contributor and saltwater fly angler Steve Buck sent us this article that describes one fly fisher's dilemma and how he was rescued from the brink of the abyss by a combination of strong moral fiber and good cell phone reception.That Darn Cell Phone!
Before I tell this story, you need to know that Grouper is one of the best tasting fish is the sea. So much so, that Florida has gradually increased the legal size limit to ensure the long term survival of the species. Also, juvenile Grouper begin life inshore, then move offshore as adults. I don't keep up with the size limits of Grouper because I seldom fish offshore.
The day was overcast and the breeze was blowing out of the east in anticipation of a cold front. Such conditions are ripe for a productive day fishing. After paddling my kayak out of the bayou, past the mangrove shore line and boat docks, I started fishing at one of my "spots". If I were to tell you the location, I'd have to kill you (insert winking smiley face). On my fist cast an 18" Spotted Sea Trout slammed the jig just as I was pulling it from the water. She gave a good fight and put a big bend in my ultra light spinning rod, but I got her to the boat. But, some fish are just too pretty to keep. Even though the size limit on a Sea Trout is 14", I let go the 18"-er. Later on, I threw back a 15"-er.
Knowing that there were fish in the area, I pulled out the fly rod. For the next couple of hours I caught numerous juvenile Grouper in the 6" to 9" range. This was very unusual, but a very good sign for the species. As I drifted across the grass flats I switched back and forth from fly fishing to spinning rod, both methods were productive in bring fish to the boat; Sea Trout, Grouper, and Mangrove Snapper.
Around 11 AM with fly rod in hand, the line went tight, very tight! Whatever was on the other end pulled harder than anything else that day. I thought it might be a grouper because of the way it fought. When a Grouper is hooked, it heads for the bottom looking for some sort of structure to rub against and break the line. The fish pulled and pulled, and my adrenaline rushed and rushed. Finally, the fish was getting closer to the boat and I could see it through the clear water. Sure enough it was a Grouper, and much bigger than any I've seen before on the inshore grass flats. Still fearing that the line would snap, I gingerly raised it out of the water and into the bilge of my kayak. As it laid between my feet I measured it to be 16".
Remember those cartoons where the two guys stranded on an island would look at each other and see a roasted chicken leg? Well that's what happened to me and that Grouper. All I could see were two wonderful fillets, I could even taste that flaky white meat. But,,, I was sure that a 16" Grouper was too short to keep. The angel on one shoulder said "You know it's too short, better throw it back." The devil on the other shoulder said "Consider all those other fish you threw back. You even threw back two legal size Sea Trout. No one will ever know you kept this undersized Grouper." So, I called my conscience (my wife).
Gotta love cell phones!Of course Leah wouldn't know the legal size of a Grouper, so I asked her to look it up on the Internet. The ensuing minutes were a battle of right and wrong, good and evil, and the integrity of my environmental conservatism. But more than that, the integrity of my spiritual convictions, and realizing of how closely I (perhaps, we) flirt with sin. My desire for my own way, verses obedience to the governing authorities that God has placed me under, Romans 13:1.
The story ends well for the Grouper. After a short period of resuscitation, holding the fish next to the boat until enough water flowed across its gills, it swam away none the worse for wear.
If only I had one of those dropped calls like we see on TV, I might have had a Grouper dinner that night. Darn that cell phone!Editor's note: When Steve isn't paddling Florida's inshore waters and saving large grouper he runs Steve Buck Consulting. We look forward more articles from him in the future.