After more than 30 years of writing about others fishing the Destin Fishing Rodeo, this reporter finally got the privilege to hop aboard a boat and give it a try.
Thanks to Richard “Dick” Tew of Niceville, I got to be part of Team Tew that fished aboard the Huntress with Capt. Mike Graef with Groovy and Hunter on the deck.
What an adventure.
For years I’ve watched the Huntress back in and always fill the rack with fish. On Tuesday, I got to help fill that rack as part of Team Tew and even had my photo taken as part of the team.
These guys that fish, and fish the Rodeo, do a great job and everybody looks out for one another.
For example, Tuesday morning we got aboard the boat at 6 a.m. and headed out for a 10-hour trip, but before heading offshore we had to catch our bait.
Capt. Graef tried a couple of spots but then we found them right at the Pass. Not long after, he alerted some of the other captains who were heading out and we had a little bait catching party. Even catching the bait fish was fun. We used small spinning rods with sabiki rigs, which consisted of about 8 to 10 shinny hooks. You drop it down then whip the rod up and down, the bait fish see the flash and get hooked. We were catching two and three at the time.
“Nice, nice,” Groovy said continuously as he was counting the baits while were hauling them in. When it was all said and done we had about 150 live herring and another 50 or more pinfish – so we had plenty of bullets to catch fish.
At that point we headed inside the cabin and Capt. Graef pointed the boat south to our first stop.
The whole time we were in route, Groovy and Hunter were getting the rigs ready, putting on leaders, hooks and line.
Once at the first stop it wasn’t long before Capt. Graef said drop ‘em now.
Groovy and Hunter were tossing the lines out as the 3- to 4-foot waves were rolling in.
Now all the guys aboard on Team Tew, Mr. Dick, along with Pat, Randy, Mike and Dan, all said this was a pretty average day.
Well when you are used to fishing on the Apalachicola River where I grew up or even Lake Talquin, anything above a ripple is a big wave.
But I manned up and got in the rotation. It was only minutes after we had lines in the water that rod tips started bending over. And not just one, but two and three at the time. It was like controlled chaos on the deck. Groovy handed me a rod and talked me through it.
“Pull up and reel down, pull up and reel down,” he said.
Once the fish was close to the boat Groovy or Hunter would gaff the fish and pull it on board.
It was wild, you could see the tuna and bonito popping on top at a distance.
It wasn’t long after that a tuna latched on and I got it to the boat.
Then Dick hooked up with what appeared to be a blackfin tuna as well. He reeled away and finally got it to the boat. At first glance his appeared to be bigger than mine.
We caught several more fish at this spot, king mackerel, bonito and more. The action was steady.
I can remember Groovy telling me earlier this year in an interview that they “go for action.” Well they didn’t disappoint … there was plenty of action.
I have to admit somewhere between the tuna and mackerel, I was getting a little overheated and my sea sickness patch wasn’t doing its job. I went down below in the boat and had a little talk with “Ralph” … if you get my drift.
After that I was fine and got back after it.
We had about half dozen mackerel in the box, several bonito and of course our two blackfins. Mr. Dick wanted to try some bottom fishing so we headed to another spot.
It amazes me how these guys find their spots with no land or markings in sight. They do it all with GPS and Loran readings.
Anyhow, as soon as we got to the spot, Capt. Mike said “drop ‘em now.” We lowered the baits to the bottom. And again it was fish on.
As a matter of fact, we had ourselves a little amberine rally or as Mr. Dick likes to call them “ambermarine.”
And again, the chaos began.
“Everybody move to the left,” Groovy would say.
There were a couple of times when Hunter or Groovy would grab me by the back of my jeans to move me or hold me steady.
We landed amberine and even a few snapper and a shark on that spot.
We made it to another spot still looking for that grouper. This time we found it, Dan, latched on to a grouper that put him to work for a few minutes.
And Mike had his hands full with a shark that we got up to the boat but released after a few photos.
Somewhere after I landed my last amberine, I was done for. The stomach and head were not agreeing, so I sat inside and watched as the guys kept busy.
After the box was full we headed back with hopes of getting on the leaderboard.
And that we did. Mr. Dick is on the big board with his 22.8-pound blackfin and I made it in the Ladies Division with a 22.8-pounder as well. Bam!
And Dan’s grouper made it on the daily board at 25 pounds.
I’d say Team Tew got it done.