I'm ashamed to admit that before Friday I've never been fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, or anywhere for that matter in the 18 years I've called the Emerald Coast home.
In full disclosure, the only fish that's been lucky/unlucky enough to catch my line was a bass I caught at Yellowstone. For all I know, there was probably someone under the water hooking the fish to my line.
Any fisherman knows that you've got to get an early start, so I was told to be at the boat promptly at 7 a.m. With sleep still in my eyes, I trudged down to the docks behind Marina Cafe and was greeted by my five fishing buddies for the day ó Mayor Sam Seevers and her husband, Rick, a local veterinarian, vacation rental owner, and a soldier.
Shortly after loading up, our course was set for East Pass. With the sun's rays and the shoreline shrinking behind the boat, we were locked and loaded for "the spot."
Sorry, I swore under an oath of secrecy that I wouldn't divulge our location. But I can tell you we were between 15-20 miles from the pass.
As we cruised through the Gulf, the fish tales soon flowed. I was given the ins and outs of what to do, which included how to bait my hook, whether it was with a cigar minnow, squid or a what they called a chouffer.
Through the "forehead" of the fish and out the underside were my directions. As a novice, I am proud to admit that I only lost two cigar minnows to a hooking error.
For such a little fish, those cigar minnows sure do have some wiggle in them.
So, after my first pole was set up for me, I was thrown to the wolves. Within minutes of dropping my line there was a tug.
"Reel, reel, reel," the shouts rang out. "Pull up, reel down, pull up, reel down," was the encouragement and direction from my fellow anglers.
"Whew, this is harder than I thought," I told myself as I was bringing in that fish, which I imagined to be the size of a great white from the battle we had.
All told, my adversary was a 17-inch red snapper that weighed less than 15 pounds by my estimate. But it was a keeper and my first fish of the trip.
As we moved from spot to spot, my confidence grew as fish all but jumped into the boat. I hooked a few more red snapper, throwing back the ones that didn't measure up to keepers.
Just when I thought that snapper put up a fight, I hooked an amberjack that wanted no part of chilling in the ice box. It was game on. I swear I must have reeled hard enough for three fish.
After what I thought was a 15-minute fight, I finally pulled the amberjack close enough to the boat for my buddies to pull him in.
Wow, I was spent. Needless to say I graciously passed my rod to the next angler while I recovered.
The sights, sounds and smells of the open water were aplenty, but one of the most eye-catching things we came across was a patch of jelly fish that were as thick as thieves. There must have been thousands of them floating in the water. But underneath those jellies was a bluish-green shimmer that I was quickly told were mahi mahi.
While I didn't hook any, we brought in two of these dynamically colored fish, along with a huge grouper, a blackfin tuna and some mackerel.
There were more fish than there was room on the hooks. It was an impressive day on the water and an experience that I'll never forget.
This transplanted Yankee learned a few things on the water. Sure, it's about catching fish, but I took away more from the conversation and camaraderie than I did the actual fishing.
Matt Algarin has been a reporter with The Log and Sun for almost four years.