Goombay Smashing: Kissing Salty Dogs & Crabs

I’m not certain what I enjoy the most, preparing for a fishing trip or the trip itself. That’s exactly the question I asked myself yet again just recently when the chance presented itself to fish salt-water with my co-pirate…Davy Jones. Okay, so that’s not his real name but in order to protect the innocent, let’s call him that at least for now. Besides, that’s the nickname I’ve given him and he’s a shrimp boat captain of sorts but he’s not a “gump.” Under his young but crusty exterior, just like the famous Gump, he’s got a heart of gold and we’ve found that often we know what the other is thinking before a word has been spoken. He’s sailed the Caribbean, North and South Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf, and Mediterranean, passed through the Panama Canal and most importantly he’s survived a cup of my java. In order to understand just what that means, you could take my coffee brew and coat the exterior of the space shuttle without ever fearing that it would burn off during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. It will put hair on less than a real man’s chest assuming it doesn’t kill him first. Many have attempted my Java challenge but few have done so and remained standing the entire day. Let that be a warning to all ye that dare take the Java challenge.

Yeah, I know, you are again asking yourself, “what did all that have to do with fishing?” Let’s face the facts for a moment, you come here as much for the “entertainment” as for the fishing tips or perhaps in the hopes that I’ll slip up one day and reveal my favorite fishing hole. You look forward to the photographs and dry humor, and find my feeble attempt at word-smithing just barely adequate enough to keep coming back. Hear ye, hear ye! I’d give up the location of my favorite spot/s only after giving up my firstborn, dog, and a precious 2wt weight bamboo fly rod given to me by a bird of a feather.  Does that put things into perspective?

It was certainly a treat to fish the salt again. Not only is it a thrill to fight a fish with the hope of bringing it to the net but you never know what you are going to hook in salt. My heart starts thumping the moment I “hang” something in the salt environment and my mind immediately flashes to the art of past cultures and lost times depicting sea-monsters devouring ships and tossing sailors about like a dog’s chew toy. Being a fan of trout-who would have guessed it-I was focused not on benthic monsters as the prize of the excursion but spotted sea-trout also known as speckled trout. We knew that we were most likely behind the probable success curve since the prime speck season had come and gone but hey-there’s no law against dreaming-right? Honestly, I really didn’t care what we caught as long as there was some kind of fight to be had. Spoken like a true pirate-aye? So when the first fish I connected with was a saltwater cat, I relished every minute of the fight. I love how they shake their head side-to-side like the guy that took the dare at a local dive bar and just gobbled down an oyster topped with the houses’ secret hot sauce.

One of many saltwater catfish that we caught the first night of the trip right off of the dock.
One of many saltwater catfish that we caught the first night of the trip right off of the dock.
Yet another catfish out of Manatee Pocket.

Yeah, I know, their not sailfish, mahi mahi or spotted sea-trout which the area is known for but you can’t argue about one thing. They are fish. If I were fishing to eat and salty cats were all I came up with, I probably wouldn’t be thrilled. However, on an important side note, I’ve heard some say if you prepare a saltwater cat correctly it’s not bad- fried. The species of salty catfish also make a difference or so I’ve heard. Personally, I’d still be wary unless I could see some toxicology data on them but maybe that’s just me. Let’s not forget salty cats are great baitfish for tarpon and cobia. Which brings up two good points. Davy didn’t know that either [you’re fired as my fishing guide Davy!] and since when do people eat tarpon on a regular basis?  I hope that I’ve possibly changed the hearts of the salty cat haters.  Maybe next time you guys catch a salty cat, you will show him some respect just like the Spanish mackerel by threading him on a hook and making certain you speak kindly of him[salty cat] by giving him some credit in your big fish stories-fact or fiction. Speaking of fiction, every time I land a stingray, I can’t help but think these creatures are straight out of a science fiction movie. They’re a fun fight and aside from the danger of handling them in an effort to turn them loose, I don’t mind connecting up with one at all.

Stingray from Manatee Pocket.

That reminds me. Who in their right mind would ever take a fisherman’s story at face value? For instance, the very same night we caught these salty cats and rays, I caught a 17ft Mako and kissed a salty dog out for a walk[tasted like Sangria] and a crab. How did the latter taste? A bit salty with some bite. I mean, it’s safer kissing either of those than a random human-aye?

With the above in mind, let’s talk about crabs for a minute. Over the years, I’ve been fascinated with crab patterns. Most likely because the first fish I ever landed in the salt was on the olive pattern pictured below.

My crab patterns
My crab patterns

Fishing is much like writing-you can make it as entertaining as you like and there is no law against that-is there? Don’t forget, we make up what we want especially when tying flies. Sometimes you don’t know if it will work or not but you tie it anyway and throw caution to the wind-pun intended. And sometimes the recklessness pays off-BIG. That’s why when I saw this pattern in a local Port Salerno, FL shop, I couldn’t resist picking up some more crabs[chuckle]. They put my patterns to shame and were a lot closer to the native crabs as evident when comparing them to the live one we caught in the mangroves close to a dock on the Manatee Pocket.

Crab from Manatee Pocket
Crab from Manatee Pocket
Custom Crab Pattern
Wish I could take credit for these but they came from a Port Salerno, FL bait and tackle shop tied exclusively for them.

So now you want a true fishing tale? Try this one on for size. I found a new respect for Davy when I watched him cast a 10wt salt rod for the first time in the dark, trying his best to catch what I’d just lost on an ultra-light spin rod. Gasp, YES! We were fishing fly and spin gear and using-HORRORS-live bait in the form of shrimp. I’d built a 2-6lb spin rod some time back balanced with a Mitchell 308x from the last millennium and somehow between the two of us we thought it would be a great idea to take it with us-and use it. While it could be considered an error in judgment, it did allow for some entertainment for all when something the size of what I stated was a 17ft Mako shark latched on and the line started flying out so fast it emptied all but about 50ft of mono before it snapped with a bang but not before it broke the oscillating gear that drives the spool. If anyone could recommend a good reel repair shop, I’d certainly appreciate the help.

Because of the above mishap, we watched my $3.50 luminescent, rattling bobber swaying back and forth in front of us as we continued to fish and Davy couldn’t stand it. I marveled at him casting the fly rod until he finally hooked the bobber as he was half way down in the backing! He screeched that something was still on the line and after just a bit of a fight, you may see what my 17ft Mako looked like for yourself.

Croaker AKA my 17ft Mako
Croaker AKA my 17ft Mako

In my defense, it felt bigger and I began the cast with a two circle hook rig and when Davy reclaimed my catch, the terminal hook was missing. So it was a 17ft Mako, my friends. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The next morning we decided to fish a stretch of Jensen beach where Davy said he’d had good luck fishing before in the trough. He was fishing with spin gear, lobbing dead shrimp with a triangle weight on the terminal end, and I was casting a fly-rod using a pinfish imitation. We were fishing the same vicinity and almost immediately he started catching fish. The first thing he tugged ashore was a whitening.

Jensen Beach
Jensen Beach, Stuart, FL
Davy and a Whitening from Jensen Beach

Davy tossed that one back and shortly thereafter landed another whiting and then another. His next catch was none other than a juvenile pompano. We were in such a rush to snap the photo and get him back in the water we didn’t take the time to make him look the best. I’d say he[fish] was just glad to get back in the water instead of being part of a stew and didn’t care about his fifteen minutes of fame being somewhat tarnished.

Davy showing off a juvenile pompano that got wet and sandy just for the photo op…

Throughout Davy’s string of catches, I’d only received a ping and a take that resulted in a loss. I tried pinfish, crab, and other patterns to no avail. Davy kept telling me I should just fish spinning gear but I resisted. He was laughing as I was getting bashed by the surf in an effort to better position myself as to combat the wind and current for easier casting and line stripping. Honestly, I was having more fun watching Davy Boy catch fish than catching them myself. I’ve found over the years that watching someone else catch fish especially a best friend, family member or one of my kids is much more rewarding than catching them myself. To put it yet another way, if Davy were an orphan, I’d most likely adopt him.

Possibly the most memorable part of the trip had nothing to do with fishing but what happened the night before we left. No more than we checked into the hotel at the beginning of the trip, I almost tripped over the community cat that I remarked look just like the cat in Stephen King’s horror flick- Pet Semetary. Davy laughed it off and said I was nuts. Isn’t Davy smart? The next night as we walked back from dinner there was a local ghost tour stopped at the base of a gigantic tree, focusing infrared thermometer beams overhead onto its trunk and a very large branch. The group was calling out the temperature of trunk and branch in relation to one another and the surrounding area. In my typically dry but harmless and friendly way of approaching humor, I asked if the readout was in Fahrenheit or Celsius to which a somewhat annoyed answer was given that, “If it where Celsius we’d be boiling right now.” Right on. Our bird’s motors measure ITT[internal turbine temperature] in Celsius with the maximum starting ITT at 1000oC which converts to 1832oF. Yep, I’d say that conclusion was spot on.

Port Salerno Ghost Tree Cropped
Reportedly haunted tree in Port Salerno, FL. You can see one of the infrared beams high and to the left on the trunk.

So you think the story ends there? Well no, this is just were it gets interesting because the very next night as me and Davy were sitting on the front porch of the marina hotel’s lobby, he brought up ghosts again after the cat reappeared. I remarked that ghosts are just a lot of overthinking. We both laughed and I started looking at the weather radar on my iPAD trying to figure out what we’d be facing for departure the following day. Suddenly, Davy jumped up and almost fell at the same time, looking at me like-what gives? His face quickly melted from “friendly agitation” to “that was weird” when he realized both of my hands were on my iPAD. At the time, we were totally alone on the porch with our backs to a railing and a hedge row on the other side that was several feet thick and dense. The only other person anywhere around we could see was the night clerk for the hotel in her office. A roaming security guard had passed by about 10 minutes beforehand but was no where to be seen. What made the hair stand up on the back of my neck was that I saw out of the corner of my eye his shirt pinched and slightly lifted just before he grabbed his side. I asked Davy what happened and he said it felt like someone pinched or gripped his side. Now for the really weird stuff. Afterwards, Davy has had a string of terrible luck ranging from most of his appliances giving up the ghost-pun intended- to narrowly escaping giving up the ghost himself-pun again intended. I’m really full of puns on this post, am I not?

Looks like a “dead ringer” for that cat in the movie-don’t you think? Yes, another pun. I’m on a pun rampage even in captions. I’m out of control just like this cat. Isn’t it[cat] suspicious?
Moving onward, while I still don’t believe in ghosts, I have to admit this one was and still remains very difficult to explain. To add to the mystery, within just a couple of hours of this occurrence, a storm that had been brewing as we sat on the hotel porch exploded in a fury that scattered all of the furniture, slamming it against the porch railings. I’m talking about REALLY heavy outdoor furniture which in itself isn’t implausible. However, the storm woke me up that night and I watched boats in the marina bounce up and down like wine corks in a hurricane BUT the power never went out and nothing was damaged or disturbed elsewhere on the property-at least from what we heard. Hmm, I don’t know.

So how about a deal ghost, I won’t ask silly questions during ghost tours anymore, doubt your existence, or make jokes at your expense if you will just let my Davy Boy go? Oh, and I almost forgot, if you could leave him less grumpy than you previously got him, I’d appreciate that, too. You know how boat captains can be-crusty and rusty. I mean, he should be more like me, just a peach day in and day out. So do we have a deal?

Admit it. My ramblings have you wondering what next and you can’t wait for the next installment-right? For those of you that placed bets that the April Fools post was a one-off only for me to disappear again forever-pay up. Payment my be rendered in pints, kegs, or by the bottle or barrel-ARRGH. Oh yeah, and I’ll spare you from what the parrot said-it wasn’t for landlubber ears-RAWK!

Disclaimer: No goombay drums, crabs or salty dogs were actually harmed during the crafting of this tale.