse. In addition to the bottom rigs each of us manned, I floated out a thawed ballyhoo on light line and a wire leader to pick up a stray King Mackerel that was likely to be cruising by. That rig was set on click and placed in a rear rod holder.

The top line was not included in the fish pool which was five bucks each toward the biggest bottom fish.

The three of us focused our efforts on the big baits we had laying on the bottom. The clicker on the top line snapped a few times signifying a nibble.

The rod was closest to Fred. I said, “Fard, check that rod. It’s getting tapped.”

“No, I’m getting a bite on the bottom. It’s just a damned triggerfish chewing on the top bait.” replied Fred

So, I put down my bottom rod and checked the top line. The fish had backed off and I put the rod back in the holder.

Less than a minute later, the clicker buzzed us again. Fard was still getting that bite. Again, I set aside my bottom line and the fish, again, dropped off the top line.

It was my turn to mutter, “Damned triggerfish.”

As soon as I got squared away with my bottom rig again, the clicker went off a third time on that top rod. Fard was still feeling a bite and I decided to hook that triggerfish. They are very good to eat if cut into small strips and deep fried. Fried trigger fingers taste like a cross between fried lobster and shrimp with a similar firm texture.

However, when I open spooled the line, the fish took the bait like a real fish, sucking the whole ballyhoo down and moving off. I flipped the engage lever on that old Penn Long Beach reel and set the hook hard figuring that a big kingfish was getting ready to smoke my drag.

Imagine our surprise when, instead of running horizontally away from the boat, a big sailfish tailwalked vertically across the surface. This was my first sailfish. Neither, Fred nor Rick had ever caught a sailfish though this was the third trip in a row that Fred had a fellow fisherman catch a billfish from his boat.

As Fard was cursing his own luck, he also coached me from putting too much pressure on the drag. A couple times, we saw bare metal of the spool, but I was able to get back the line prior to another run. Fifteen minutes later, we gaffed my first sailfish.

Obviously, I was obligated to mount that fish. On fiberglass mounts, you really did not need to provide the actual fish as Pflueger in Miami had plenty of plaster plugs and molds to use. So, I gave them the head, dimensions, and my hard earned money. The meat went to my smoker and provided many meals for my wife, friends, and I.

The mount is still hanging on my living room wall, a testament to the truth you will find in all my fish stories. Have you got a big fish to show off or a story to tell while we are waiting for Capt. Greg to locate his pics and the weather to break? e-mail your factual fish stories, tall tales, or un-retouched photos to: Thanks!

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