Dateline: June 9, 2015 – Destin, Florida
We all have a dream job – something that would be a lot of fun and pay really, really well. No kid grows up saying “I’m going to be the Vice President of License Compliance,” unless they’re German. When I was young, I wanted to either be a fireman or pitch for the Tigers. (I would have been present at a lot of disasters either way.) As an adult, I wanted to be editor of Sport Fishing Magazine, because being paid to write about fishing sounds like about as much fun as I could possibly have while dressed.
The man who holds this position is named Doug Olander, and I have actually known him for quite a while, even though we had never met in person. He is one of the seven people not related to me who reads the 1000fish blog regularly, and the guy who gave me my first couple of national writing gigs, including a big feature in Sport Fishing Magazine a few years back. A wicked wit, he is always first to point out editorial items that Marta misses in the blog, and I am hurt to admit he’s a big Jaime Hamamoto fan, which wouldn’t last long if he went fishing with her.
Doug with a fine roosterfish. Jaime has never caught a roosterfish.
As if I wasn’t a big enough fan, Doug is likely behind many of the Sport Fishing April Fool’s articles. These have included faux items as diverse as a photo of an alleged saber-toothed tarpon, an ad for an offshore “pay pond” where anglers can fish for penned blue marlin, and my personal favorite, a convincing article that claimed college students were licking the slime off gafftopsail catfish to get high.
I am certain that this became a trend at Ohio State. Ironically, this is about the only thing they didn’t get busted for this year.
This past June, some stars aligned, and Doug invited me to go red snapper fishing in the Florida panhandle, as a guest of Sport Fishing magazine. I had never caught an American red snapper. I wanted to get one – bad – and it was a chance to go fishing with an industry luminary. I would finally get to meet the guy who holds my dream job – or at least I thought it was my dream job, because as soon as I saw how darn hard he works, I rethought the whole thing. Now I want to pitch for the Tigers again.
Yes, his name is Doug, even though he signs everything “Ed.”
We were also joined by Adrian Gray, the IGFA’s production guy. For the record, this is all really his fault, as it was Adrian who arranged an IGFA article on me back in 2007 when I had a mere 660 species. Marta tells me I have been insufferable since then, but she too is a Jaime Hamamoto fan.
That’s Adrian on the right.
Adrian was joined by Regina, his girlfriend. She not only loves to fish and runs a successful business, she’s also inexplicably good-looking.
Let’s just say Adrian has outkicked his coverage, but people say the same thing about Martini with Kate Upton. Notice that Regina hasn’t bunched up her leader on one side of the reel.
I got in to Destin late. I had visions of getting a decent night of sleep, but once we started putting gear together and talking fishing, time flew. We would be fishing with light-tackle specialist Pat Dineen – a guy who has a reputation for finding huge snapper on light gear. It was well after midnight when I finally got to bed, and Doug was still up finalizing some article and making plans for his next trip. The job wasn’t looking as dreamy as I thought. Morning came quickly, and because I was so worked up about fishing for the snapper, I hadn’t really checked the weather forecast. Oops.
Morning on the gulf – photo courtesy of Adrian Gray.
The dawn weather looked miserable. We met Pat – great guy and a very nice boat – and we decided to make a go of it. Pat was quite clear that we were going to get wet. As we headed through the harbor, I kidded myself that the water could possibly remain this calm to wherever we were going, but as soon as we nosed outside the breakwater, I was disabused of that notion. It was rail-bunny rough, and we needed to go 20 miles west. Then I saw the storm. Pat stopped the boat so we could strap everything down, and then we did what you need to do in these circumstances – get it over with.
Just another day on the species-hunting trail.
Doug and I endured quietly, but Adrian seemed to get a perverse enjoyment out of the conditions.
Once we got to the spot, things happened quickly. We dropped an assortment of jigs and cuts baits on a shallow reef, and the bites were almost instant. I had a triggerfish sneak off with my first sardine, but my second bait got hammered. My medium Loomis travel rod bent over at the handle, but braided line is a good thing, and I finally inched the fish off the bottom and toward the net. These things fight HARD, but moments later, I had my first red snapper.
I was ecstatic to finally be holding an American red snapper. What storm?
Doug got a couple of fish, but he spent most of his time taking photos for the article he would write. It always amazes me to watch professional photographers at work – the finished product looks so good, but Doug missed loads of fishing time just doing things as simple as keeping the lens clean. This was not how I had pictured the job.
Pat and Steve with a snapper double. All the good photos here are from Doug or Adrian.
Pat really knew his stuff – the bites were nonstop. These were solid fish, and they were coming so quickly, on bait and and an assortment of jigs, that we all briefly forgot how sloppy the water was.
Adrian battles a cobia.
Pat with a beast of a snapper, and yes, he used that rod.
If you’re after snapper or inshore action in the panhandle, look up Pat – http://www.flyliner.com/about.asp
On the way back from the snapper spot, Pat volunteered to stop on some patch reefs so I could try a bit of species hunting. It worked out well – I caught a whitespotted soapfish in just a few minutes. My delight at this amused but bewildered the group.
They’re called soapfish because they produce a soapy mucus when annoyed. The water was so rough I almost produced soapy mucus myself.
It was indeed nasty out there, and spending time on the anchor was just daring someone’s breakfast to reappear. We decided to head in before another squall showed up.
In the harbor, Doug made one of his many sage observations – “We could have had the same experience – and kept drier – if we just stayed in port and kicked each other in the groin.” But I had my red snapper, and this is what I remember about the trip.
I spent the afternoon fruitlessly hunting new species on the boat docks, and that evening, we all had dinner together. Adrian and Doug are full-on professionals, and it was great to hear the stories – Doug has been to even more exotic destinations than I have, if you don’t count Cleveland. There were lots of great fishing stories, but I was also struck by how hard Doug was working. When we were relaxing back at the hotel, he was already working on the article.
The last thing we looked at was the weather report. It was getting worse, so Doug and Adrian decided to give the next day a miss and let their bruised rear ends heal. They were on the road early the next morning, and I thanked them both again – for a guy who is spending a lot of time picking out new furniture and paint colors, this was one of the high points of my year. (Marta disputes the veracity of the part about the paint colors, insisting that I have been little or no help.)
Of course, I spent an extra day with Pat, because I just couldn’t believe the weather would stay that nasty that long. Logic like this is the reason I am not a meteorologist. There just had to be something on one of those reefs, and Pat was more than game to give it a try. On the way out of the harbor, we jigged up some live bait, and the first sabiki I reeled in had a strange-looking sardine on it. A quick check of Val Kells’ magnificent book revealed that this was no ordinary sardine – it was a Spanish sardine, and as such, it was a new species. This was an excellent start.
The Spanish sardine. Moments later, I caught a red snapper on this very fish.
Unfortunately, that was it for the species hunting, because the weather was horrible. We kept having to run into port to avoid lightning, but despite the inclement conditions, we caught all kinds of fish – this is a fantastic area for inshore stuff like seatrout as well as the snapper.
We got dozens of Atlantic spadefish inside the bay – I had only caught one of these in my life previously, in South Carolina in 2004.
Pat and I finished up in the late afternoon – he had guided a great day despite the weather, and I can only imagine how good the area would be in calm conditions. I packed the car and headed for Mississippi, which I can only spell because WordPress has a spellchecker.
Since I was already on the gulf coast, I figured that I needed to get back to Gulf Springs, MS, to give the gulf flounder and cownose rays a shot. We had missed these with Captain John Swartz on the road trip last year, (details HERE,) and I was near enough where I had to give it a try.
Captain John was retiring, so he sent me out with a good friend of his, Captain Mike Adams.
Captain Mike on the right.
Another lifelong Ocean Springs resident, Mike is a solid guide and had gotten the whole sad story of my flounder and ray quest. As long as we had calm weather, we had a very good shot at both. But we did not have calm weather. We had wretched weather. The same storm that had made Destin so difficult had followed me to Mississippi, resulting in a first trip with Mike that turned out to be three trips, because we could get out for an hour or two at a time, then get chased in by lightning, then go back out, lather, rinse, repeat.
Not a promising morning.
There was no chance at the cownose rays, because the outside beaches they live on were facing a stiff wind. So we focused on the protected areas and fished for flounder and whatever else would bite.
I caught loads of flounder, but this was one of those times where the fact that my research is not as thorough as Martini’s came back to haunt me. I was hunting the Gulf flounder, which I had come to believe was mixed in with the southern flounder that are abundant here. But they weren’t. As it turns out, a quick reading of Val Kells’ book would have told me that the Gulf species lives more offshore than the Southern, but I didn’t know that because I did not research all that thoroughly.
We got at least a dozen nice flounder, but the wrong species.
Then the weather got vile and we had to go back into port to hide until it blew over. Luckily, Mike’s boat is based at his family’s restaurant, Mikey’s on the Bayou, so we could stay dry and eat well. On our next venture out, while fishing for toadfish of all things, I got a nice black drum.
My second black drum ever.
I didn’t just slide it into the water – I rolled it over the rail. (Drum roll, please. I know, it’s getting late.) Then, the weather got nasty again and we headed back to port. I passed the time playing with a group of kittens who had taken up residence under the restaurant.
This kitten was not so sure about me and gave a teeny meow of warning when I tried to pet him.
But as soon as I offered a piece of fish, he became my best friend.
As that squall passed, we headed back out after the toadfish again, and this time, I got a huge hookup. The fish bulldogged into the pilings, and even with 30 pound braid, I didn’t think I had a chance. After about ten minutes, I finally steered it into open water, and Mike slipped the net under my new personal best black drum.
This one made it onto my Christmas cards.
We got a few more close to this size, but then the weather went bad again. We decided to call it a day, and I closed things up with a magnificent flounder dinner in the restaurant.
The freshest possible flounder. Unbelievably good.
If you’re in the area, Mike is a great guide. http://www.fortbayoucharters.com/
I slept well that night, and caught a flight back to San Francisco the next morning. The trip had produced three species and a couple of trophies, and I knew I would be back for the cownose ray. A big thanks to Mike, Adrian, and especially to Doug, who convinced me that my dream job was a lot harder than I had hoped it would be. (As of press time, the Detroit Tigers haven’t contacted me yet.)