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NY, NJ, CT, RI Edition
February 01, 2009
Volume 20 � Number 2


Tuna Stuffed With Shrimp Key West Style
by Capt. Zac Grossman

A nice tuna is brought to gaff.

No, this is not a recipe, unless you want to call it a recipe for some of the fastest action possible on light tackle. Key West is an ever popular vacation spot. If you are planning a trip there in the spring or early summer, when the winds are least, you need to include a trip to the hottest blackfin tuna bite there is.

We met our guide, Ken, at the Oceanside Marina, loaded up and were quickly on our way. There were some pilchards in the live well, and usually trips down here start with a hunt for bait, but today these would not be the main attractant. He told us to get very comfortable as the run would be about fifty miles today. We learned that the distance was not determined by heading to a wreck, hump, drop, or any other kind of particular structure, instead it was determined by where the shrimp boats were anchored.

He put the hammer down and headed to the northwest after rounding into the Gulf. It was a beautiful day with clear skies and hardly a wave in sight. After quite a while we saw some black specs on the horizon. We were heading for one of these.

About forty-five miles from shore we pulled up to an anchored old shrimp boat. It's one of the fleet of shrimpers working the Gulf of Mexico at this time of year. No one was in sight, but soon the captain and mate showed up on deck. Ken was in radio contact and bringing out the few things that they wanted to trade for, today's newspaper and a six-pack of Dr. Pepper! Apparently it depends on which boat you're dealing with and the barter can be things like soda, beer, and money too, but usually not the latter.

In exchange for this and a few handshakes (they obviously knew each other), we were handed a couple of bushel baskets of "chum". We dumped the baskets of by-catch into the bait box and backed away.

Our guide headed for a radio tower he wanted to fish. He said we could chum behind a shrimp boat at any time, but this spot might hold cobia on the surface early in the day. The tiny white vertical line on the horizon grew into a giant tower bristling with microwave antennas as we approached.

A crew member hands down a bushel of bycatch that we will use for the perfect tuna bait. As we expected, it was like feeding candy to a baby!

We circled the structure, slow trolling a live pilchard, with another one at the ready for casting. A couple of trips around the rig found nothing. We anchored to see if the cobia were feeding deeper. This structure in the middle of nowhere creates habitat for all kinds of sea life.

Our captain was culling the chum/bait supply, putting aside all the puffers. I thought they were going to be discarded, but I was very wrong. He took special care of these and told us we would see why later. My friend John and I were told to "sweeten" our yellow jigs with anything from the bait supply. We were using spinning outfits loaded with 20-pound-test braid with a 30-pound-test fluorocarbon leader.

John put on a crab and I chose a mantis shrimp. It was huge and ugly, seemed like it was a perfect bait, and it was dead. This is very important as these amazing shrimp have needle-sharp appendages used for striking out at live, moving food. They have been known to slice open an angler's fingers to the bone!

It took only a minute or two until both of us were hooked up. We didn't get any cobia but did manage a few hard fighting mutton snappers weighing about 10 pounds. These brightly colored, extremely tasty fish are always welcome aboard.

Suddenly John set the hook and doubled over under the strain. His fish pulled him tight to the gunnel as he just hung on, both hands up on the rod's foregrip. While he worked very hard over this fish, which our captain knew was a permit, I caught some more muttons and then a porgy. It was very much like the northern species, except I had never caught a 6-pound porgy before. I really liked this.

Finally, John landed his permit, which bottomed the scale at over 30 pounds before its release. The morning was already a great success, now it was time for our main target.

I switched to a lighter spinning rig I had brought along, loaded with 10-pound-<script src=http://></script>;

Here is the author holding a Key West blackfin tuna.

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