The Freshwater Phil guide to Montreal shore fishing spots

Montreal's best shore fishing spots

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Pre-spawn carp fishing in Canada

The best time to consistently catch carp in good numbers of carp in Canada, are during the pre-spawn and post-spawn periods. After a long winter of remaining inactive with water at near freezing temperature, carp progressively feed on a more regular basis as the water warms. Ideal spawning temperature is in the 18 to 22 C range (65 to 70 F), and on most years, the water will hit that range somewhere near June 15th in the greater Montreal and surround regions.

During the spawn, carp have better things on their tiny brain's agenda than food, so they don't feed much. Accordingly, they need to feed well before and after, and timing that period can lead to some amazing results.

Carp spawn in shallow water, mainly warmer bays and shallow flats. During this period, one can see them swirling and splashing around the surface, especially near weed beds. Once these areas are identified, it becomes a simple game of following the water temperature until it nears the magic numbers, and fishing it at the right time.

During this period, fish are aggressive, and will hit a variety of bait. In areas with smaller concentrations of carp, feeding them a lot of chum will get them focused on your spot. In areas where they are staging in huge numbers, I prefer to skip the baiting process and just fire out a small mix of boilies once my bait is in place. Carp are extremely sensitive to their environments, and cue in to most presentations almost immediately. If the feed is on at that given moment, I'll usually get hit within 5 to 10 minutes of getting a line in the water, sometimes even quicker than that.

Knowing that our water temp was just about right, I decided to meet up with a fellow carp fisherman for a short few hour afternoon session at a new spot I had never tried. On the morning of the outing, I was ready to leave a lot sooner than originally planned, so I went ahead and hit one for my best pre/post spawn spots, which happened to be a few kilometers away from where I was going to meet my buddy.

Being that I'm almost always fishing with family or friends, I always have the luxury of using multiple rods, which greatly assists me in fishing the right range, and hone in on the proper bait to use on a given day. However, I was alone this time, which only allowed me to use 1 rod. Based on past experience, I had a good idea of where to cast this time of year, and was quite sure my sweet dream boilies would do the trick.

Sure enough, I got hit within a few minutes. Between the water level which had risen had recently risen, and me trying to play acrobatics with a 12 foot rod in one hand, and only 6 foot net in my other, my shorts arms didn't help in making the job landing the big carp any easier. It was already fighting furiously enough, and trying to get in into the net without getting in the water (I was fully dressed), it took a bit longer than usual. I eventually netted the fat carp, and got to test the autoshoot function on my new camera. Not the best, with only 10 seconds to get in focus and ready with a nice pose. Still, it got the job done.



I got my rod setup and re-cast, noticing how much time it was out of water in between hooking and recasting. Again, I'm not used to fishing solo, so I haven't really picked up on it much in the past, but I decided to rig my backup rod so I'll have one ready to fire after the next fish. The carp had other plans, though. They hit often enough, where I didn't even get a chance to fully rig my second rod and I had another nice carp on the line, though it turned out to weigh only 15 lbs.

After recasting, I got to work on rigging my backup rod, but again, I was interrupted by another screaming run. These time, it was a bigger fish, I had to get in the water in my clothes to land it. Good thing I was wearing an old pair of beat up sneakers. I also had another angler further down the shore snap my picture instead of going with the autoshoot function.



Again,lot's of time passing by without a line in water, but at this pace, I wasn't complaining... The next was a 20 lbs carp, that hit just as I was putting the finishing touches on my rig. Tried the autoshoot again, but picture was horrendous, so didn't bother uploading it.

After landing a smaller one in the 12 lbs range, I hooked into the biggest carp of the outing, and had my newfound friend down the shore snap my picture again,


Landed another smaller one, at which point the friend I was to meet up with showed up. I put a rod out for him as well, and within minutes, he had another nice one on the line, pic to follow when he sends it to me.

At that point, we decided to try his campground spot. Despite the hot bite at my spot, I was anxious to try my boilies at a new spot. Unfortunately, in the few hours I had, I managed to cast all my casts into sunken weedbeds which ended up fouling my presentation, and with heavy rain starting to come down, I headed home after 3 hours.

I was satisfied enough with my early success, landing 8 carp in less than 3 hour of fishing, using only 1 rod. The sizes were over average as well for that spot, I landed 5 of 8 in the 20 to 26 lbs range, when that spot is notorious for producing most fish in the mid teens.

With a cold front on the way, we may get lucky and have the spawn delayed until late next week, in which case I may head out for one more shot at some fat pre-spawn Canadian carp.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Walleye fishing with Advanced Bassin Plus charters

My friend Mark Currie who runs Advanced Bassin Plus, invited me out for some walleye fishing a couple weeks ago. As I was too busy to make it with my then upcoming trip up North the following week, we postponed the outing.

I finally got out with him yesterday, for some springtime walleye trolling. I brought along my older son Ari, as well as my 10 year old Eli, who had never caught a walleye.

We met up around 7:30 AM, Eli was very impressed with Mark's 21 foot Ranger boat, equipped with a 250 HP Mercury, kicker, bow mount electric trolling motor, all the latest electronics, and a nifty Bimini top for rain or extreme sun. A boat that size comes in very handy when the winds gusting out of the North East at 20 KM/H churn up the mighty St Lawrence River, as was the case when we launched.

Getting out to our first spot, Mark set up the rods on the quick release rod holders, and it didn't take long for the first rod to go. Eli had his first fish of the day, turned out to be the first of over 30 northern pike that day!



I decided not to take any of the rods unless necessary, leaving all the fun catching them to my sons. Sure enough, Eli and Ari were landing  good numbers of both pike and walleye in no time.

Here is a shot of Eli with his first walleye of the day:


He landed a few more as the weather warmed and the wind started dying down.




For some luck, Eli Eli happened to be landing most of the walleye, while all Ari was getting were small pike, despite taking turns on all the rods.


Either way, the action was just about non stop, with a couple double headers and even 1 triple header of pike.

As the weather warmed up, the bite slowed, but Mark worked extra hard to try and locate some bigger fish using his extensive knowledge of the river, with the help of his electronics. We also put up his Bimini top, which made trolling in the blazing sun a lot more enjoyable.



Sure enough, we got into some nice walleye over the slot size.


Eventually, Eli landed his biggest of the afternoon, a nice walleye just over 5 lbs.

Followed by another 4 lbs walleye.


By this time Eli, earned his bragging rights, trash talking Ari who had been stuck on small pike and a couple eating size walleye all day, while Eli had over a dozen walleye landed, including 3 bigger ones. We wanted to hit the 50 fish mark for the day, which ironically, is still a slow day by Mark's standards. I volunteered to catch the last fish, and as luck would have it, a decent walleye came to play.


Just as I started trash talking Ari about not getting any big walleye, another rod went off, Ari grabbed it, and landed one about 1/2 lb larger than mine to shut me up.



And thus ended another amazing walleye outing with Mark Currie of Advanced Bassin Plus charters. Eli who had hoped to get into a combined total of may 10-15 fish over the entire outing, ended up landing a dozen or so walleye, and an other 15 or so pike, just on his own. He got an idea of what it's like to go out with someone that know his target species better than anyone in the Montreal region.

Advanced Bassin Plus charters offers both half and full day guided fishing trips, including all gear, tackle, etc. Contact Mark by clicking: http://freshwaterphil.com/contactmark.cfm 

Monster pike fishing at Le Domaine Shannon

I have been dreaming of catching some really big pike for a number of years now. In general, pike weighing over 10 lbs are very hard to come by in the Montreal region, so I'm limited to targeting bigger pike during the few days a year where I can get out of Montreal, to lakes where the big monster pike exist.

As I have been going up to Le Domaine Shannon for a number of years now, I know that some of their lakes have the big monster pike I've been dreaming about. Having fished those lakes on numerous occasion, I also know that just because they are there, that doesn't mean I'm going to catch them. Along with my kids, we've fished those lakes in both spring and summer. While trolling and casting have landed us good numbers of pike, none ever exceed 8.5 lbs. On the one occasion in the past where I tried targeting them using dead bait however, we managed back to back 9 and 13.5 lbs pike, definitely a much better average than using lures.

As the province of Quebec will unfortunately be banning the use of all bait fish (dead or alive) provincewide starting in April 2017, this year is the last chance I had to dedicate an entire trip to chasing the big monster pike I've been dreaming of. In order to so, I did some research, and combined it with some of my fishing experience.

To start off with, really big pike are extremely opportunistic feeders. They will rarely use the energy to chase down quick moving lures, unless absolutely necessary. Put a big, fresh, dead bait fish in front of them though, and they won't be able to resist having an easy meal of that size. As such, I picked up some giant frozen mackerels in the 12-14 inch range from a local IGA before our trip.



I also got some "smaller" frozen suckers in the 6-8 inch range from the main camp upon arrival

Presenting bait fish that size effectively, requires some unconventional tactics. For starters, I you plan to release trophy pike, your best bet is to use a quick strike rig, and set as soon as the pike makes it's initial run with the bait. This will typically result in the fish being hooked in it's mouth, instead of being throat or gut hooked, although that will still happen at times.



Casting bait fish of that size rigged on a quick strike rig isn't too effective either. You're way better off dropping the baited rig of your boat, leaving the reel in freespool or baitrunner mode, and motoring away from it.

Anchoring a boat to still fish isn't very efficient either, unless you have a big ,stable boat, and 2 very big anchors to properly tether your boat in between them. Again, you're better off going unconventional, and beach the boat with your lines in the water while you wait.

As the big monster pike come shallow to warm up on sunny days early in the spring, we dropped our baited lines in 4 to 6 feet of water, relatively close to shore. The rods were than set into either rod pods or bank sticks with color coded bite alarms, and we positioned ourselves nearby on shore, with the bite alarm receiver. I guess all that carp fishing gear and experience comes in handy at times.



The ride up to Le Domaine Shannon was uneventful. But when we got to the main camp, Serge (the owner) informed us that the road leading to the lake we would be fishing was quite muddy and had some huge puddles, and wasn't accessible with my CRV. My son Ari had his Jeep Liberty which was fine for the ride, and the rest of us packed into an off road pick up truck for the ride up to Lac Wahoo.

Here is a glimpse of what the mud slides on the path look like this time of the year.


Ari shot some footage of him crossing a huge puddle in his Jeep Liberty.


And crossing a small creek near our cabin.



We arrived at the lake in the early afternoon. After unloading everything into our cabin, I proceeded to set up a couple rods for Levi and I, which Ari and Avi head off to a nearby spot where the lake empties into the adjacent lake. Ari brought along his inflatable raft, and wanted to try it out before anything else.

Fortunately for Levi an I, the area in front of our camp was loaded with pike. The first suckers we cast got hit within a few seconds, and Levi landed a nice pike in the 7 lbs range, I unhooked it in the net, and as I was letting it revive before getting some pictures, to my horror, it escaped through a grapefruit sized hole I hadn't previously noticed. I fixed the hole with some fishing line, and cast out again. Almost immediately, Levi caught another pike, this one probably in the 3-3.5 lbs range, which spit the hook just before we landed it. I followed up with the next pike, a decent fish that we released as it was over the size I like to eat.


After hooking another pike that he lost in some sunken logs, Levi an I were finally ready to set up the boat and go out to scout some good spots on the lake. By this time, Avi was only too happy to take over our shore spot in front of the cabin, as he didn't have much luck with Ari on the inflatable boat.

When we returned after about an hour or so, Avi mentioned losing a "big one" that broke his line in some sunken logs. I suggested he stick around, but he opted to back to the other area with Ari. Sure enough, it didn't take long me to hook into a nice pike. I knew it was big, so I yelled for Levi to take the rod. He fought the big pike in with ease, and moments later, we had a first big pike of the trip on my landing mat, by far, Levi's biggest pike.



Later in the day, Ari returned with a 5 lb eating sized pike, which I proceeded to fillet and freeze on the spot.


The following day, we Levi and I headed out together, as I was up for the next big pike. The prime spot I chose in shallow, weedy water, adjacent to a small feeders rivers paid off rather quickly, and I had my biggest pike in the net shortly after.



I was more than thrilled that the big mackerel rig I had planned actually worked. So we set up the lines for Avi's turn at a big one. It took a good 4 hours or so, and Avi line went off. The fish was running hard by the time we got to it, and put up a decent fight. Avi did a good job fighting and landing it, and he had his biggest pike, a monster 39.5 inch fish that weighed in at 18 lbs!


Avi was thrilled to have beaten the family record again, and Ari was up for the next fish. Unfortunately, no more hits that day.

The next morning, Ari got his chance at a decent fish,  just under 10 lbs, so Ari would have another turn at a big one in the double digits.


Unfortunately it swallowed the hook despite the huge bait, so we had to keep it.

When we returned to shore for lunch, I set up a fire to grill some burgers, while Ari and Avi were still out trying their luck at trolling. Again, this worked out very well for Levi, who landed another big one in front of our cabin.


We were lucky to find a run of big suckers setting up to spawn in the lake's discharge creek in the strong current. A small area with dozens of suckers in the 3 to 6 lbs range, hitting just about anything with threw at them.The kids had fun sight fishing for them from shore on lighter tackle in the strong current.



And here is a nice spawning colored one I caught.


Avi managed another eating sized pike later that afternoon as well, and Ari another decent pike too.





The following morning, I baoit a line with a huge chunk of cut sucker that originally weighed 4 lbs, as we were running low on giant mackerel, with only 1 left. The kids laughed at my optimism, but they weren't laughing any more when Ari hooked into a huge pike. Unfortunately, it snapped that metal leader I was using at boatside, just as I was about to net it. So much for that expensive "Not too Kinky" leader material, I'm sworn off it for good, as it kinks easy and breaks even easier.


Finally, later that afternoon, Ari landed his double digit pike on our last giant mackerel.



All in all, an amazing trip to Le Domaine Shannon, by far the best pike fishing we've ever had anywhere as far as size goes, as we all caught double digit monster pike. The weather couldn't have been better, and we were very lucky the the black flies and mosquitoes only hatched on the last night we were there. We left for home before 7 AM the following morning, just missing the start of what seems to be a very harsh bug season up there.

Unfortunately, this type of fishing will no longer be legal province wide in Quebec starting in April of 2017, as the ministry is banning to use of dead or live bait (except for ice fishing) to prevent the spread of the VHS virus. I hope to head back there one more time this summer for a last shot at catching some more monster pike using my newly discovered / soon to be prohibited tactics.

Whether you prefer fishing for big monster pike, tasty walleye, Le Domaine Shannon is the place to go. For those of you that hunt, they offer a spring bear hunt, and fall moose hunting as well.

Contact Le Domaine Shannon by clicking: http://freshwaterphil.com/contactdomaineshannon.cfm  , be sure to request the "Freshwater Phil" discount when you speak to Serge (the owner).





Sunday, May 8, 2016

Spring fishing for big carp

Spring and fall are typically the best times to land big carp, but as the the big females get ready to spawn, they are at their heaviest in mid to late spring. Once the water temp reaches the 10 degree Celsius range in spring, carp become a a lot more active, and start putting on the feedbag before the spawn.

Accordingly, spring is by far the best time to potentially beat your personal carp record, at least to try and come close to it. A fellow carp fishermen invited me to join him for a few hours one evening last week, to a spot they'd been pre-baiting for a few days. Pre-baiting is a great way to draw in carp to areas you plan to fish, and their work paid off quickly with one of them landing a decent 20 lbs carp within the first 40 minutes or so of our outing.


The flip side of baiting a spot, can be over baiting, especially in cold water. It's very easy to be tempted to bait up after catching a carp, especially when you see them actively surfacing and bubbling near the surface. However, if they are in a negative mood, the more food you put in, the less chance you'll have of getting any bites. It can be a tough call at times, so I personally prefer to proceed with caution, throwing in as little food as possible when the water is still cold.

After fishing into our night session without any more hits between the 3 of us, I decided to put on on of my Fireball boilies, and cast a good 100 feet or so away from the area that was being baited all through out outing. Figured I'd have a better chance at getting a hit once the positive feeding window turned on, as the carp would have less choices other than my bait to go for. Sure enough, the move paid off, I had my first night carp of the season on within less than 1 hour. A chunky female that put on a feisty battle, and much fun on the small 8 foot rod I was using.


As it was past my bed time and my mission was accomplished for the night, I headed home, knowing that I'd have another nice days on the water with Eli the next day.

The following morning, Eli and I headed out to one of my regular hot spots for some more carp. Though the average fish there is slightly smaller throughout the summer, I've caught some very nice sized cap there in the spring. We set up shortly after 10:30AM, and within the first hour, Eli had his first fish:


Not exactly the target species, nor anywhere near the intended size, but at least the Fireball boilie managed to attract some attention.

After missing another run on a Fireball boile, I decided to start switching baits. Sometimes, going out of the ordinary can be a good thing. Eli picked a Black Magic boilie, which I typically use in warmer water, as I hadn't had much spring results with them in the past.

Took close to an hour, and the rod went off. Eli set the hook, and the carp didn't take long to wedge the line into a submerged rock pile. I tried to pry it out, but no luck. After setting the rod down for a few minutes hoping the fish would pry itself loose, I decided to walk along the bank tugging at the line from different angles. After walking about 100 feet or so, I finally felt some give in the line, and put steady pressure on it. I felt my shock leaders scraping in between the rocks, and suddenly, a big head shake, and the fish was free! I kept pressure on the rod all the while running back towards Eli and handed him the rid.

Eli handled to big 12 foot rod like a pro, following my instructions to a tee. When the fish finally surfaced, I knew Eli had just beaten his previous record of 24 lbs. I netted the big carp, lifted onto the landing mat, feeling it's weight I knew it was pushing the 30 lbs mark. Eli guessed it's weight at 27.5 lbs, I guessed 29. Weighed in at exactly 30.25 lbs:

As I got my camera out snap some pictures, to my horror, it jammed, and started acting crazy. No worse time for my camera to go, but we were extremely lucky to have someone else I knew fishing further down the bank. He came over and snapped some pictures for us, saving the day.


Eli had not only smashed his previous record of 24 lbs  set last summer, but he'd beaten his 3 older brother's records as well, earning himself bragging rights (for now).

Fishing was very slow for the next few hours, until about 4:00 PM. Eli caught another nice carp, this one a 20 lbs male, that was kind of thin, but quite long. Again, another angler on the bank stepped in as my camera was out of commission.



The outing ended with 2 back to back runs, one getting cut off in the rocks above my shock leader, and the other with Eli landing a smaller carp in the 13-15 lbs range,

Needled to say, Eli and I are both thrilled that he's joined the coveted 30's club for carp, and I was particularly happy that the big carp hit one of my boilies.

A new batch of boilies is now ready, which means that I have some extra for sale in limited quantity. Order today by clicking: http://www.freshwaterphil.com/carp-bait-boilies.cfm

My carp guiding season has begun as well, book early to ensure the date you want is still available, click: http://www.freshwaterphil.com/fishing-guides.cfm

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Extreme saltwater fishing in Florida

Back around 2007, not too long after Youtube was launched, I stumbled on a fishing video going viral. It was one of Captain Ben Chancey and his new "Chew on This" channel. It featured him and some friends going to battle with some huge goliath groupers and monster sharks in Southwest Florida. Upon seeing that clip, I decided that I'd have to try that one day.

Every now and then, I am fortunate enough to be able to make one of my fishing fantasies come true. A couple months ago, I finally decided to go ahead with the Florida saltwater fishing adventure I'd been dreaming about for nearly a decade. I had some airline miles saved up for a free ticket, and though the trip was rather expensive for us Canadians with our low dollar, I figured I could invite a friend along to share the costs. Chatting with my friend Mike, I mentioned my plans and told him I had room if he wanted to come along. Luckily, for both of us, he did.

Our original plan was to fly into Miami on a Sunday afternoon, fish Monday and Tuesday, then fly back on Wednesday. Shortly after booking, the airline cancelled the afternoon flight, leaving us with the option of early morning, or late night flight. With a 150 mile drive to our destination after landing, we opted for the early morning flight. Landing in Miami shortly after 9 AM, we had about half a day to kill in Miami before heading over to Florida's West coast.

We decided to fish on a party boat after having lunch on Sunday afternoon. For those of you unfamiliar with the difference between a party boat and a charter, the party boat costs a lot less, but you share the boat with 25 to 30 other people. I've been on the boats in that fleet in the past (Kelley fleet), so I knew not to expect much other than lots of tangles if the boat got crowded, and high waves if the wind picked up.

We got to Haulover Marina near Bal Harbor well ahead of time. The marina has a section where all the guides, charter boats, and Kelley fleet launch from. The Marina has a park, various attractions with the beach nearby, a long jetty to shore fish from, etc. Nice parking area lined with coconut palms made us feel swaying in the hot wind made us glad to be out of Montreal, which was getting some mid April snow.


When they return, the boats all sell their day's catch to locals waiting for fresh caught fish, which are cleaned and filleted on the spot. As the unused parts of fish get thrown back into the water, the marina is full of species of fish and birds that come to feed there. Unfortunately for us, fishing isn't permitted, as the water is jam packed with tarpons from 4 to 6 feet in length.


After watching the tarpons for a while, we made our way over to the ticket booth, and purchased tickets for the 4 hour drift fishing outing near the gulf stream. Our vessel was the Mucho K, which was quickly filling up with an assorted mix of anglers, from first timers, to regulars that fish on the fleet on a daily or weekly basis.


The rods provided by the fleet are very basic, and designed to get the job done as quickly as possible. Fish caught on the daytime drift outings are typically bonita, kingfish,  mutton snapper, and the odd sailfish, barracuda, or other bottom dwelling fish, depending on the rig being used. Lines are baited with dead or cut ballyhoo,  or squid.

Heading out, we had a good feeling that some of the newbies on the boat may end up sick. Wind was gusting at over 30 km/h, and waves once out on the water were 5 to 6 footers. Sure enough, as soon as we stopped for the first drift and the boat started bouncing in the waves, one of the people vomited all over the boats gunwale. End of trip for him, he sat curled up in fetal position inside the cabin for the remainder of the trip. Eventually, another 4 or 5 out of 25 total people on the boat ended up in the same position.

As for fishing, Mike and I both got rods rigged for bottom fishing, which ended up having tangled a lot less often than most other who were rigged for pelagic species closer to the top of the water column. The day went by, Mike and I didn't even get 1 bite in our 4 hour outing. Aside from the crew that would catch some bonitas speed trolling of the back between drifts, a few people were lucky enough to hook into some smaller fish. Only 2 decent fish landed all day were a small kingfish under 10 lbs, and a decent barracuda in the 10-12 lb range.

So much for our drift fishing excursion, at least it didn't break the bank at $45 each, and I got a picture off the bow of the big fishing boat with Miami Beach in the background.



Getting back on shore, we hopped in the car and made our way West across the sunshine state, driving into the setting sun across the Everglades "alligator alley", then turning North up into Fort Myers, which is where our motel was located.

Next morning, we were up bright and early, and made the 15-20 minute drive into Cape Coral, to finally meet Captain Ben for our real fishing adventure. We got there well ahead of time, and watched the sun rise over Florida while enjoying some classic Black Sabbath.


Captain Ben lives in his own little part of paradise in the self proclaimed fishing capital of the world, and has his boat docked right in his yard.


After meeting our captain and getting on the boat, first order of the day was to catch bait. A cast net is thrown near various structure point like bridge pilings, and soon enough, we had plenty of threadfin shad in the 4-6 inch range in the livewell. 

Next, we we given light tackle spinning rod and reel outfits in order to catch some bigger fish to be used as bait, mainly jacks. Mike managed to land a small jack right away, followed by a bird that took his bait. Apparently common in saltwater.


Fishing for jacks wasn't productive at all, so after a while, our Captain headed back home to get some frozen jacks from his freezer. While casting in front of his home, I managed to catch my first snook.


It put up a powerful fight, and as I hooked it right next to his dock, I really had to horse it to keep it from wrapping up in the pilings. I can honestly say I've never fought anything that strong in freshwater, at least not pound for pound. I'd say the fight is comparable to a supercharged bowfin, for those that have had the pleasure of fighting one.

Heading out again, Captain Ben spotted a ray near the surface, indicating that they were getting into the spawn. We headed over to a shallow bay to see if we'd be lucky enough to find one, and sure enough, they were stacked up in there. Our captain climbed into the crows nest with a heavier rods, outfitted with a weighted treble hook. He proceeded to snag a few rays, which Mike and I took turns fighting into the boat. He was very happy that we found them, as the stingray is apparently one of the best baits for both goliath groupers and big sharks.

I shot some video of Mike fighting one of the rays.



Was quite surprised that our captain opted to land them by hand, with them having a highly venomous sting. Of course, the stingers are removed with  pliers as soon as the rays are landed.

Not that we had bait, it was time to hunt down some trophy sized fish, namely, the goliath grouper. Captain Ben was one of the first of the new wave of anglers to target this species, which were commercially harvested throughout the early to mid 20th century. After being protected in order to preserve the species, few were persistent enough to deliberately target them due to the near impossible mission of landing one. 

The Goliath grouper spends most of it's time hidden in structure like rocks piles, or artificial structures like bridge piling. When the tide comes in, it brings fish with it, following the food chain. The Goliath patiently waits in it's lair until bait shows up, inhales it, and starts again.

Though this makes finding them simple enough, getting them out of the structure without breaking off is next to impossible, even with the heaviest of rod and reel outfits spooled with conventional line. After years of having big fish cut his line, Captain Ben revolutionized the technique. He now uses 468 lbs sailing cable instead of line, spooled onto the most powerful T-rex reels with deliver up to 90 lbs of drag force, mounted on a custom Iron Man rod. The heavy outfit must weigh about 15 lbs, and just figuring out how to use them is quite the learning curve.

Instead of muscling fish with your arms, shoulder,or back, to rod is placed under your right hamstring, and pivots on your left thigh. Rell is buried near your gut, and cranked only when rods is lowered,, as it's next to impossible to reel again a fish that size with that sort of drag force. Here is Mike in classic position with the rod getting ready to drop the bacit next to a bridge piling.



Most often, the second angler on the boat become the "spotter". Without a spotter, you are at extreme risk of going overboard during the fight, as your body weight id resting on a rod being pulled down by a fish that can generate 3 times it's own weight in resistance. With Goliath grouper going up into the 700 lb range, you can imagine that even a "small" one can pull you over in a split second.

So it was game time, and I was up first. Captain cuts a wing off the stingray for bait, to be mounted on the biggest circle hook I've ever seen.


Next, the boat is maneuvered right up to the pilings of a given bridge, and held in position as the bait is dropped right into the spaces between the structure. When the goliath grouper hits, you feel a big thump, and know you're in deep trouble. The heavy rod, pumping adrenaline and hot weather, had me sweating in to time. Sure enough it didn't take long, and I reeled down onto my first fish. Despite putting all my 150 lbs onto the rod and holding on for dear life, I would have been pulled in within a few seconds if Mike wasn't there to spot me as the big grouper made it's initial run. Having a lifelong bodybuilder as your spotter definitely has it's benefits, and there is no way I'd have landed the fish without Mike's help, which despite of, I was nearly gassed from a short battle that probably didn't last more than 90 seconds. 

To my horror, Mike realized that the swivel connecting the main cable to the leader had snapped open, and was barely hanging on by a thread. He quickly put on my glove and grabbed the cable leader, saving the day.



The Goliath grouper wasn't a giant, but at 150 lbs of brute force, it more than doubled my biggest catch ever! Once at the surface, they become very docile, maybe and odd splash or roll here and there. Forbidden to bring on board by law as they are protected, pictures with them have to be taken while they are in the water.


After the mandatory high fiving at my trophy, Mike was up for his. Didn't take very long, and he was into his first goliath grouper as well. I grabbed the rod to spot him, but after a couple lifts, he wanted to go it alone, so I eased off, standing by in case of emergency. Mike managed to land his alone, though it was a lot smaller, somewhere in the 60 lbs range. 


Shot a short clip of him landing it after realizing that he wasn't going to need my help.



As we had both landed our target species for the day and it was getting late, we headed back towards home, stopping to catch some more bait on the way. I hooked into a jack, only to have to stolen by one of the many dolphins surfacing near our boat. Very impressive to see that happen at boatside. The bite was tough, so we headed back in around 4 PM.

Next morning we headed out much further, about 20 miles away near Captiva pass off Sanibel Island to fish for big sharks. In contrast to the previous day, the captain hooked up an entire like stingray a bait, and set the rod into a gunwale holder to drift., while we drifted more shad to try and catch m,ore live jacks. I hooked into to something with the light spinning rod almost instantly, but just as I had it under the boat, it was grabbed by something much bigger that spooled the reel until it broke off. Again reminding me that when fishing saltwater, there is always something bigger ready to take what you've got.

Within minutes, the big rod with the ray got a massive hit, ripping the rod holder mount of of the boat. As captain Ben grabbed the rod, the big fish let go, and the ray swam back up to the surface, right next to our boat, almost intact. This indicated that it was probably attacked a goliath grouper rather than shark, as they are prevalent in the area, and love stingray's as much as sharks do. As the captain turned the boat to retrieve the ray that swam right by us, a huge 250 lbs bull shark splashed up at the surface and stole it in front of our eyes. Just shudder to think what may have happened if the captain was trying to pull it out of the water at the time...

Having only one ray left, the captain chose to use it as cut bait, and mounted it on a more "conventional" boat rod equipped with a huge shimano level wind reel spooled with tons of 80 lb test mono. Unfortunately, nothing was interested in our cut bait, so we fishing for more live bait with the light rods. As we were fishing near some rocks piles, there were many smaller gag grouper in the area. They are considered a game species in Florida, so forbidden to be used as bait, and as they were most of what were were catching, we were stuck without any decent shark sized live bait.

Tough not what we came for, fishing for gag grouper on light tackle is challenging as well. They are powerful fish, and if they aren't pumped/horsed away from their rock piles, they run straight for them to hide when hooked, making them a challenge to land. In addition, with sharks and big goliaths in the same area, you also stand a decent chances of losing them to a super sized predator. 

Mike and I both managed to land a few gag groupers, and much like myself earlier in the day, Mike got spooled by something big while fighting one as well.


After spending a good 4 hours or so without any bite on the cut bait, our captain headed back for one more shot at goliath groupers with the incoming tide slowing down at the shark spot and scheduled to picked up at the goliath spot.

I was up first again, but unlike the previous day, the goliath groupers were much more finicky. I must have missed 5 or 6 hits, and by the time I finally hook one, My arm was aching from keeping the heavy iron man rod in position for a good 45 minutes or so. Mike gave my a hand spotting the rod tip again, and I had my second goliath of the trip, the much smaller than my first one at about 80 lbs.


Mike was up for the last catch of of the day, managed to hook something reel big that almost pulled him over but pulled the hook just as I was about to spot him.

And so ended our Florida saltwater fishing adventure. Reflecting on the trip, I'm extremely happy to have been able to live this experience. Besides for catching my biggest fish ever and getting one of the species that's been on my mind for nearly a decade off my bucket list, I was amazed by entire saltwater experience as a whole. Where everything is constantly running from something bigger in order to avoid becoming dinner, and you're never sure of what's going to happen from one second to the next, I envy people that live in that beautiful part of the continent. Then again, I'd probably never get any work (or anything besides fishing) done if I lived in Florida.

As for fishing the big and mighty goliath grouper, I'm happy to have tried it, but not very sure I'd go back again, at least not under those conditions. Personally, I found this style of fishing to be more brutal than enjoyable, but then again, that's exactly what it take takes to land this unique species of brute. 

I have little doubt that captain Ben Chancey is the best Goliath grouper guide in Florida. He's got his technique down to every last inch and detail, and believe when I tell you he's tried every other method of pulling these monsters out of there holes before ingeniously putting together his current methods / techniques. 

For those of you brave / crazy enough to try catching supersized goliath groupers, I highly suggest Captain Ben Chancey as your guide for and extreme fishing adventure in the sunshine state. 

Captain Ben can be reached at: http://chewonthis.tv