It looks pretty ferocious swimming straight at me – 13 feet of smooth cartilage and muscle topped by rows of jagged teeth and a wide mantle with unblinking black eyes on either end. But this great …
(Almost) Endless Fish on Endless Summer
Summertime……and the catchin’ is easy in the ocean off St. Augustine. On a recent eight-hour fishing trip aboard the 43-foot Endless Summer charterboat, a party of ten from Jacksonville loaded up with vermillion snapper, amberjack in the 20-to-40-pound range, some smaller Almaco jacks, and a couple of oversized mangrove snapper using live and cut bait.
The fishing party watched in awe as Captain Billy Hunsicker and crewman Brian Holloway filled two wheelbarrows and lugged the catch to the cleaning table at Conch House Marina.
“Man, oh man,” one of the anglers said, looking at the haul.
But it was a typical fishing day for Hunsicker, an 18-year veteran captain who operates the five-boat Endless Summer fleet with his dad Bill, Sr.
This time of year, Hunsicker concentrates on bottom fishing and how far and deep he fishes depends on how long the customers want to be on the water; trips range from four to 11 hours.
The Jacksonville group opted for the eight-hour gig, so they spent about an hour catching cigar minnows, sardines and grunts using Sabiki rigs in 60 feet of water before continuing 38 miles offshore. The fishing grounds, Hunsicker said, consisted of ledges and some broken bottom about 130 feet deep.
With plenty of current but not much wind, the voyage wasn’t too rough, and there were no other fishing boats close by when the Endless Summer arrived.
The catching began almost immediately after anchoring. It didn’t seem to matter whether the anglers dropped down live or dead bait– single hook or chicken rig–they still got bites. The small tasty vermilions came over the rail one after another.
When the snapper bite slowed down and grunts began to grab the baits, Hunsicker relocated the boat, re-anchored and pretty soon, Almacos made their way into the cooler.
A small rogue cobia swam up to the boat in the midst of the action, and Hunsicker and Holloway tried to entice it with a jig and trailer. It ate the offering, but then leapt out of the water and spit it out.
All of a sudden, the lone female angler got a strike so hard that it almost dragged her overboard and Hunsicker had to grab her. She reeled and reeled, but the line kept disappearing with the shrieking drag. After maybe 20 minutes of back-bending, sweaty struggle, she finally brought it close enough for Hunsicker to gaff: a hulking amberjack that looked to weigh between 30 and 40 pounds.
The fish went straight into the cooler, followed by about a half-dozen more caught by the other members of the party. Nearly everyone was massaging his or her fatigued arms during the AJ onslaught.
A couple of the anglers armed with lighter spinning rods with nearly-invisible 40-pound fluorocarbon leaders dropped down their baits and were rewarded with mangrove snappers weighing 5-8 pounds. After that, the tired anglers were ready to call it quits.
Hunsicker and Holloway pulled the anchor and steered the Endless Summer back to the dock. The anglers, meanwhile, had about enough dinner entrees to last well past Labor Day.
If you would like to book a fishing trip with the Endless Summer fleet, visit www.endlesssummercharters.com or call 904-501-7374. And if you need a room close by, reserve at the nearby Holiday Isle Oceanfront Resort on St. Augustine Beach–soon to be re-branded a Guy Harvey Outpost–by calling 1-800-513-5257.