It’s that time of year again where a group of guys from all over the country converge on South Florida, in this case, as in the last several years, to the remote outpost of Everglades City. I have been lucky enough to be asked to join them the last several years, for what has become known as the annual Farming Of The Sea Festival. So named in the recently defunct Rock Bottom Bar, as we “casually discussed fisheries management and the net ban” with some very interesting gentlemen in the commercial fishing industry over drinks a few years ago. In the midst of a difficult week I was only able to join a few of the guys on the first day for the fishing part of the trip. The four of us left Glades Haven Around 8am and headed into the waters of Everglades National Park in the 10,000 Islands. The tide was already pretty low, and still briskly headed out towards the gulf, as we fished a few points on the way out with a combination of lures and live shrimp. We managed a few small snapper, played with some ladyfish, and then my old man got a snook to the boat. With that we decided to head to a near shore wreck we know of, to see what would bite, before the tide turned, and would again refill the inshore areas we wanted to fish. As we got closer to the wreck, the wind started to pick up dramatically. We were still able to find it, which can be difficult, as it is very small.  I make the first cast with my trusty lure and a cloud of fish immediately rise to it and my line comes tight. The school of tiny jack crevalles follow their buddy as I quickly reel it in and get it unhooked. That started some of the hottest action I’ve seen, as we had triple and quadruple hookups for the next hour or two, just as quick as we could cast, all on artificial lures. 

After we caught a few jacks, some spotted sea trout started to take our offerings. Although most of the fish were small, we probably caught 50 spotted sea trout, a ton of jacks and ladyfish, sand trout, whiting, a decent Spanish mackerel, and I’m sure others I can’t recall. 

 A couple of the guys tried tying different baits on with the hope of enticing some larger trout, but the same just undersize fish were feeding like mad and continued hammering anything we threw at them.

In the midst of all the mayhem one of the guys hollers and says a big grouper tried to eat a sailcat he had at the side of the boat. I look back just in time to see the garbage can size swirl and the catfish trying to jump in the boat. With the recent talk of an early tarpon run going on I had brought a heavy 30# spinning setup with an 80# leader tied to an 8/0 circle hook, with the silver kings in mind. I have used the rig for grouper and jewfish before, but I prefer a 6/0 levelwind for that kind of fishing. Nonetheless I pin a sand trout on the 8/0 and send it out close behind the boat without any luck for a half hour or so as the action continued. Everyone starts to tire of the now slowing bite, and as they take a break, I have a chance to cast the bait over the tiny wreck a few times. Finally on about the third cast, the line came tight quickly, and the fairly tight drag did absolutely nothing to stop the fish I’m now hooked up with, as it strangely headed away from the structure. Just as I’m thinking it’s a shark, it turns and before I know it, the fish is rocked up in the structure. I keep pretty heavy pressure on it, and sure enough the fight is back on, only to quickly get rocked up again. Slow pressure again gets the fish loose and it then decides to try and find another hiding spot somewhere else. No amount of pressure I can exert with the 30# line will stop the fish and the line is leaving the spool at an alarming rate, when I finally say we are going to have to pull the anchor and chase the beast down if we want to see it. At this point we are fairly sure it’s a goliath grouper, with no cutoff of the fluorocarbon leader, but I have never had one leave the structure like that before.  We maneuver the boat and get right above the fish a few times and I figure I can then get the fish up enough in the only 6’ of water so that we can see it. But every time, the fish just hugs the bottom, and tears off again with nothing I can do.  After one too many times of that, and what we guess at later to be somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour, and me getting close to exhaustion, I figure it’s now or never and I start to palm the spool and give it everything I’ve got to turn the fish and get it to the surface. That’s about the time my dad mentions he doesn’t have a net and I have to laugh as I try to casually exclaim that this fish will probably not fit in the net anyhow. And we finally get a brief look at the behemoth confirmed goliath grouper that Jim states is a little bigger than the one he saw try to take his catfish earlier. It takes every ounce of energy and strength I have to stop the shorter and shorter runs and finally get it to turn and stay at the side of the boat. We see a perfect hookset in the corner of the mouth and decide to gently hold the fish at boatside where we get a few quick pictures and I am able to remove the hook without any harm to the fish. 

We all talk about the size of this monster, as this is the second largest goliath I have had to the boat. The largest I guestimated at 450# straightened a 7/0 hook before we got a leader touch, and decide this fish has to be every bit of 300# making it my biggest landed goliath, beating an estimated 250# I caught with 2 out of the 3 guys on the boat around 20 years ago. We try to get the boat going to revive the fish as necessary, but it just shakes loose of me like I’m not even there and turns it’s tail and heads back to the bottom. 

We are all awed by the incredible experience we just shared and I can’t thank Bob, Jim, and my dad enough for all their help as it took every one of us to land that fish. After high fives all around, I collapse on the poling platform with a drink and a snack trying to recharge, as we head back and reanchor on the spot. The bite appeared to be dwindling, not that I could fish if I wanted to yet, so we made the call to head back inside to fish the flooding tide. We worked quite a bit of water over the next couple of hours and caught some trout, snapper, rat reds, and lost a decent red at the boat before I needed the guys to get me back to the ramp for the trip home. And what a ride home with another incredible ENP adventure behind me.