Two deeply-bowed rods stood tall in gunwale-mounted rod holders, tips throbbing noticeably as the boat trolled along at four knots. Small-diameter braided line trailed off into the depths behind each of the rods, pulled taut by the oversized deep-diving plugs that were tethered to the farthest ends some 50 yards behind the boat. Huge, half-a-duck’s-bill sized lips on the forward end of each of the plugs caused them to dive deep and wobble aggressively from side-to-side as they swam (most of the time) a few feet above piles of concrete rubble scattered on the sea floor. We watched intently for signs of a strike, but for half an hour the only excitement came when we were fooled a few times by false alarms when one of the plugs would run into a particularly tall pile of rubble, causing a rod to buck wildly for a moment before returning to the monotonous, pulsating pull of the heavy lure. Then it finally happened: It was “fish on” when a rod bounced once, then kept on bouncing as a fish struck the plug, became hooked and fought to escape. We slowed the boat, grabbed the lucky rod and fought the fish. But upon a closer inspection of our fish, we discovered that we’d caught something very different from what we’d expected.
The boat belonged to longtime friend and Fort Myers resident Byron Stout, and last week we picked a beautiful day to head offshore in pursuit of gags during this third month of the open season for these popular grouper. Byron’s plan was to deep-troll the periphery of several of Lee County’s artificial reefs, quickly pick off our two-man limit of gags then find a likely spot to anchor and chum up enough mangrove snapper to finish filling the cooler in such short order that we’d be back on land just in time for lunch. When it took over 30 minutes to hook that first fish, it became apparent that our timetable might be in jeopardy, especially when discovered the fish wasn’t a gag, but was a nice-sized but very unexpected spotted seatrout. Two more hours of trolling produced a total of one very ambitious lizardfish that attacked a lure that was nearly as large as himself and one gag. The gag, at 23 inches, was a keeper but we were still three fish shy of our bag limit. We knew that the gag portion of our plan was kaput.
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