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June 2010

Vieques, Puerto Rico -- Early June is here and our typical summer weather pattern has arrived. Recent days have brought us warm temperatures and light winds. Generally in the late spring and summer months we can expect the wind to be in the five to fifteen knot range giving us comfortable fishing conditions and very little chance of losing a great day on the water to weather.

While there is a good chance at all other blue water fish, the main target in the late spring and summer is blackfin tuna. These fish generally range from five to twenty five pounds and are great fun on light tackle. Pound for pound they are some of the strongest fighting fish in the ocean. Typically we will see birds diving on top of the tunas as they push baitfish to the surface. Tuna will usually feed furiously on the surface for a brief period and then stay down deep. We troll until we find the birds, get up wind of them and then cast lures to them on light spinning tackle which makes for very exciting fishing. If we are seeing explosions on the surface under the birds, it is usually tunas, bonitos or skipjacks . This happens because this family of fish has a big, bulky shape that displaces a lot of water, making a big splash when they feed on the surface. If we are not seeing large splashes under them they are usually over dorados (the fish that many of you may know as dolphin or by their Hawaiian name of mahi mahi). This is not always the case - sometimes they are over dolphin the mammal, not the fish.

On a recent trip, I had a family aboard from upstate New York that had never been on the ocean before. We had a decent morning of fishing, catching a handful of blackfin tunas and had a four foot dorado on for several jumps when we spotted a bunch of birds diving about a half mile outside of our location. We trolled out to the vicinity and I was briefly disappointed that the predators that were chasing the flying fish out of the water was a pod of about a hundred spinner dolphin; the mammal not the fish. I quickly realized that this was probably much more exciting for my charter than if it was just a bunch of the same fish that they’d already caught and seen before.

We stayed far enough away to not disrupt the feeding frenzy and enjoyed the show. The dolphin seemed to be corralling the flying fish in a wagon train fashion and taking turns charging through the middle with hundreds of flying fish showering out of the water. We watched until they decimated the whole school and then they came to visit with us, jumping in our bow wave and surfing our wake. It always seems to me that the dolphin are at least as excited to see us as we are to see them.

We had about a dozen dolphin playing under the bow when John, the patriarch of the family, decided to drag his hand on the surface of the deep blue ocean. What happened next was something that I had not seen before in about five thousand days on the water. Three separate dolphin surfaced and high fived the man with their pectoral fin! It wouldn’t surprise me if the dolphin said to each other “Hey guys, I just slapped that thing on the hand!” Scientists are certain that dolphin have a very complex system of communication. I’ll bet the family remembers that experience for a while.

The topic of dolphin communication reminds me of another unique experience I had a few years ago. I had a group out trolling off the continental shelf south of Key West, Florida. We had a pair of spinner dolphin, one large and one small, swim up to check us out. They were jumping in our wake and having a great time in general which seems to be their M.O. This is something that we see about once week on average. This day however was a bit different because the charter brought a big yellow labrador along for the ride. These two dolphin were visibly psyched at the presence of this dog as was he to see them. This dog was standing on his hind legs with his front paws up on the gunwale barking excitedly at the dolphin. They were paying attention to nothing except the dog as they had probably never seen anything like him. Spinners are deep sea animals that never mess around near beaches and harbors. They’d likely seen merchant sailors and fisherman before but the odds of them having encountered a yellow lab in their lives is pretty slim. They swam with us for a while and then took off. One of these beings had an obvious identifying feature. The top of his dorsal fin was bent over at a sharp angle, which I’d not seen before. They were gone for maybe thirty minutes when a huge group of dolphin reappeared with the original two in the lead. The only assumption that we could make is that they’d rounded up a huge herd of their buddies to show them this strange creature they’d found.

Taking people fishing is a great way to make a living for several reasons; and the excitement of the fishing is only one reason. You never know what you may see on any given day.

Capt. J Ferguson
Amity Fishing Charters


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