March 3, 2015

It’s Tuesday afternoon and we’ve been at Bahia Mar for five days now. True to expectations, I’ve been using the gym and enjoying All About Food, the on-site gourmet market. Its both good and dangerous to have a market close by with good beer, wine and chocolate that stays open until 10:00. Oh, and ice cream. They have ice cream. Hand packed, on site. Yeah.

Our friend Jamie has just arrived at the boat this afternoon from Huntsville. The day is sunny and blue and the 80 degree temperatures must be a relief to him after the pounding Huntsville has taken from this winter’s series of storms. By northern standards, the weather down south has probably been pretty tame but Huntsville is not set up to handle six inch snow falls and ice. I have to say, I am kind of sorry we missed the snow back home. I’ve always enjoyed the snow and Stephanie sent us pictures of our deck covered in a heavy layer. I could just imagine us at home, having a glass of wine with a fire going in the fireplace while the snow fell outside.

After Jamie gets settled into his cabin, we walk about a mile north along the beachwalk to the Casablanca Cafe, one of our favorite places on the beach at Fort Lauderdale, for a late lunch/early dinner. It’s the start of spring break season in Ft Lauderdale and on this beautiful day the beach area is crowded. Flags representing several fraternities and sororities are planted at various points along the beach. The traffic down A1A is bumper-to-bumper, moving at a crawl, stereos thumping loudly. The crowds are well behaved and having fun though and this just adds to the festive beach atmosphere.

We grab a table on the patio and order beef carpaccio for our appetizer (its an old favorite). Cindy and I both order the Lamb Pita (a reasonable impersonation of a Greek gyro, which I love) for our main and Jamie, having eaten on the way in, opts just to have a drink with us. The restaurant sits right across the street from the beach and offers a wonderful venue for people watching. We sit, soak up the afternoon heat and get caught up on the news from back home.

Wednesday morning we drive up to Lauderale-By-The-Sea, the next town up from Ft Lauderdale, for breakfast at Country Ham and Egg. This eatery is a popular spot with the locals and we figure that since we are going out deep sea fishing in the afternoon, we probably don’t want to eat lunch beforehand in case the seas turn rough on us. A large breakfast will take us through to dinner without overfilling us. We arrive at 10:00 and luck in to a parking space on the street right around the corner from the restaurant. The place is still crowded but we are able to get a table almost immediately. Its a small restaurant and a visit to the men’s room involves going out the back and squeezing past an outdoor refrigerator to get to the facilities. Cindy orders an omlette, Jamie gets pancakes and I get my favorite, two fried eggs over easy with biscuits and gravy. The food is good and arrives quickly.

After we finish eating we wander through downtown Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, stopping to poke our heads in a couple of shops without buying anything. This part of L-B-T-S is nicely laid out, with shops, bars and restaurants lining the brick sidewalks, making for a pleasant place to stroll around. As we’re walking, Cindy gets a phone call from our daughter Stephanie, asking if we have a rope or chain at the house strong enough to pull a car out of a ditch. I immediately dislike the question. It turns out to be for a friend of hers though, so I relax.

At 1:00 we drive over to the waterfront Hilton next to the 15th St Bridge, walk through the lobby and head out the back door to the patio bar marina (it seems that every structure in Ft Lauderdale has its own marina). We are there to meet up with Captain Taco, who will be taking us deep sea fishing. Taco is a gregarious Cuban expat who has lived in the US for many years and we like him almost immediately. After getting settled in, we push off in his boat, the Hooked Up 2, and head out the Lauderdale Inlet into the open sea.

 Hooked Up 2

The Hooked Up 2

When we reach about 5 miles offshore, Taco’s son Louis sets the outriggers and baits the hooks on the reels we will be deploying for our fishing expedition. Watching Taco and his son work in unison, it’s clear they have been doing this all of their lives. Live baits and lures get attached to fishing lines which in turn get buckled onto a variety of outrigger pulleys and cast out into the sea with ballet-like grace. Its clear we won’t be taking part in any of these preparations since we wouldn’t have any idea what to do.

Once the lines are out, Taco pulls out a square red kite and proceeds to launch it into the air. Working quickly, Louis snaps a couple of lines and pulleys onto the kite string and these are sent trailing several hundred feet behind the boat. These lines are for catching the big sport billfish…swordfish, marlin and sailfish, the ones all sport fisherman dream of catching. The kite keeps the bait dancing near the surface of the water, mimicking the natural movements of the fish that they feed on. Taco works the throttle constantly, making the boat surge forward and then fall off, to make the baits’ movement appear more realistic to the fish.

We troll like this for more than an hour before we get a hit on one of our lines. Louis lets Cindy reel the fish in but its a tough job. We are in 750 feet of water (this is deep sea fishing) and that much line needs to be reeled in to land our fish. After a couple of minutes of constant reeling, she eases off to rest her burning arm for a moment and we lose the catch. Important lesson…you have to keep constant tension on the line, otherwise the fish will pull off.

Cindy Tilefish

Cindy With Her Tilefish

A few minutes later we get another hit. This time, Cindy and I set up to tag team the reel-in, spelling each other as our respective arms wear out. We call out as we get tired, making sure we’re set up to smoothly hand off the reel so as not to lose tension on the line. After several minutes of tag reeling Cindy hauls a beautiful Golden Tilefish on board the boat. Mere minutes later, we get another hit and we reel in another one in the same fashion. This time I get to pose with it.

Martin Tilefish

Me with Mine

As we continue to troll, we hear Taco suddenly shout out to his son and its clear from the tone of his voice something major is up. One of our kite lines has hooked a big one. We look out several hundred feet aft of our boat and suddenly a sailfish leaps clear of the surface and then plunges back into the water. It looks for all the world like those cliche pictures you see of “the-sport-fisherman-landing-the-big-one”.

Sailfish Breach

Our Sailfish Broaches the Water

Its clear that even though these fishing charter boats make their living spoon feeding deep sea fish to amateurs like us, Taco and Louis are excited. This is somewhat of a rarity and they don’t want to lose it. Louis sets Cindy in the “combat fishing chair” (by his dad’s description, Louis is a bit of a ladies man and his preference for Cindy is obvious!) so she can reel the big one in. However, this is a big fish and he’s a long way off and Cindy soon declares she can not pull him in, especially after having reeled so much on our last two tilefish. We quickly change places in the chair and I start reeling and pulling.

Louis instructs me to pull back SLOWLY on the rod to pull the fish in and then quickly drop the rod down and reel like crazy to take up the slack I just created. I do my best not to try and muscle the rod back since this risks pulling the hook loose and losing the fish, but its tough since this is a natural instinct. A couple of times the fish takes off and runs, paying back out the line that I just spent a lot of energy pulling in. But each time he tires out and I start reeling him back in again.

As the fish gets close to the boat, Taco yells down and asks me if I want to keep him as a trophy or let him go. Sailfish (which is what we’ve hooked) are not good eating, so all we could do with this catch is to stuff him and have him mounted for display. Honestly, I have no desire to collect trophies just for the hell of it and this magnificent creature deserves a better fate, so I opt to let him go. As I pull him alongside the boat, Louis reaches out and grabs him so we can pose for a photo op and so Louis can remove the hook. He is a beautiful sight laying alongside our boat, running about 80 pounds, five to six feet in length with a long spike and a broad magnificent sail with patches of iridescent blue. Louis pulls the hook loose and then holds him by the mouth for a minute, dragging him through the water as the boat motors forward. He explains that letting the water run through him like this will help revive the fish after the tiring struggle. I bid our sailfish a final Namaste and then Louis releases him back to the ocean.


Landing The Big One

We fish for another 45 minutes or so and hook another fish on one of our reels. Jamie tries hauling this one in but it breaks free and we lose it. As we’re heading back in to shore, I ask Captain Taco for any preferred methods for cooking fresh tilefish. He tells me that as bad as it may sound, they have found that microwaving it with a little butter and garlic powder produces the best, most tender fish. My soul violently rejects the notion of preparing food in a microwave and Taco can tell. He reassures me that he loves to cook…the slicing, chopping, dicing, sauteing…and putting on jazz and drinking a glass of wine while doing it. But he swears this method really does produce the juiciest, most tender fish. I perceive that he is a kindred spirit (jazz AND wine!) and decide to trust his advice.

Back at the Hilton marina, Louis fillets our two tilefish and we pack it back to our boat in a ziplock bag. I rinse our fillets, sprinkle them with salt, pepper, garlic powder and then mount them with several pats of butter. Each plate goes into the microwave for a couple of minutes (its a low power oven) and then gets served with rice and sugar snaps peas. As much as I almost hate to admit it, the fish is cooked perfectly and we all enjoy it.

Total Distance Traveled: 377 miles