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It?s been a tough winter in Beantown?seems like every time it appears that spring is coming, another barrage of 30-degree days comes upon us. So it would be a serious understatement to say that I was thrilled to be heading down to Tarpon Springs last Friday the 21st for a 44 hour Middle Grounds trip aboard the Viking Superstar. The trip had a less-than-auspicious beginning: Delta tagged me with a $100 dollar surcharge when I checked in at Logan due to my 8 foot ?oversized? rod tube
! Had never had that issue before and will certainly not repeat that mistake again.

I landed in Tampa at 11:30, where sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s prevailed, and hopped aboard a Super Shuttle van. After a bit of trouble finding our way to the Viking?s dock in Tarpon Springs, we finally made it there at 1:00, where I checked in with Wendy in the office and went off to grab a bite to eat. When I returned I met Capt. Carl, with whom I had been talking on Noreast for some time in preparation for the trip. Then mates J.R., Tory, Brandon and I made our way to Fisherman?s World, where I spooled up my reels and also picked up a cheap venting tool that I?m hoping to try on pollock up here during the summer.

I brought three rods with me: a medium St. Croix spinning rod with a Spheros 5000 and 16lb mono for fishing at the dock and chicken-rigging/Sabiki-ing for bait offshore, an Ugly Stick BWB 1140 with a Newell 332 loaded with 40lb mono for snappah, and my Calstar 900M cod jig stick paired with a Saltist 50 spooled with 80lb mono for groupah/AJs.

I played around with trying to catch some channel catfish before we left the dock, and caught three decent specimens on dead sardines before the boat departed a bit early at 7:30 PM with 25 anglers on board. As we left the dock and on the ride out we were given seminars on boat safety/emergency protocol, the ever-changing regulations on Gulf-of-Mexico bottom fish, and the proper way to rig baits for snapper, using dead sardines or threadfin herring, and grouper, using live pinfish.

I tried like **** to sleep during the seven-hour ride out, but only succeeded in drifting in and out of consciousness as visions of large benthic fishes attacking baits and doubling over rods danced in my head. The jarring vibrations of the all-aluminum Superstar, as it cruised through the light chop, didn?t help either;).

Eventually, at about 2:30 Capt. Carl backed the throttles down and a couple dozen bleary-eyed anglers made their way to the rails. I grabbed my snapper rod, rigged with a 5 ounce egg sinker above a barrel swivel and a 4 foot 40lb leader to which was tied a 4/0 double-hook rig, and baited up a plug of threadfin herring (with the head and tail cut off) in the manner that Tory had showed me on the ride out. Carl?s dog Toby, the most fish-crazy canine I have ever encountered, made his way down to the deck too.

The technique for catching fish with the double-hook rig is pretty simple?no mutton-style out-of-gear tactics here. When you feel a bite, just reel like crazy until you come tight to the fish! It didn?t take long for my bait to get bit, and up popped a 19 inch sub-legal red grouper. There were plenty of our target species, mangrove snapper, coming up as well, and I soon connected with a 4lb beauty. A good number of jolthead and champagne porgies were coming up as well, especially for those fishing with chicken rigs, as well as the occasional beeliner (vermillion snapper), scamp grouper, red grouper, and American red snapper, which are out of season until June 1 and had to be released. A few less-desirable beasts, such as squirrelfish and moray eels, made their way to the surface as well. In the area we were fishing, the bottom was exceptionally sticky, and just about everyone lost a few rigs.

We worked the snapper grounds until about 6 AM, anchoring on each drop for an hour or so until the action petered out, at which time Carl would make a short move and do it again. I ended the night action with about a half-dozen mangoes and a couple of beautiful porgies in addition to a bunch of sublegal stuff. We then moved a few miles to ready ourselves for the grouper fishing, and after eating breakfast courtesy of galley cook Lee I readied my heavy rod with an eight ounce diamond jig, hoping to catch a keeper grouper on a jig. Most anglers rigged up with a six ounce egg sinker and a four foot leader with an 8/0 hook, to which they would attach a live pinfish. The bait technique for grouper is pretty much the same as for snapper?just reel like **** when you get hit in an effort to pull the grouper out of the rocks/wreck.

At the first stop, a bunch of rods doubled over, and although some fish were lost, a pile of gag grouper as well as some keeper reds made their way into the coolers lining the deck. I stayed strong with the jig for that first drop, and received nary a bump, before snagging bottom, and after a serious team effort we finally managed to break the 80lb Momoi Diamond?that stuff is TOUGH! Sorry Tory!;)

At the second stop, I gave in and rigged up with a live pinfish, and as soon as I dropped down I got slammed by a nice fish. Unfortunately, the hook pulled just after I managed to wrench the fish off the bottom. I then caught a nice mango on a live pinfish before going back to the jig, again with an 8 ounce diamond. Eventually, I got hit and brought up a nice red grouper of around 15-17 pounds, which spat up a nasty half-digested frogfish that stunk up the deck for a few minutes?even Toby wanted nothing to do with that thing!

The pattern for the day bite was pretty consistent?after first dropping anchor we?d have a good spurt of nice fish before settling into a nice pick of gags, reds, mangoes and porgies. For some reason, over much of the day the boys in the bow seemed to be doing a number on the fish while those of us in the stern (I was in the starboard corner) were having a tough time?probably had something to do with the manner in which the Superstar tends to swing on the anchor, which may have brought us out of the zone on occasion. Of course, there may also have been more skilled anglers in the bow...No matter?we still caught tons of fish!

I never did succeed in getting a gag on the jig, despite some serious effort on my part, fishing through some hot bites when everyone else was using bait, but eventually got a decent one on a live pinfish. When the grouper bite occasionally slowed, many of us went back to dead-bait fishing on snapper tackle, catching a variety of snappers, grouper, and porgies.

We had great action until mid-afternoon, at which time Carl made a move of a few miles for the dusk bite. At that time, the action got HOT, with a mix of big mangoes, gags, and reds all coming up on both live and dead baits. I rolled a couple of fish on the jig before butterflying up a grunt and dropping it down. I got wacked immediately by a nice fish, but pulled the hook. Back down she went again and I brought up my best fish of the trip, a gag of around 18-20lbs. Seeing the ?big bait-big fish? theory in action, a number of the guys surrounding me rigged up with live toro snapper or grunts and caught some nice fish as well!

As the sun went down at this same spot, the mangoes began going nuts, and I caught a bunch of nice ones. I went up to the bow for a break in time to see Capt. Carl bring up an eight inch grunt, which he kindly put in my position. I put it down and immediately felt the bait get extremely nervous. I hooked up with what felt like a really big mango (more frenetic-fighting than a nice grouper), but unfortunately pulled the hook about 2/3 of the way up?oh well, that?s how it goes! I then put down a dead bait and caught my first ever American red snapper, a 10lber that fought just like a mutton?what an absolutely gorgeous fish! I would catch another slightly smaller one later that night.

The action at that spot finally petered out around 9:00 PM, and Carl made another move for the night snapper bite. We enjoyed a good pick of mangoes until 11:00, when I, still recovering from a week of late nights studying for midterms as well as 21 straight hours of fishing, took an incredible shower?by far the best I?ve ever taken on a boat-- before going down to the bunkroom and passing out for four hours.

When I finally managed to pull myself out of bed, I was informed that I had missed some hot snapper action, with plenty of gags and reds punctuating the action as well! I went upstairs, dropped a dead bait, and was immediately rewarded with a 12lb gag, which put my snapper tackle to the test! I also pulled the hook on what felt to be another gag before getting into a pile of mangoes, catching perhaps 6 on six drops. After a short move we got into the red grouper thick, where I caught 4, two of which were keepers, with two just short, in four drops. I then tied on a fancy-schmancy jig that Mike FishWisher had given me, rigged with an assist hook, in hopes of tempting one of those reds, and had two on for a few seconds, but dropped both?not easy maintaining contact with those jigs without braid! Back to bait and more reds and mangoes!

The steady bite of mangoes and grouper continued through sunrise, at which time Carl announced over the intercom that we were a ?long way from home? (some 93 miles from the dock!) and were going to hit a wreck 17 miles from our current location on the ride in, in search of some AJs, before calling it a trip. Psyched for a shot at some nice jacks, I put the FishWisher jig back on in anticipation.

As soon as I dropped down at that first spot I hooked up with a small AJ of 24 inches (have to be 24 inches to keep). Then I caught a sublegal scamp. Three more casts and three more small AJs?then I saw a nice 20lber come up on a live pinfish. Figuring that a big livey would be the key to a pool-winning AJ, I rerigged with a live bait rig and stuck on a big grunt I had caught on a chicken rig the night before and been keeping in the livewell?and caught another 24 inch AJ! Big bait-big fish didn?t quite work out for me this time;). That would prove to be my final fish of the trip, since Carl announced that we were heading in shortly thereafter.

I see that I haven?t mentioned it, but the weather was tremendous for the entire trip?not sunny, but calm seas and certainly not cold, although some of the Florida boys were complaining about the temperatures in the low 70s?

The pool-winning fish were as follows: 20lb AJ for the AJ pool, an estimated 32 lb gag ( a good-sized chunk had been taken out of it by a shark, and it still won the pool!) for grouper, and a 9lb mango for the snapper pool.

We made it back to the dock right at 4:00 PM, but I had not quite had my fill of fishing. As the mates began filleting fish, I stuck a whole ?dine on a 2/0 hook with my light spinning rod, and put it in the holder, the drag set light enough so that the fish could take line on the strike. Within about 2 minutes the bait got smoked and by the time I picked up the rod the fish had ripped off about 100 yards of line! I tightened up the drag to ?fighting level? (who needs a Baitrunner?;)) and eventually brought a 12 lb jack crevalle to the boat. I repeated the task some five or six times over the next hour, having a ball tangling with jacks in the 10-16lb range.

Carl was kind enough to let me spend the night on the boat, and as the sun went down, I rigged up a couple of rods for the night channel cat bite. Simply put, it was absurd. I had some 20 doubleheaders in a row, following a routine that went something like this:
1. cast out rod 1.
2. cast out rod 2.
3. wash hands (I didn?t have any more clean clothing!)
4. come back from washing hands to find a bite on rod 1?set hook and fight fish.
5. while fighting fish on rod 1, observe bite on rod 2. Put rod 2 in gear and reel to set hook.
6. bring in fish 1, unhook and release.
7. bring in fish 2, unhook and release.
8. repeat.
I probably put 60 of those whiskered bastids on the boat before calling it a night around 11. I also got the crap scared out of my by a huge freaking gar that came up for a gulp of air some 20 feet of the stern, but by the time I put a live pinfish on a hook, it had disappeared. I also caught?get this?a ten inch black seabass on a half-sardine!

I then went to bed before getting picked up by SuperShuttle at 4:30 AM for my 7:30 flight from Tampa. I managed to circumvent the Delta oversized surcharge this time by utilizing curbside check-in, giving the baggage handler a preemptive 10 dollar tip;). Was back home by 11AM and in my bed by 11:30. Just woke up at 8:00 tonight;)

Overall, an absolutely exceptional experience, which would not have been made possible without the help and advice of other noreast members as well as the kindness and hospitality of Capt. Carl Forsberg. Many thanks to him as well as to mates Tory, J.R., and Brandon, as well as galley cook Lee. This was my first ever trip with the Viking fleet?needless to say, it won?t be the last;).

Now, some pictures:

1. Catfish at the dock.
2. red grouper on jig.
3. smallish gag.
4. Mango.
5. Another keeper red.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
more pics

6. lots of dead fish.
7. More dead fish.
8. and more.
9. Jack at the dock.
10. One of many channel cat double headers--my source of entertainment for the evening.
 

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TREMENDOUS

Great Report Willy, Great Pics, I told you those Cats go bizerk. I did not get the chance to catch any Jacks off the boat. I will assume they fought hard as well. We are going back in January and MIGHT be putting togeather a LIMITED NOR EAST Charter in January 09. I already have like 10 Guys that want in.

Viking runs a PHENOMINAL operation in Florida and Carl and the mates are FIRST class all the way. Good point about his Dog who is a savage with fish.

This post edited by Fishark531 10:31 PM 03/24/2008
 

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Willy G. Rancheritta?

Good grief, I lost track of the times I read "and then the hook pulled". I winced every time I read that line, and now I have an enduring face cramp. Oh, Willy... I should have brought you a pack of circle hooks instead of those jigs. Which, BTW, are not "FishWisher jigs". Those are the HJ jigs that survived Mag Bay.

Thanks for taking the time out of your undoubtedly busy schedule to type a great report - I know it's appreciated. And kudos on pre-emptive tipping. Too bad you got jacked for a C-note before you learned that lesson. Airlines are effin' evil. Worse than Shimano, really. :)

This post edited by FishWisher 10:34 PM 03/24/2008
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Farmed 'em like it was my job.

I know, I know--that's what happens when you don't give the fish a chance to eat the bait--gotta give em more time to eat it I guess, which is tough when you can't give 'em line...

Mark,

those jacks are sweet on light tackle. The biggest one parked itself on the other side of the river, and I couldn't budge it for some time with the light tackle I was using. Fortunately, a pontoon boat making its way up the river went into neutral to let me bring that bad boy into submission!
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I was wondering the same thing, until I made my way up to the wheelhouse sometime around noon on Saturday to find a trio of 100lb-dog-sized dumps on the bow upstairs
. Never did find out where #1 happened...
 

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Wow Willie, great report!
Im glad everything worked out for the trip, and happy you had a good time.

Toby takes care of business right in front of the wheelhouse. Maybe he likes when I watch?


Oh yeah, and there is a ton of pics on our website as well, including the pool winning grouper with a shark bite taken out of it!

This post edited by lito325 11:45 AM 03/25/2008
 

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BASSSURF... $325 per person, which includes everything except for food and live bait. We do have a meal plan in the galley if you choose for all your meals, drinks, and snacks for $45...or you can bring your own stuff..., and live bait costs $7 per dozen, and 3 doz for $20.

This post edited by lito325 05:14 PM 03/25/2008
 
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