You never know when the magic's going to happen. Full moon, neap tide . . . it just didn't matter on September 29th. We rounded Ft. Pickens Point looking for FA (false albacore . . . aka bonito) and hit incredibly clear, blue-turquoise water like you don't usually find around here until winter. We headed out toward the "Mass" (the sunken ship, Massachusetts) and saw a large congregation of birds including pelicans over a school of fish east of buoy #4. It looked like a mix of Spanish and albies, but there were some big explosions in the mix which I took for sharks. My client, Mike Youkee from the UK was ready with a 9wt Sage Xi3, Tibor Everglades, floating line with 10' intermediate "ghost" tip, 20# fluoro tippet, and a #6 clear gummy minnow.
Mike put the fly into the melee, got an immediate take, and the line started screaming off the reel. Hot Dang I thought . . . he'd managed to hook a nice FA out of the middle of all the Spanish. Mike was "bowed up" in a big way but seemed to have control of the situation, so we just sat there along the edge of the school while he battled the fish. Then I saw some big fish boiling around the edges of the school but couldn't figure out what they were . . . until one jumped. Blackfin! They were all around us. These were the biggest tunas I've ever had around the boat . . . 20 - 30 pounders, and I grabbed the 10w and started casting like a mad man. No takes in the first few casts. Mike was well into the backing fighting his fish, and I realized in all the excitement that I was coming dangerously close to crossing his line. So I put the 10wt down and concentrated on helping him land his fish which was looking more and more like a blackfin.
Then we saw his fish, and it was definitely a 3' blackfin moving in slow circles around the boat. The fish couldn't sound because the water was only 25' deep, and Mike played it beautifully within range of the net. The iridescent lavender color of the fish's back was simply incredible . . . indescribable. I've never seen anything like it before. It took two shots, but I eased the net over the magnificent fish's head, grabbed the tail, and lifted it into the boat. We only kept it out of the water long enough to get the photos and then released it with a head-first thrust and watched it power away. It was an unforgettable, breathtaking experience for both Mike and me. I'm hoping the clear "bluewater" will be with us for a while. If so, the blackfin will stick around and so will the sailfish. Kayak fishermen are landing both species regularly close to shore just east of the Navarre pier.
The Gulf is absolutely loaded with Spanish mackeral, and these schooling fish are a couple sizes larger than normal. You'll find them at the Mass and on both sides of the channel. There are also huge schools of ladyfish close to shore both east and west of the pass. I think they stack up better on outgoing water. We spent some time in a big school a few days ago and landed some real monsters (for ladyfish) . . . up to 4#. That was on spinning tackle, but man, what fun on a 6wt!
The false albacore are as unpredictable as always. We found them numerous times during the month on spin-fishing trips, but they always seem to be AWOL on my fly fishing charters. I think they're a little farther offshore at the moment, but they'll be moving in as the water temperature drops in October. The bull reds are starting to show up occasionally in the Gulf. A buddy of mine called one day last week while hooked up in a school of a "thousand redfish" (his words) just south of buoys 3 & 4. He was so excited he could hardly talk, and I could hear the reel screaming in the background. He told me later that while he was fighting his fish the school drifted down and out of sight. Never could find them again. That's a pretty good disappearing act for a thousand redfish. I've also heard of schools of big reds under bait balls between the Perdido Bay condos and Alabama Pass. Later in October the millions of baitfish in Pensacola Bay will start migrating to the gulf. There will be a time when their scent travels with the outgoing currents into the Gulf, and the annual "Running of the Bulls" will commence. It's time to get your 10wts ready . . . one with a sinking line and the other with a floater. I think it's going to happen early this year.
Captain Baz Yelverton
Gulf Breeze Guide Service
Gulf Breeze, Fl 32561-0251
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