Any way the wind blows
By Nathan Benson
Special to ESPNOutdoors.com
August 11, 2009
A Google search on “drift fishing” show a trend in the top search results. Among the Web sites listed, there are several charter boats operating on Florida’s southeast coast, from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale.
At its most basic, “drift fishing” means stopping your boat and letting the current take you where it will. But while this term could be applied to many types of fishing, in this part of Florida the technique is serious business, and the best in the business is Capt. Lee Egan.
“There’s a simple rule of thumb out here,” said Egan, owner and operator of Sea Horse Fishing Adventures out of Riviera Beach Marina in West Palm Beach. “Every mile you go out equals 100 feet of depth.”
Pick your fish
Snapper … grouper … dolphin … kingfish. When planning an offshore fishing trip, a big part of the fun is deciding which species to target — and there are plenty to choose from.
Once that choice is made, the rest of the trip will more or less fall into place. Things like where to go, what tackle and baits to use and even the sort of boat and captain to hire all follow naturally from that first step.
Unless, of course, you decide to go drift fishing with Egan.
Egan is something of a wild card when it comes to offshore fishing. It’s not that he can’t target individual species — he’s more than talented and skilled enough for that — it’s that he and his clients tend to have more action and more fun by adding variety to the mix.
For Egan, saltwater fishing is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.
Because of a geographic anomaly, a long stretch of the southeast Florida coast has virtually no continental shelf. Looking at a topographic map of the U.S. coastlines along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico, this part of Florida — from Jupiter south to Miami — is the only part of the country where this occurs.
And since it doesn’t take long to get into some seriously deep water, Egan can fit in two or even three trips a day.
“Since I don’t have to waste time making long runs, I can be out over a reef and catching fish in no time,” Egan said while driving his 46-foot custom Markley out to the first spot (just 15 minutes from the marina) on a humid summer morning. “In other parts of the state, you would have to travel a couple of hours offshore to get to that depth.”
And because less time and fuel are needed, this translates into less of a hit in the wallet for the customer.
The price is right
At $70 per person for a four-hour trip, Egan’s operation is much more economical than the traditional sportboat charters that can run from $600 or more for half a day to more than $1,000 for a full day.
And though four hours may not sound like a long trip, with serious action so close to shore, you’re spending virtually all of it doing what you came to do — fishing, not riding out and back.
With the condo-lined beaches of Palm Beach County’s Singer Island still comfortably in sight, Egan selects a promising place to start and shuts off the engine. It doesn’t take long before the first reef-dwelling fish is peeling out drag.
Using custom 7-foot rods paired with Shimano TLD Star 20/40 reels with 30-pound-test monofilament on the spool, a heavy sinker pulls down the Spanish sardine bait into the depths of the beautiful clear blue water and out of sight.
“At certain times of the year,” Egan said, “you can see fish on the bottom in 100 feet of water.”
Bottom fishing along these reefs, the boat drifting with the natural currents of the Atlantic, part of the intrigue is that you really never know what you might catch.
“We’re targeting mostly snapper and other bottom fish,” Egan said. “But we’ll catch everything from dolphin to wahoo to sailfish in the process. You just never know.”
That might be true, but it doesn’t take long before somebody knows what you’ve hooked. From years of experience, Egan and his crew are usually spot-on when predicting what’s on the end of the line, just from the way the line moves as each fight begins.
A running out and then up means you’ve hooked into a hard-fighting (but allegedly not so tasty) bonito. A more constant pulling and darting, and you’ll hear someone yell, “Nice yellow!” That means a yellowtail snapper, a great-tasting fish.
In drift fishing, you might not know what you are going to catch, just that you will catch fish.
Our party of four caught 12 different species — from snapper and grouper to the speedy kingfish and tasty triggerfish, or ocean tally. In less than an hour in, it was hard to count how many yellowtail were in the cooler.
Egan and his experienced crew were happy to fillet the fish back at the marina, and that night there was a feast of grilled snapper, kingfish, filefish and ocean tally — a fish that, because of a diet consisting mostly of lobster, actually has a taste strikingly similar to the elite shellfish.
But if you’re lucky enough to catch any kingfish, Egan will show you how to make something called “redneck scallops.” You’ll be glad he did.
So when drift fishing, there may not be any tough decisions regarding what species to pursue or what baits to throw, but you may face a dilemma later that night when deciding what to throw on the grill first.
For more information on drift fishing with Sea Horse Fishing Adventures, go to www.seahorsefishingadventures.com or call Capt. Lee Egan at 561-254-5124.
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