The 32nd annual Crosthwait Memorial Fishing Tournament may have ended a week ago, but Capt. Danny Pool and Jay Travis of Team SeaVeeChe are probably still recovering.
Despite missing two team members, the perennial tournament contenders were determined to fish hard and traverse deep into the Gulf of Mexico. With a live well full of bait, the gas tanks topped off and all the necessary safety equipment, Pool and Travis were headed west shortly after noon Friday aboard Pool's 31-foot Contender.
After nearly seven hours of driving through moderate seas, they approached their first spot, where they would be fishing in depths approaching 600 feet.
"The first few spots were pretty discouraging," Pool said. "It was shark after shark. We lost a lot of bait. At night when sword fishing, we caught more sharks. When we woke up Saturday morning, we had nothing in the cooler."
Sticking to the game plan, the crew ran south for 50 miles, which Travis described as the "roughest part of the trip," when they headed directly into 3- to 4-foot waves for nearly four hours. But that run proved well worth it; Pool said the fishing was incredible.
"We caught a 34-pound wahoo almost immediately. After we started fishing again, a Shimano Tiagra 50W was absolutely screaming and almost spooled. Jay fought the fish for about 40 minutes while I drove. It was another huge wahoo, probably 90 pounds. I had the gaff ready when the hook pulled out right next to the boat. That fish might have won us the tournament."
They turned their attention to the bottom and sent huge baits 500 feet below in an attempt to catch a warsaw grouper. It wasn't long before a monster jumped on the bait, and the tug of war began.
After 20 minutes, "a huge warsaw over 100 pounds" was well away from the wreck below and halfway off the bottom, when once again a hook pulled.
The efforts then switched to amberjack, and if you've ever fought an amberjack, you know it's extremely hard work as they are one of the toughest fish in the ocean. In search of a giant, Travis and Pool took turns fishing.
"We caught probably 30 amberjack, all around 50 pounds. We wanted two bigger fish and by the end of it, we were both exhausted. We'd take turns driving the boat and fighting the fish," Pool said. They kept one amberjack at 51 pounds.
After another move, they set up on a spot in 350 feet of water. The fishing Pool described was nothing short of incredible.
"We would free-line a bait, and it would get hit by a tuna immediately, even though we were trying to bottom-fish. On the bottom, it would also be a fish as soon as the bait was down. Most of the time it was either a big gag grouper or a huge red snapper."
On the surface, they landed around 20 tuna with the biggest a 35-pound blackfin, huge for the Gulf of Mexico. Eventually, they had to stop free-lining baits in order to stop catching tuna and focus their efforts on bottom fishing.
From the bottom, they hand-cranked a dozen gag grouper between 30 and 45 pounds, around 15 red snapper to 30 pounds and a few other fish, including a 39-pound warsaw grouper. Oh, and a 5-pound weight needed to get the baits down that deep had to be cranked up each drop. Due to current regulations, the gag grouper and the red snapper were released to live another day.
"We could have caught fish until our arms fell off," Pool said.
By the weigh in Sunday afternoon, Pool and Travis had spent more than 48 hours on the boat. They were exhausted, mostly because the fishing was nonstop and didn't allow them to rest.
Their catch was good for second place and $3,000.
Worth it? Maybe. Will it happen again?
"I don't think we're doing that trip again with only two of us for a long time," Pool said.