Enjoying the saltwater scene

Even though freshwater has dominated my professional fishing career, I’ve also enjoyed the saltwater scene my whole life. I recently cemented those interests by starting a charter boat business in the Florida Keys.

The boat is a 42-foot Freeman with four SIZE Evinrudes and Garmin electronics, and its name is Vice-Versa. That’s a play on my equal passion for saltwater and freshwater, or vice versa — I love them both. 

What’s really cool is that we’ve already made our mark by setting a new Florida Keys record with 76 sailfish releases in a single day; which is the second most in the world. This a very prestigious accomplishment, and I’m very thankful to my captain Sam Milazzo and crew — Lee Gahgen, Ben Zdan and Brandon Simmons — for a fantastic day that I’ll never forget.

I keep the boat at a private residence in Islamorada, and after studying the weather and sea conditions, we determined that we had a great opportunity to catch a lot of sails. We never would have imagined we would catch and release 76.

All I can say was we had the perfect storm. The Gulfstream swings in really close to this area, and this day we had a head wind on the current. The sailfish were coming up to the surface, and we were actually sight fishing them with live pilchards. 

It’s kind of interesting because during a spring when I haven’t had much opportunity to sight fish spawning bass in a tournament, I enjoyed an incredible day of visually locating a tremendous number of sailfish.

I have to admit it felt good. It was a hardcore competition to pull off the kind of day we had. It was great to get those competitive juices flowing and come away with a record performance.

Like we’ve all been saying, the key to getting through this temporary shutdown is making the most of the extra time we have on our hands. Obviously, I would not have been able to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime day of sailfishing if I were on the road for tournaments, so this was a great use of my downtime. 

Even more importantly, I’ve been able to spend a lot of quality time with my family, especially my 14-year-old daughter Hillary. My entire family loves fishing, but she’s the one who’s eaten up with it. 

She has really wanted to travel, and we may do it soon, now that the country is starting to open up. She wants to catch a smallmouth bass, a largemouth bass and a spotted bass all on one trip.

I’m thinking of taking a trip to Lake Lanier, then swinging by Lake Chickamauga in Tennessee and then heading up to Dale Hollow. I think the fish will be spawning at Chickamauga, I think there will be big spots spawning at Lake Lanier and big smallmouth eating swimbaits at Dale Hollow.

This is very doable and I think we can make it happen. If it all goes as planned, I’ll have a nice update for you soon.

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