Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Deep Sea Fishing Report with Sea Leveler Sport Fishing Charters

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We took our annual beach trip this past week. Over the last half a decade, we have settled in on using Cocoa Beach/Cape Canaveral. Not only had we become accustomed to it due to my work, but we found it to be an area that really suits us. Yes, the drive is significantly longer, but the lines and waits at local establishments are much shorter. 

The area isn't very tourist-y, though it is a port for Carnival, Disney, and other cruise lines. So, on some days there is a little traffic, but the vast majority of the beaches are not congested. We can go wherever we want and we choose Cocoa Beach. 

This trip was a little different. While our friends Josh and Emily usually vacation with us, they now have a baby. In addition, my other best friend and his family were set to accompany us. Instead of a renting a condo, we rented a beach house. 

My dad and uncle and their wives decided to also vacation, though they stayed at a different place. With that many people, it made the perfect opportunity to charter a fishing boat and get to experience some deep sea Atlantic fishing. 

Josh settled on Sea Leveler Sport Fishing Charters based upon their reputation and success in putting non-locals on fish. In particular, Josh explained that we were very interested in grouper, amberjack, and mahi-mahi. 

After a few relaxing days at the beach, we met up with captain Garren, who would be taking us out on Seas The Day, a 31 foot fishing boat. Here is a little bit on Garren from their website: 

"Captain Garren grew up in Merritt Island where he spent most of his time on the water or in the water, and he wouldn't change a thing! Garren's grandfather Instilled a life-long passion for fishing and the outdoors in his grandson. Garren has been fishing the waters of the Bannana River Lagoon and the waters off Cocoa Beach since he could hold a fishing pole and to this day, he still can't get enough of it! He can honestly say he leaves vacations to come right back to paradise. From the second you hop on board, you will see he loves giving people a local experience they'll never forget. Recently, shark fishing has become Garren's favorite type of fishing. He loves the thrill of the unknown when shark fishing. Whether you are catching a 3 ft shark or 300lb shark, the entire night is very exciting and keeps you on your toes."

After a talk with Garren the night before, we headed to Sunrise Marina around 6AM, which beats getting up at 2AM for bass tournaments! All of us had taken our meds to prevent seasickness, but Garren told us to expect very calm seas, for which we were all thankful. In the back of my mind, I wondered how calm seas would affect the fishing. In my experience with inshore fishing, calm waters typically meant tough fishing. 

We loaded up on the boat and after having to wait for another boat in front of us, we headed out to sea.

At around 20 knots, it took us almost two hours to reach the first spot. But, it was a very pleasant ride. Eventually we found the spot he was looking for, which was about 150 feet deep. We would be dropped two lines at a time. 

Using live bait called croakers, we dropped our heavy weights down to around 150 feet. Kevin and Josh were up first and Garren instructed us on what to feel for and how to reel. Of course, it was the total opposite of my experience in bass fishing. Within seconds of the weights hitting the bottom, we had a fish on. Kevin fought and fought. After a fairly long and exhausting fight, captain Garren gaffed Kevin's fish, for which he caught solo (more on that later). Just like that, we had 35 pounds of meat in the cooler. Josh, who had planned the whole trip, took a giant sigh of relief. 

After a re-baiting of the one hook, I took my place next to Josh, who was still up. Garren maneuvered the boat back to the spot and instructed us when to drop, which we did. Once again, the second the lead hit the sand, Josh was hooked up with a fish. Again, the fight was long and exhausting, but Garren put another one in the boat. We now had a nice grouper and a solid amberjack. 

I was back up, along with my uncle Jeff. In another impressive bit of seamanship, Garren put us right back on the spot. He could account for drift as well as the amount of time it would take for the bait to find its mark. It culminated in pin-point accuracy. 

Once my bait hit the bottom, I felt a fish take the bait, but my bass fishing instincts kicked in and I tried to feel for the fish and then set the hook. All wrong. It took me two or three tries to get hooked up, but Garren was very patient with me. When I finally did get hooked up, so did uncle Jeff. We both fought our fish, but at the very end, his came to the surface before mine and then wrapped my line up. It resulted in getting one fish in, but my fish came off. 

I did manage to get a serious blister on my finger from all that serious reeling! 

The spot went dead on us and Garren made one of those fisherman's instinctive call. He headed to the gulf stream, something that none of the other boats were doing. It was another lengthy ride. But it paid serious dividends.

We doubled up on amberjack not once but twice. Then we added another. Before we knew it, we had our limit of amberjack and a cooler full of fish. Along the way, I finally caught a nice 'jack of my own, but not without help. 

In fact, the move to the gulfstream meant deeper water, much deeper. We were dropping our lines down to almost 300 feet which meant around 400 feet of line to reel in! Because of that, we would have to use teamwork to get those fish in! One would hold the rod while the other reeled. About halfway through, we would have to swap off! 

After the two double-ups in a span of 30 minutes (15 of which we spent fighting the fish and another 15 to retrace the 1.5 mile drift we had made between hook ups) all of us needed a break. It was some serious work for which we all had bruises and blisters. 

Again, what was amazing to me was Garren managing the gulf stream drift of 5MPH, the time to get the baits to the bottom, and then maneuvering the boat to keep us in place. All that work resulted in 5 drops that resulted in instant hook-ups. 

With our limit of amberjack, we moved on to looking for grouper. Garren found a group of fish which we could get to hit, but they would simply steal the bait. Occasionally we could get a limited hookup, but they all pulled off. Before we knew it, it was time to head in. None of us had our feelings hurt because we had a ton of fish and we were all dead tired. 

Crazy thing is, Garren was set to go right back out for a shark trip after he cleaned our fish. Speaking of, he cut the meat just as we asked. The women and children met us at the dock and we celebrated with some photos! 

With a cooler of fresh fish, we immediately got to work on cooking it. We fed 16 people three different meals and still brought home 20 pounds of fish! My favorite meal? Amberjack tacos with a home-made aioli sauce and a mozzarella slice topped with my honey balsamic cherry tomato/red onion/avocado salad

We had a blast and we will be making a fishing trip on each vacation from now on. Garren was great to us in terms of instruction and patience (especially me!). He was also very personable and engaging. He had tons of advice on how to cook the fish, local destinations, and essentially all things Cocoa. In terms of fishing knowledge, what he put us on is undeniable. In a vast and deep ocean, he had us hitting a spot the size of a VW Beetle and it meant big-time fish. We will be asking for him again.