Nancy and I had a day off last Thursday, so we decided we were up for a small adventure. At one point we thought we’d go on an overnighter down the bay, but then we found out that we had family coming to visit on Saturday, so we amended our plans.
We’ve been having some luck catching Spanish mackerel in the bay lately, but often the schools outside in the Gulf are bigger (and the individual fish are bigger.) So we loaded up the boat Thursday morning and set out for Destin and the pass into the Gulf.
Because Slider has no engine, we have to pick our weather carefully for trips outside. East Pass is a notoriously dangerous place. However, that morning winds were predicted to be from the NW and moderate. We would be fishing an outgoing tide, which if the wind were forecast to be much fiercer might have produced a bad popple, but the NOAA guys assured us the weather would be mild and settled.
On the way out, they were right.
In fact the winds were so light we had trouble making headway against the 2 knot current running in the pass. Several times we found ourselves all but stationary over the ground. But once past the narrowest part of the pass, the winds began to pick up, and in fact, our speed soon increased to the 5 knots that Spanish like. We were trolling mackerel trees and Clark spoons, a usually deadly combo, and started picking up mackerel in the green water of the channel. Nancy was yanking them in with great gusto.
I am indeed fortunate to have a wife who doesn’t mind taking fish off the hook.
Once out in the blue water, the action stopped, so I decided we’d make a long tack out and then close the beach a couple miles to the west. Often the most productive Spanish fishing is just off the second sandbar, as the green water starts darkening. Contrary to the forecast, the wind had veered to the SW and was constantly freshening.
There was a fairly big swell running from the SW, too, but Slider is a very stable little boat, and we experienced no discomfort. Right after we’d tacked back toward the beach, both rods were hit by creatures so big and fierce, that the zing of the reels was almost simultaneous with the pop of the lines breaking. Unfortunately, I had only one more mackerel tree ready to rig up, so I put a big red and white jig on a wire leader on the other outfit and trolled back toward the beach west of the pass.
The wind continued to build, and the Gulf became a little more bouncy. We hooked and landed a couple of 8 pound bonitos (though their actual name is Little Tunny, or False Albacore.) These fish put up an exciting fight on light tackle, and with the second fish, we had to pass the rod around the forestay a couple of times before we could get him to the gaff. Generally, these fish are not considered to be good eating here along the fish-rich Gulf Coast, but I’d heard they made decent smoked fish, so we kept them.
By the time we got the second fish in the box, the Gulf was starting to look a little unsuitable for small craft, so we fell off and sailed a broad reach back to the pass. Once over the bar, the water flattened out and we were doing 7.5 to 8 knots.
Out in the bay, the wind built even more. Our course home had become a beat, as it almost always seems to be when the weather goes bad. We did catch a couple more mackerel north of Crab Island, but then sailing the boat began to take most of my attention. We both got a little wet from the spray, even after I put a reef in the main. By the time we were within a mile of the bayou, there was enough weight in the wind that we took down the jib and sailed the rest of the way under reefed mainsail alone. Even then, some of the gusts had me luffing up a bit.
It’s very rare for any spray to come aboard Slider, so this was unusual in several ways. Naturally, I was irritated with NOAA, which never seems to get the forecast even approximately right, and even more irritated when I discovered that a weather station just a few miles north of our position during the strongest gusts registered a top windspeed of only 26 mph. I’m quite certain that some of the gusts exceeded 35 knots. The NOAA forecast had called for bays and inland waterways to be “smooth to a light chop.”
But all in all, it was a fine little adventure, and once again Slider demonstrated that looking after her crew is something she is very good at doing.