Just when you thought you had read everything Graeme Pullen could write on his many big fish exploits. From Porbeagle sharks off the Devon coastline to the Blue Marlin of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. The Goliath Grouper are now a protected species,but years ago Graeme was on a mission to get something that would really “stretch his string”.Read this vintage piece and see how you could then latch into…
“THE BEST OF BUD N’ MARY’S”. . .. .. . . .GROUPERVILLE !!!!!
First ever trip to the Florida Keys was 1981. Yep! it really is scary that I have spent 23 years topping up the tan and tugging on fish from that one area of the world. Few anglers would dispute that Florida is the place if you want close to guaranteed sunshine, and certainly the place to notch up a few big fish. That first trip in 81’ saw my best fish as a Blackfin Tuna of 20lbs and an Amberjack of 40lbs. It was more of a recce’ trip than anything else, but the seed was already sown. The following year I tied up with a skipper called Capt. Jim Taylor who specialised in big shark over an offshore mark known as the “Hump”. An undersea mountain that rose up as an obstacle in the northward flowing Gulfstream that proved an oasis to the entire ocean food chain. My personal bests suddenly got blown out of the water-Bull shark went up to 455lbs,Tiger shark 517lbs, plus Hammerheads, Dusky, Blacktips and Lemons. Jim was based halfway down the Keys between Miami and Key West at a place called Islamorada, now the undisputed Sportfishing capital of the world. For years I fished there, mostly on my own, then with groups. The main “buzz” area was the famed Bud n’ Mary’s marina at the lower end of the island. Scene of many big fish landings, and with all the area’s top offshore charter captains and backcountry guides. It proved a magnet to travelling fishermen.
Then one year, on the way down to cover a story on fishing at Marathon I was introduced to the current owner of the marina, Richard Stanzyck.His enthusiasm for all manner of fishing, and his drive for perfection rubbed off on me to such an extent that I rarely go any further up or down the Keys to fish. You can get everything you want at Bud n’ Mary’s. Richard has had a monumental influence on the fishing of Islamorada, as well as guiding Vic Gaspeny to the World record 12lb fly tippet Bonefish. That alone is some achievement when you realise Vic is regarded as one of the top Florida guides in history. Richard started with commercial fishing out of Miami, and then moved into every category of Sportfishing from light tackle bonefish and tarpon, to the powerful blue marlin and swordfish. I have heard many bar-room stories of fish catches that it is hard to believe many of them. But with Richard the stats are all true. The first time he took myself and wife Hilary out for an evening’s tarpon fishing we hooked not one, but SEVEN, landing and releasing four, to over 135lbs. Or how about when he asks me to go for a couple of hours flyfishing to catch a bonefish? And we both land double figure bones on fly, back-to-back? “Want sailfish shots Graeme?”. That trip saw us hook-up a staggering 14 Sails in one day .The list is endless. Richard has so much fishing information, and his “hunches” are totally uncanny. Which brings me to the start of a memorable trip. “I’ve got a spot for big fish that will blow your socks off Graeme. If you want I can set you up on a trip with my son Nick. We’ve had about thirty fish in excess of 100lbs since Christmas”.
Such an opportunity was not to be overlooked, so with fellow Brits Ted Kershaw and Frank Gavagan, a day was set aside. The fish concerned are actually Jewfish, now a protected species in Florida waters, and are now being titled “Goliath Grouper”. Monstrous, heavy fish with a mouth like a crane grab and a top ceiling weight of…. Well, somewhere in excess of 800lbs! Richard would come with us on the trip, and we loaded around 150lbs of Dorado carcasses into a cooler for chum, as well as a live well full of Pinfish, live crabs, shrimp and grunts. I told you, at Bud n’ Mary’s they operate on the “Goin Fishin”, or “Goin Catchin” principle. Richard always aims for the latter.
We boarded 19-year old Nick’s brand new 28-foot custom-built catamaran “PROSPORT”, (model # 2860KAT SC). This vessel is designed purely for two things. Travelling fast, and catching fish. Fuel tank was 250 gallons and the twin 225hp, 4-stroke Yamaha outboards could drink to their hearts delight, at 25 gallons an hour and 35 knots. As we nudged the “PROSPORT” out of Bud n’ Mary’s Richard explained the secret mark. It was part of a concrete oil rig that was sunk as part of military target practise over forty miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, in just 25 feet of water. Islamorada is ideally placed in this respect, as you have the deep water of the Atlantic to the east, and shallow water of the Gulf of Mexico running out 100 miles to the west before you got any real depth .The best of the Grouper bites come on the flood tide, and as we felt the bow of the super cat rise in the water Nick gave me some of his already impressive catch statistics, and remember he had only just turned 19. Most Dorado, 12 between 12/35lbs. Tarpon 175lbs, Bonefish 13lbs, Permit 45lbs,Sailfish 75lbs, Blue Marlin 300lbs,Hammerhead shark 200lbs, African Pompano 37 ¼ lbs, and he still holds the world record fly-caught Dorado at 51 1/2lbs.He has taken lots more fish under the guidance of Richard, and having been featured in many magazine articles he now wants to move into video and films on fishing. He currently edits his own footage, and having completed Marine Science, wants to progress to communications, which has close links to video. His shooting format is a Sony DCRTRV 50,which as digital goes straight onto the computer. He has featured several times on the ESPN fishing shows.
Eventually, after weaving between various shallow channels, the Cat zeroed in on the Grouper mark with its GPS.Richard told me to drop the anchor and I cleated it off. Little was I to realise that this action was the most rest I would get for several hours. We were already late on the tide, and had barely an hour of flow left to nail down a big grouper. It was straight into work mode for me. First job was to put out a couple of mesh bags of chum. These fish-laden particles would attract and hold many surface swimming species. With the broken pieces of platform scattered over the seabed I broke up several Dorado carcasses and simply dropped the over the side. The flooding tide would send out a scent trail over the seabed to draw in any large predators. Several tackle rigs were set up. Spinning outfits in the light category carried a shrimp baited leadhead jig to bounce off the bottom for Jack Crevalle in the 2 to 4lb class. These were the favoured bait of the Grouper and it took barely a few minutes to get hits on these. Then a couple of longer rods carried fixed spool reels loaded with 20lb line, a flowing trace, and one lead were cast downtide with a live pinfish for any manner of ocean predators. Smaller grouper, jacks, cobia, in fact anything that swims will hit this small live fish. An extra rod was left in a rod holder baited with a freelined swimming crab for the sought after Permit, a powerful species that often swarm over the wrecks in spring and summer. Finally, two huge 130lb standup blanks were fitted with 50 wide reels and loaded with gut-busting 130lb test line, wire leader and a 10/0 hook. This carried a live 3lb jack Crevalle down to the bottom, each line clipped to the outrigger to minimise tangles. In the time it took me to type this sentence the first fish was hooked at the stern by Ted, and proved to be a double figure grouper. We were away. Just as I was snapping away with the camera, the outrigger clip popped free and the 130lb blank heeled over. Shouts from Richard that this was a grouper all added to the panic, and with the big rod barely in battle curve I hauled and pumped, trying to stop the fish gaining the sanctuary of the wreckage. Eventually I came out the victor, and Nick and Richard hauled up a 110lb Goliath Grouper for photos. The markings on the fish were superb, and I could see why they have no problem getting large baits into their mouth. Unhooked and returned, I looked round to see Ted in battle with a Blacktip shark of 40lbs.
Baited and dropped again, this time Frank got to haul on a giant 80lb grouper, and Ted’s next drop saw him attached to a 150lb nurse shark. And we had barely been fishing twenty minutes! Two bottom rods took off as the smell from the carcasses drew in the big predators. I got a 100lb nurse shark; while Ted got another of 125lbs.Frank started on the sharks, until we eventually got a worst-case scenario. We all hooked up on monsters at the same time, what is known as a triple-header. Frank had a shark, Ted’s Goliath Grouper found the wreck while I staggered up the bow trying to keep a very big fish from the anchor rope. Locking up the drag and waiting for the double hernia I rolled the fish on the surface. A 300lb Bull or Lemon shark tore the surface to a foam in its disgust at my rough handed treatment, screamed off and cut me on the anchor rope. We all laughed at the mayhem, but not for long as a pack of three Blacktip sharks carved through the surface waves, homing in on the chum bags tied to the stern. We had our fill of sharks, but as Ted rolled yet another 150 pounder on the surface so Nick screamed that a big cobia was swimming with the shark. A live pinfish dropped in the water and was eaten immediately. Cobias are gamefish and top table fare. More smaller grouper came, then, almost thankfully the tide slackened, giving us a short respite.
As it flowed the other way so the Goliath Grouper stopped biting, just as Richard said they would, but if anything the shark kicked into top gear, and I have no qualms in suggesting if you were in the water you would be eaten almost immediately. After some FOURTEEN big sharks, Goliath Grouper, Cobia, Snapper, Jacks and unstoppable “freight trains” we called it a day to make the long run back. I have had many good sessions with Nick and Richard, but this one was truly hectic. A couple of weeks after I got back to the UK I tipped a friend off about the fantastic sport. He got several grouper. Largest, wait for it…. nearly 400lbs! So if you are looking to have a mind-blowing day of hard wrecking, forget the UK. Get yourself to BDM’s and book Nick Stanzyck. The chances are you could be in traction if the fishing really gets hot.
To Contact Bud n’ Mary’s write-P.O. Box 628,Islamorada.Florida Keys 33036.USA. Tel –(305) 664-2461. Or try their website at www.budnmarys.com
BIG GROUPER INFO BOX-
JEWFISH– (Epinephelus Itajara) Common name-Spotted Jewfish. Heavy appearance. Broad head, flattened between eyes. Large underslung mouth. tailfin strongly rounded, colours vary. Flanks-uniform or dark brown grading to creamy white with 4 or 5 dark cross bands. Head, body and fins with black spots. Size-up to 8 feet and 800lbs.The Jewfish is one of the largest groupers. Distribution- Western Atlantic, tropical and sub-tropical waters. Florida. West Indies. South America.Indo-Pacific. A powerful, bottom dwelling fighter. Excellent food fish. Can live surprisingly close to shore
WARSAW GROUPER- (Epinephelus Nigritus). Otherwise known as Black Grouper. Large, robust body, broad head, small eyes, projected lower jaw. Flanks are a uniform brown, or bluish/black, belly slightly lighter. Size- Up to 500lbs in weight. Distribution-Western Atlantic from South Carolina, West Indies to Brazil. One of the large grouper, good eating, and is the deepest dwelling of all the grouper.
ROCK COD– (Epinephelus Tauvinus). Known as greasy cod or slimy cod. Large, robust body, moderately compressed. Lower jaw projecting. Colour-Olive/green with scattered orange, red or brown spots, plus 4 to 6 darker bands over the dorsal area. Grows up to 85 inches and weighs 500lbs. Distribution- Indo-Pacific warmer seas. Found around coral reefs and estuaries. Carnivorous and voracious feeder. Owing to great size, deemed dangerous to man. The experience of divers supports this.
CALIFORNIA SEA BASS- (Stereolepis Gigas) Known as Giant Bass. Stout body, short head, blunt snout, small eyes, tail slightly concave. Colouration-Black and brown on back. Lower sides and belly lighter. Maximum size-Over 7- feet and 600lbs. Distribution-Northeast Pacific from San Diego south. Lives in coastal waters. Kelp beds favoured. Not much commercial importance. Rod and reel record of 557lbs 3ozs taken off Catalina Island in 1962.
QUEENSLAND GROUPER– (E.Lanceolata) Known as the Brindle Bass. Largest grouper on the planet. Reaches length of twelve feet and weighs up to half a ton. This species has been known to make rushing attacks on divers.
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