After an amazing day of fishing the Tampa flats with Captain Ted Nesti a few weeks ago, we knew we had to test Florida’s world-renowned offshore potential next. So we packed our rods and made our way south to Key West for our next fishing rendezvous, this time with Captain Jeremy of Meridian Charters.
We spoke to the captain the night before the trip, not knowing whether to do reef/bottom fishing or trolling. Captain told us the water was still too warm for effective trolling, and suggested reef fishing on his favorite spot, about 6 miles offshore. We’ll see you next time, billfish.
We arrived to Key West the following morning. The boat is docked at a small marina located just across the Hurricane Hole restaurant on Stock Island, Key West.
Slight surprise was that the captain and owner of Meridian Charters, Jeremy, ended up not being our host for the day. Instead, we were greeted by his full-time captain, Stephen. Stephen turned out to be an amazing guy and a superb guide, but we would still have appreciated the heads-up from Jeremy that we should expect somebody other than himself.
By the time we arrived the boat was already fully prepped with the engine running, and we were off in no time. The boat is in good condition with enough room for 3-4 anglers to fish comfortably. And fish we did.
It took us about 20 minutes to reach the part of the reef where we’d fish. We made a few water rings around the reef while Stephen looked for fish signals on his Fishfinder. With baitfish schools located, we finally anchored at a good spot on the reef, about 50ft deep.
Stephen began chumming and it wasn’t long before shoals of yellowtail snappers, blue runners and other baitfish in the 1-2# range arrived. For catching baitfish, we used pieces of bonito rigged to a (probably) 4 size hook and a mono leader.
The bite was on as soon as we cast our bait. We caught a mix of about 15-20 yellowtails and blue runners in the first hour!
After a bit of fun with baitfish and having several fish stolen by 6+ft barracudas and sharks, we decided to rig us some live bait at the surface with a balloon, and go for something bigger.
10 seconds after casting, the first ‘Cuda takes. It managed to escape to the reef and cut the wire leader, but the 2-minute fight it put up was a real thrill. 3 more barracudas took, but we failed to pull any out. At this time, the blue runner (which we still used as bait) also stopped biting.
As the baitfish took a break about 2 hours into the trip, we made a switch to bottom fishing for shark and grouper. It didn’t take long before our first hit of the day – a 70lbs nurse shark! In the end, it was ‘only’ about a 5-minute fight, but one that left Vukan from our team completely out of breath.
We cast our bottom rods to try for yet another big one and managed to get the baitfish to bite once again. Four tasty 2lb yellowtails were kept as our dinner-to-be.
Vukan then snatched a good-sized Bermuda chub and proceeded to get stung by its spines. The chub was a worthy opponent, and you can clearly see Vukan’s angst in some of the pictures. The rest of us may or may not have giggled a bit 🙂
With the fishing trip almost done, Nemo hooked into what appeared as another shark on the bottom. The fish managed to snap the line just as we started to see color under the surface. Great fight, but alas, no fish to show.
As our time was running out, we started heading back at 11:40.
Stephen cleaned and filleted our catch while we observed the ample tarpon and shark population cruising around the marina. We cashed in on a few serendipitous iguana sightings as well.
As we parted with Stephen, he recommended a great nearby restaurant (the name of which now escapes all of us) to cook our catch and have a few beers – it was DELICIOUS. Blackened grilled yellowtail snapper and mojitos. Next time you go fishing with Meridian, be sure to ask about the restaurant they recommended to the guys from FishingBooker. It was a perfect end to a great day of fishing.
In a few words, the boat, crew and gear were all in good shape. We would have appreciated a simple heads-up on who our captain would be, even though he turned out to be more than qualified for the job. Everything else – flawless.