On The Brink

The weekend following Thanksgiving you’ll find Florida Sport Fishing aboard a legendary east coast party boat—Yankee Capts. We sponsor an annual 3-day snapper/grouper marathon departing Key West on Friday afternoon immediately following the holiday, and work closely with the vessel’s respected crew to put together a memorable trip for an exclusive number of anglers. This past November’s adventure is likely one that none of the 37 passengers aboard the 100-foot fishing machine will soon forget.


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Faced with challenging conditions, determined anglers still managed to connect with quality fish.

Let me be start by telling you that if you are hoping for a detailed article with secrets on how to slay slob snapper, or maybe an informative column with tips and tricks on bagging gobbler size grouper, this isn’t it. For everything from preparation to execution, I suggest you refer to In The Zone, an instructional tutorial featured in our Jan/Feb 2011 issue. There you will find the definitive guide to Dry Tortugas bottom fishing…party boat style!

From the very first time I fished the Dry Tortugas I’ve believed that when the area’s creamy green waters treat you right, it’s world class. And even when the Tortugas treat you bad, it is still good.

This year I have decided to take a different approach to our annual Tortugas Tales recap. Instead of discussing tactics and techniques, I’d like to publically address a number of concerns that were brought to my attention during our scheduled 46-hour angling expedition. I am certain not everyone will agree with my point of view, but that’s okay. I firmly believe that sharing what I have taken away from this trip will help improve party boat experiences for passengers and crews statewide.

First and foremost, let’s address forecasted sea conditions. I personally monitored multiple sources for a week prior to the trip and as the holiday weekend approached, I knew with certainty that Mother Nature would be dealing us a lousy hand. Did anyone actually expect something different? The wind had been blowing hard for weeks. It was nearly December and we were headed to the Dry Tortugas, an area of fertile hard bottom 50-plus miles into the open sea on a hardcore overnight fishing trip. This wasn’t meant to be a summertime stroll around the lake at Uncle Greg’s Fish Camp. This was wintertime headboat fishing at its finest and it was meant to be exciting.

With nature’s fury refusing to loosen its grip, the captain was left with no option but to delay departure by six hours. Finally, at 9:00 p.m. sharp the vessel’s rugged diesels were brought to life, the weathered dock lines were thrown and off we went into the darkness. For the few anglers who expressed concern, let me assure you that while the trip may have been a bit uncomfortable at times due to rolling seas and no less than 25-knots of wind, it was not unsafe. Party boat skippers from coast to coast, including Yankee Capts owner Greg Mercurio and Captain Matt Earl, know their vessel and its limitations extremely well. Passenger safety is their number one priority and after decades in the business without a single incident, their judgment must be trusted.

That being said, as a paying passenger on any boat if you are ever uncomfortable with a captain’s decision to sail in less than favorable conditions, before the boat leaves the dock you certainly have the right to grab your gear and hit the highway. However, it is not reasonable to expect a full refund. Rather, a complimentary ticket for a future trip would be the appropriate remedy.

From the very first time I fished the Dry Tortugas I’ve believed that when the area’s creamy green waters treat you right, it’s world class. And even when the Tortugas treat you bad, it is still good. I say this because with the stiff breeze and choppy seas forecasted to slightly diminish over the weekend, all aboard expected a bumpy trip but one that was certainly doable. With that being said, all of us regularly spend time on the water and know that in realty a marine weather forecast is not much more than an educated guess. This point was once again driven home as we ultimately faced blustery winds and angry seas from the first drop to the very last—a mutton fisherman’s worst nightmare.

The trophy snapper we were after are not easily fooled. If something doesn’t look right, smell right or move right, these wary fish know it is not right and quickly move on. Something as simple as an 8 oz. egg-sinker bouncing across the hard bottom is enough to send even the hungriest mutton snapper scurrying for cover. Now that is not to say we didn’t catch fish, because collectively our group certainly did. Actually, ten totes of quality fish. That just goes to show you how fertile the Dry Tortugas really are. Faced with adverse conditions and a dismal bite, the best still managed to scrape together a fair catch. And thankfully a few respectable grouper and mixed bag of smaller bottom dwellers helped fill the void for enthusiastic meat fishermen.

One thing I would like to see more of and fully intend to incorporate into next year’s agenda is more detailed fishing instruction. This is a universal issue that applies on every open boat. Crews should not assume that every passenger is a skilled and knowledgeable angler who knows what to do and when to do it. Many newcomers don’t even know how to properly set a drag, an error that can easily cost them quality fish. Novices and experienced anglers alike go on open boats for that very reason, to learn. It doesn’t take much. A few tips and recommendations from a skilled mate or fellow fisherman is often all that is necessary to help achieve success. Even a single quality fish can make or break an entire trip for someone and shape their opinion of what headboat fishing trips should be. I witnessed both tackle-failure and angler-failure too many times this trip. Those are cursed words to me and I can’t stand by and do nothing. I believe it is our duty at Florida Sport Fishing to educate and to help the less experienced advance their skill set.

Now don’t get your panties in a bunch. I am not suggesting we are experts and that we always achieve extraordinary success. Only a handful of Dry Tortugas mutton fishermen have legitimately earned that recognition. We, like you are all fishing the same water and experience the same challenges. However if there is one thing we know for sure, it is that you must master the fundamentals required to put together a decent catch. This applies in every venue. Come well prepared and execute to the very best of your ability. From that point, your ultimate level of success is in the hands of the fish Gods.

In 2012, participating anglers booked aboard the Yankee Capts Thanksgiving snapper/grouper marathon can expect a detailed fishing seminar well before the boat leaves the dock. Topics will include tackle selection, rigging techniques, proper bait presentation and fish-fighting etiquette. Until then, we are at your disposal to answer any comments, questions or concerns so you can have ample time to prepare accordingly (

In closing, we truly hope that everyone aboard our annual marathon enjoyed the experience. This trip is a privilege. It is about being thankful. That is exactly why we choose to do it immediately following the Thanksgiving holiday. While we faced challenging conditions and a lackluster bite, we did have the wherewithal, the good health and the good fortune of spending a couple of days on a great boat with a great group of guys. Throw in no cell phone or Internet service and really, there is nowhere else in the world I would have rather been than right there at the rail from start to finish.

Thank You

A special “Thank You” to Eagle Claw/Lazer Sharp, Atlas Reels and DNA Energy Drinks for your contributions. Your products were greatly appreciated and enjoyed by all aboard. Florida Sport Fishing is committed to making this your favorite trip of the year. Join us aboard Yankee Capts on November 23, 2012 for an angling adventure you will never forget.

Yankee Capts

Here’s a Tip

Mates on headboats and charter boats work for gratuities. Along with a minimal base pay, this is how they earn a living. It is customary when receiving outstanding service to tip the service provider, and nowhere will you find better service than aboard Yankee Capts. The trio of deckhands (Chad, Josh & Landon) make a great team and literally run around deck attending to your every need. These guys will do everything but catch the fish for you. Under the skipper’s watchful eye and tutelage, the crew, including Joe who mans the galley and keeps everyone well nourished, genuinely does their best to make your experience count. Yet I watched in disbelief as a few individuals contributed an extremely inappropriate amount for three days of hard work. One could only assume these passengers never made a living working for gratuities. Please don’t forget that deckhands cannot determine if fish bite and have no control over prevailing sea conditions. If they don’t deserve it that is one thing, but if they go above and beyond to ensure you have an enjoyable experience then show your appreciation with a monetary contribution. Mates can’t take “Thanks” to the banks.