Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Massacre at Mansfield & Epich snook fishing

After watching the weather closely last week, Trey Epich and I decided to head south for some blue water action. We got to Harlingen late on friday and geared up Keith's Panga with freedive spearfishing on our minds. After a few hours sleep, we headed out early toward Port Mansfield, along with Keith's spearfishing partner in crime, Cesar. We were greeted at the port with very light winds and a flat calm bay.

The first stop was about 15 miles out at an anchored shrimp boat. We had a 30 pack of High Life that we traded for a 5 gal bucket of fresh chum and a big bag of headed shrimp. We fished for a bit behind the shrimper and Trey broke off something big and toothy on a 1oz rattletrap. Not much else was happening, so we headed on toward the tower rig. At about 20 miles out, I looked up and spotted this tree that was drifting. 

I'm not sure what kind of tree it was, but it was big. Keith, Cesar and I got geared up to spearfish, and Trey manned the boat. We got in and were immediately surrounded by hundreds of dorado. They were circling the tree along with huge balls of bait and several small sharks. There were fish everywhere. There were two tripletail hanging out in the middle of the tree, so I took the first shot on the bigger one. After that, it was kind of pandemonium. I was swimming towards the boat to box my tripletail, and I saw Cesar with a nice sized dorado that had been mauled by sharks after he shot it. Keith got the other tripletail, and we tied the boat to the tree. The whole time, Trey was catching dorado every cast on a rattle trap and jigging spoon. By the time I got to the boat Trey was covered in mahi blood splatter. I got back in and spotted a nice ling just as Cesar was diving on it. Here's that one:

Trey eventually got tired of catching dorado every cast, and drifted a ribbonfish in the current. He was picking out a little backlash when I saw a shark eat the ribbonfish. I yelled to him that he had a shark, and he got the backlash out just in time to set the hook and catch the shark...

We hung around the tree until it was only dorado still on it, and then left it to go to the rigs and try to get some amberjack. We headed towards the tower rig and after trying one more shrimp boat with no luck, we tied off to the rig. For the next several hours, it was pretty much a free for all. Trey was putting his heaviest bass tackle to the test and learned that a Dobyns swimbait rod and a Curado 300 w/ 65lb braid is pretty much childs play for a big amberjack.

We were dropping chum and had a flasher dangling below the boat, when Keith came up with the first of three African pompano. Cesar shot another ling there, and they both dove deep and got two big AJ's:

The next goal was an AJ for me, so I was hanging by the flasher and waiting for one to come within range. They were coming up every now and then, but weren't coming close enough for me to get down to them. After a while, we swam to the rig leg and Cesar shot a big mangrove snapper. As he was bringing it up, three amberjack came up with it, and were circling it. Cesar brought it up to about 20 feet, and I dove down and missed my first shot. After reloading, I did the exact same thing again. I would get down to them and then take a desperation shot as they were swimming off. Keith swam out to us and brought his big gun and Cesar told me to just relax and get down to them to make a good shot. We waited for a bit for them to get close to the snapper again, and a 6-7' shark came in and started eyeballing the snapper. It only hung around for a minute or so, and the AJ's were getting interested in the snapper again. I dove down and went deeper than I've ever gone (about 30') and finally got a good shot on the amberjack. From there, it was pretty much a fight for my life. We didn't have the gun on a float line, it was just the reel on the gun. So the fish was ripping drag on the reel and I was fighting to keep my snorkel above water. After about 20 minutes and being dragged under several times, I finally got it under control...

From there, we did some drifting with ribbonfish and trolling around the rig. We weren't having much luck with rod & reel, as we broke off several fish. Trey had a huge king mackerel that got bit in half by a giant barracuda.

We headed to the 956 rig to see if we could get some snapper. At this point, Trey decided to get in and check out the underwater scene. He was greeted right away with a huge barracuda and several big tarpon...

There were giant schools of tarpon under both rigs, and you could pretty much swim right up to them. Pretty amazing. At the second rig, we got another ling, and a huge mangrove snapper that Keith shot with a polespear. There is no world record submitted for mangrove snapper on a polespear, so Keith shot the world record. We were going to have it certified and submitted, but Keith got lazy the next day and gave it away to a family walking home from the grocery store.

So that was it for the offshore trip. We made it back to Port Isabel at about midnight and got geared up to go snook fishing. After just a few hours of sleep, Trey and I loaded up the 12' skiff and hit the ship channel. At the first stop, we found fish busting bait just before daylight. I got a big blowup, then on the next cast, Trey hooked into his first snook. His first snook happened to be a 33 incher. Boom.

After that, I caught a little snook and then we started fishing dock pilings. I jumped off a little tarpon, and Trey caught one more snook before we called it a morning at about 9am. We got back to Keiths to clean the boats and hit the road back north with a healthy haul of fish and shrimp. I promised Trey a meat haul, and that's pretty much how it went down. Fun weekend!!! 

Oh, here's the meat haul shots... We could have gotten alot more snapper, but the ice chests were completely full, even with the two big amberjack in the hull of the boat covered in a tarp.