It is always been a dream of mine to venture out into the deep blue ocean and catch a billfish. When a Florida Keys client offered to help I jumped at the chance.
Sliding seat rowing is universally recognized as the best exercise sports going. The idea of camping, fishing, sightseeing, and exploring on the water and being healthy is just too much fun to pass up. The Heritage sliding skiff is made just for this.
Lately kayak fishing has become popular. But I find the Heritage is more stable, and twice as fast, because you get to use your legs and use oars that are twice as long. I don’t get cramps like I do in a kayak because I move my legs. When trolling I’m facing the baits, just like in a sport fish. And the Heritage is stable enough to stand and cast, or get up and get a better look. And I’m always dry. Kayakers tell me they get wet all the time. So in every way rowing seems to be the better man-powered vessel.
Sliding seat skiffs are different than rowing shells. Rowing shells are very skinny and pretty unstable. That is why rowing shell clubs are on inland lakes and canals, even when more beautiful rivers and bays are nearby. Scullers in shells prefer glass-calm water. February is a little late in the season for sailfish, but there’s plenty of other species offshore to keep things interesting. I’m on my way to Marathon to try my luck. My vessel of choice is a 15 foot Heritage Classic. The Classic is such a safe, rigid boat, and the 15 fit’s me like a glove. She’s outfitted with 4 pole holders and a pair of available offshore Sponsons. These are lightweight, inflatable tubes that slide on and off as needed, and do not hinder the speed and grace of her rowing as they do not touch the water in normal conditions. Yet they provide an extra level of security. They inflate by hand and only weigh 3 pounds.
Marathon’s fishing grounds are 4 to 5 miles offshore, an easy row in calm waters but a chore for the 15 knot winds and 4 to 5 footers we are expecting. Because of these conditions, Friend and client Fred ——- introduced me to Captain Bobby who agreed to carry me out in his 43 foot Ocean sport fish, Doctor “T”. His job will be to keep me safe and to keep me supplied with live bait. It would be easier to troll dead baits but in the Keys live bait are much preferred by sailfish.
The plan is to head out at dawn to reach the fishing grounds under my own power. Captain Bobby will stop on the reef, launch the Heritage and load up on live bait.
The seas laid down quickly and the rowing was great. Two live baits proved plenty to deal with. The water color was perfect and I headed for deeper water. I saw bait spray behind me and in a few moments I had a knock down … Was that him? After a bit I checked the bait. He was a bit roughed up but no teeth marks, just like a Sail. Now I’m excited!
A little while later I get another hit, and get cut off, then my chase boat reports they get cleaned out by toothy critters. We must’ve found Kingfish. We both switch one pole to a short piece of leader wire while leaving the others straight mono for Sails. In no time we each hook up a King. It’s a fast short fight to the Heritage when I realize I don’t have a gaff! Planning on sailfish I didn’t bring one, so I flip the king in the boat like bass fishermen, only bass don’t have a mouthful of teeth like a King Mackerel. Thankfully the rowing monorail kept us apart till he calmed down. The Doctor T was now along side and I handed off the King, reloaded fresh bait. And went back to work.
Hard to call this work… I rowed and fished for a few hours, enjoying the view of the Florida Keys coastline, the purple-blue water, and a handful of sport fish yachts. I guess I was a strange sight to them out here, but I felt completely at home. I didn’t want the day to end.
A couple Frigate birds showed up, always a good sign. Time to check the bait on my deep rod, and then came a tug. Didn’t feel like a King this time, more like the jerk of a grouper. A few minutes later I boated a nice 12 lb Red Grouper. What a pretty fish and great eating!
Time to call it a day. Thankful, I had a chance to reflect how lucky I am to be enjoying God and His playground. Bill Larson, Little River Marine