Sunday, April 26, 2009


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This was one of the smaller waves encountered today

Home in Port Charlotte
69* at wake up, going to a high of 89*

On Saturday morning I launched the boat for a day of fishing Charlotte Harbor. My friend and neighbor Rolando joined me but our Kathys (both wives) stayed home to plant flowers and enjoy a girls day in.

The marine forecast was less than appealing with winds 15-20 knots and choppy waters but since we were going to stay within the barrier islands we felt good about our safety. Conditions were expected to improve as the day wore on.

We entered the harbor via Alligator Bay and saw very few other boats out this day. We had to keep our speed down to about 10 knots to avoid getting splashed. It was a nice slow cruising speed so we decided to put out a couple of trolling lines. I had Rolando take the helm while I shot some short video clips. Click here if you wish to view:

We went to an area known as the West Wall, where Rolando had been told the snapper bite was on. The depths all over Charlotte Harbor are shallow but along the West Wall it's particularly thin, with many areas charted at 1 and 2 feet. I need two and a half feet to stay afloat. As luck would have it, just as we were approaching the area my depth finder started malfunctioning. It's an old Humminbird model that came with the boat. My Garmin GPS has great mapping and positioning but it lacks sounding capabilities. You really need to have both to be safe and up until now the two units working together fit the bill. We decided to anchor down in what we knew was 23 feet of water. This kept us way to far off the West Wall and a half hour of fishing proved fruitless.

We pulled up anchor and I started heading for Boca Grande Pass, where the Harbor meets the Gulf. After a year of making this trip, I knew the safe route well enough to travel with the GPS alone. Rolando went down to the cabin and got some anti-corrosion cleaning spray. He took the depth sounder off the mount and used my primitive tool kit to open it up and spray it out. After some trial and error he got it working. GOOD JOB ROLANDO! We determined there's a short in the connection and will solve it tomorrow. For the rest of this day, it worked good.

Even at the narrowest point, Charlotte Harbor is 4.5 miles wide so the winds, out of the east, were really kicking up the waves; 3-5 footers consistently. As we crossed the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway channel we saw a couple in a little bay boat who had absolutely NO business being out in these conditions in that boat. was about an 18' little open bow day boat and they weren't even wearing their vests; talk about denial.

At about 2:00 PM we reached Boca Pass and found a pretty protected spot west of Cayo Costa Island where the winds stayed down to a bearable 10 knots. We started fishing live shrimp in 30 feet, while drifting. My first line was hit on the way down. BAM! Fish on. I pulled up a small Jack Cravalle, the first of those I've caught. I released him as Rolando pulled up a 3' reef shark. He was an angry little fella. After spending a couple of minutes trying to grab the hook with the long needle nose pliers, Rolando was finally able to release him unharmed. My next catch was a nice Nassau Grouper, although not a keeper. They pull so hard when hooked you always think it's a monster until he surfaces. When I went to unhook him, I was amazed to feel his strong heart beating in my hand. Geez, I have never felt a fish's heart beating. This was so cool. I was quickly able to released the circle hook from his mouth and I gently released him to be caught another day.

For the next two hours we pulled up Nassau Grouper and Mangrove Snapper but none were long enough to keep. The legal minimum is 24" and we were falling well short of that. Nonetheless, we had a great time but knew we'd need close to 2 hours to get home in these winds. They never did slow down in the late day, as was forecast. We had to get to the short bridge by 6:30 PM.

At 4:40 we set out, with a heading of 90*. You have to travel due east for about 9 miles before you can make the turn, heading 0* for another 13 miles to reach our canal system. If you try to short cut it, taking 120* instead of 90*, there are sandy shoals that will ruin your day and your prop.

Heading east 90* was taking us straight into the wind. The bow was taking a hell of a beating at 19 knots, so I slowed to 9 knots. This made for a more comfortable ride but we quickly realized we'd never beat the tide to the bridge at this speed. To give you some perspective on how rough it was, on a normal day I travel about 26 knots on this run home. On flat water days I have run wide open throttle at 36 knots.

We decided we'd rather get home wet than spend the night out dry. I picked it up to 14 knots and that was do-able. We crashed the waves, took a good salty soaking but it wasn't what I would call dangerous. As we turned north, heading 0* for home, the wind was now coming from my starboard side. Rolando taught me how to use the trim tabs to adjust how the boat rides on plane. I picked the starboard way up, dropped the port way down and this helped quite a bit. I've used the trim tabs before but only to compensate for passenger loads, not to battle the wind. This was very cool.

Rolando went downstairs to grab a water out of the fridge and he told me my electrical panel had come loose from all the pounding. He was putting it mildly. When we got home I found the entire carpet covered wooden wall had broke loose of the bulkhead. HOLY CRAP! Electrical wires had pulled off the breakers. Rolando says it's no big deal and we can fix it on Sunday. He pointed out a lot of corrosion on the back side of my breaker panel so this would be a chance to clean all that up and maybe prevent more short circuiting like we had with the depth finder.

We made the short bridge at 6:35 PM and docked on the lift at 6:45. After a thorough flushing of my motor and good wash down of the salt stained top side, it was time to hit the shower. We released several dozen live shrimp into our canal. These lucky fellas are on their own now. I'm sure they're just glad the trip is through.

Trip total: 53.1 miles
Hour meter: 388.2

We enjoyed a post trip dinner, courtesy of the Kathys. My Kathy made delicious Carne Asada burritos with a wonderful array of red, green, and yellow peppers. Rolando's Kathleen made a tasty batch of Spanish rice, her first ever! It was a great meal and a nice time had by all. Maybe next time we'll be able to bring home some grouper for the girls to grill.

Don't forget to view the video clip from today:

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