Final try for Amberjack on August 23, 2014© Photos Posted by Mark Miller © Hi-Res Source
The season was going to close for Amberjack on August 25 and I saw this as a last chance to get a few. The limit is only 1 per person already and was closed the months of June and July, so how in the world do they think we have been able to catch 888,000 pounds of these fish? We were already frustrated during June and July watching boats next to us with only 2 persons putting as many Amberjack as they could in their hold. We asked one how many had they caught already and the response was 37. Jennifer Day & Omar Vasquez had been some long time loyal clients so I offered them a chance to go get some Amberjack for the cost of fuel. Omar brought his friend Chris Stebly and my son Luke (17) came to get him some too, so we had a crew. We headed for the Salt Dome area since those platforms are known to hold big Amberjack.
Our first stop was to take some video of the MGFB FAD that we deployed on August 10 on a pyramid in FH-13. It showed to be attracting cigar minnows, collecting algae, and an arrow crab set up house. We then went further after trading some beer for some shrimp at a nearby shrimp boat. Eventually we made it to the Salt Dome area and we descended on Platform "Stone" where Luke poked a decent AJ of around 50 pounds and a Black Jack. Omar shot a nice Scamp Grouper and then went back down. When I descended, I started to level off at around 120 feet for some photography and noticed Omar well below me with a fish looking like he was having some trouble. I went to see if I could help and he handed me his gun and signaled he had to ascend due to a puncture on his hand. So here I was fighting his AJ and trying to carry my camera equipment. After burning half my bottle, I finally got the fish to the boat and was able to go back down for some picture taking, now with limited time. Unfortunately Omar's injury ended his diving for the day.
Anyway, we moved on from there to the Salt Dome itself. This is always one of my favorite dives because we don't have much natural live coral and there is a bunch of it here. Usually we try to hit the highest point in the center at around 185-190 feet. However, I was marking better fish near the edge and I was curioius what the edge of the drop off looked like. So we dropped our anchor near the edge and started getting ready. We purposely did not leave much scope but did not expect our plow anchor to drag as it did. It eventually found a nice coral ledge to snag and so this is where we made our dive. The coral was nice but my GoPro quit recording at about 150 feet so I did not get any good footage of the ledge and we appeared to be too far from the edge to see the drop off. The dive was very short due to the depth, but I spotted a Grouper and quickly went to spear it. It turned out to be a nice Yellowmouth Grouper, a lifetime first for me. As we ascended, Luke decided to unload on a smaller Amberjack and when we got to our Deco level of 30 feet he regrets that decision as a Wahoo cruises by as if to laugh at his choice of fish.
Anyway, we left there to hit another one of the surrounding Platforms. Jennifer had been wanting to redeem herself from losing 3 Amberjack on the previous trip. I was wanting to help her attain that so we went down together, me with camera to document. We first saw many Barracuda and then a Shark. She was a little intimidated and tried to hide on a Rig Leg while I tried to get closer to the Shark for a better picture. Eventually she came out as a couple nice Amberjack came cruising by. I encouraged her to shoot one and she did. As she tried to hold on to the gun with one hand and fill her BC with the other, I was yelling at her to "Sit on it", meaning put the gun between your legs and cross them. She didn't understand and evetually the AJ was too much and pulled the gun from her hands. I watched in horror as my beloved "Black Betty" went dragging thru the water pulled by this big fish. I kicked as hard as I could while Jennifer went for the surface. Eventually I caught up with Black Betty and fought the fish up as I came across Luke hooked up with an even larger fish. He was having trouble but I was in no position to help. He ended up wrapping his gun up on the Rig Leg and coming up.
I make it to the boat and Jennifer is stunned to see that I came back with Black Betty and her fish. Luke gets back empty handed and we begin to tell our stories when Chris says, "Hey, what is that out there?". We all look to see what looks like a huge Amberjack on the surface a couple hundred yards out. We figured it must be Luke's AJ and went out to Gaff him into the boat. Sure enough the beast had bent the shaft and broke free but did not survive. We eventually went back down to retrieve Luke's gun. Out of Ice, Jennifer did some sweet talking to some neighbors and got us about 40 pounds. Then it was time to head North. Jen's fish weighed about 68# and Luke's just bounced over the 100# mark. We used a bathroom scale and it was not real accurate, but I feel it was pretty close. It was a heck of a trip that encompassed 176 miles, 14 hours, and 100.1 gallons of fuel.