Ever Seen a 90lbs Amber Jack?

Now every offshore angler loves a good tale of dedication, careful planning and a skillfully executed record catch…. this is not that tale. Those guys were somewhere else and we were all that was available. So here is what happened instead.

So this story really starts back before Christmas when several friends and I went spearfishing way offshore in 150′ of water.  On that trip we got some very large amberjacks (69lbs and 82lbs) and I was pretty sure I saw a cubera snapper for just an instant in the low visibility. I was willing to concede that I could have been suffering  from narcosis due to the depth. I was pretty sure its tail was as tall as my torso from hip to shoulder though and I got a really good look at the scales.  But I had doubts about what my own eyes were reporting so we didn’t back dive the site that day. That split second has haunted me ever since and I made up my mind that at the very least almacos and AJs were worth going back for a second peek. A month later we finally got our break in the weather and my charter boat wasn’t booked so we headed out to the deep reef.

This is the same spot I saw the cubera last time. My buddy and I prepare to dive, double checking our gear and that our Go Pros are recording. This spot is just at 150′ to the sand and sometimes the current out here can get pretty extreme, so we always drop the marker buoy at the same time the divers hit the water to eliminate any lateral swimming in the column that you might have to do if the current has already pushed it far off the top of the site. Well that’s well and good except the last guys to run a spearfishing trip on my boat must have had the buoy get snagged as there was no weight and only about 50′ of line on it. We will have just 15 minutes of bottom time before we will have to ascend due to the amount of nitrogen we will have absorbed into our bodies. So as we prepare to dive bomb the ledge we hope for great visibility and no current so we can see and easily swim to the reef.   Fate was on our side though, vis is 60′ or better and the dark limestone stands out starkly against the sand below us as we kick past 70′ and get swallowed in a swarm of Almaco jacks. 70 or more almaco jacks envelope us for the entire dive from this point until we return to the surface.

The top of the limestone is in about 126′ deep and as we get the lay of the land hovering over the high side of the break , some truly large and very curious AJs start creeping by us amidst the Almacos. On any other trip I would be slinging steel into the Almacos, but I am a man on a mission. I came for my date with a cubera snapper and that is all I care about. Copper belly gags are visible in the distance warily watching us as well. I ignore them as soon as I can make out their body shape as grouper. Cubera are the holy grail of Gulf Spearfishermen because they are fast, strong, smart and incredibly wary.  He isn’t out in the open, so I decide to check under the ledge which also holds a small cave that we have yet to explorer more than 10′ into.  As I drop down and kick on the bayonet style mounted flashlight on my Ocean Rhino I don’t see anything under the 10′ ledge UNTIL…. a 120lb baby goliath grouper shoots out and silts up the whole ledge reducing the visibility to zero.  RATS!!

I take the moment to collect the 2 halves of a broken fishing rod that has been laying in the sand and then decide that the Cubera will have to wait for another day as I am not about to crawl into a cave at the bottom of the ocean with zero visibility and hope to corner several fish as large as I am. So plan B was to get a nice jack.  So with our nitrogen limit rapidly approaching, I decide to get off the bottom to preserve my remaining minutes of the dive. Almacos and a few really nice amberjacks that look better than 40lbs are circling in range. I start to load my spearshaft and notice one of the big jacks eying me and actually swimming towards me!  I stop watching it and just focus on loading, knowing it is going to be right on top of me when I band the gun. Sure enough, the AJ comes with in 5′ of me. I try to line up for the sweet spot; the fish actually gets closer and swims between me and the low piece of the ledge forcing it on a completely predictable path. I pull the trigger with my thumb, the AJ is just a few feet off the spear tip.  I prepare myself for the epic war that usually happens when a diver shoots a large, powerful fish.  My plan was to try to get a hand in the fish’s gills and scissor lock my legs around his tail to immobilize it and then finish it with my dive knife. The fish will buck and head butt me in the face to get me to let go if I can grab it.  I have had my nose busted, mask broken and regulator ripped out of my mouth in the past.

Anticlimactically due to the closeness of the fish, my shot instantly turns his lights off and there is no struggle. I quickly secure my fish to my stringer and double check on my buddy. He is also holding a nice Almaco on his stringer and we begin our ascent. I decide to launch my fish to the surface on a lift bag to the waiting boat and we slowly ascend with me thinking how awesome the dive would have been if we could have gotten the cubera.

When we get on the boat I am amazed to see the jack laid out and taking up the entire 320quart cooler with its tail curled up the side. It is completely obscuring the two 45lb jacks and several scamp that our other divers got on their dive site earlier. I grossly underestimated its size on the bottom. The guys on the boat are still complaining about having to lift it into the cooler.

Back at the Bay Point Marina we use their Retired billfish weigh tower to mount our digital scale and figure out exactly how big this fish is….. and it turns out to be my biggest to date at 89.5lbs! Proving once again it is far better to be lucky than good. Even better, upon reviewing the camera footage you can clearly see the large Cubera snapper make a break into the cave earlier in the dive, I never noticed it in the open but there it was! So we’ll be back out on the deep reef as soon as the weather clears.

Short of going to the Keys or Hawaii, Panama City Beach has some of the best diving in the country.  Want to dive Panama City?  Visit PanamaCityDiving.com

Weekly Fishing Report by Sunjammers

We used to have this featured from time to time and have had numerous requests to have it back.  So, here we go!

This week’s fishing report, brought to us by Sunjammers, reports that Panama City Beach fishing is great inshore.  West Bay is very productive with redfish being sight-fished on the flats and very good sized trout being caught. Pier fishing is extremely slow but should pick up rapidly with the rising water temperatures.

As usual, visit the Sunjammers Facebook page for daily fishing forecast and up to the minute reports.

Weekly Half Hitch Fishing Report


BAY FISHING In January, the trout and redfish are in the deeper holes and up into the canals. Live shrimp is the bait of choice with the lightest weight possible to keep your baits under control. For this time of year, the Gulf canal is a great place to fish. You can start past Raffield’s Fisheries continue to the “T”. The Port St Joe Marina is a favorite trout hole with the smaller trout far outnumbering large ones at the onset of January, but will increase in size by the end of the month. Big redfish can be caught trolling Mann’s Stretch 25’s in the bay or throwing big soft plastics. The key for the big reds is to look for any bird activity. Continue reading “Weekly Half Hitch Fishing Report”

Half Hitch Tackle Fishing Report


Few anglers reporting from offshore yet again this week due to frigid temperatures however, many anglers are gearing up and readying their boats for trolling. Winter months are excellent times to troll for grouper. Mann’s stretch series lures and Yozuri deep diving plugs are very effective lures for this type of bottom fishing. Traditional bottom fishing techniques are still your best tactic for grouper beyond depths of about Continue reading “Half Hitch Tackle Fishing Report”

Redfish Riviera – Monthly Fishing Report

The month of March can be hit or miss for weather but can be very exciting for inshore or offshore fishing. If you are headed out into the blue water, do not forget to check the weather before heading out. The Gulf can turn into a washing machine without notice and turn a great day on the water into a nightmare.

Keep in mind that Black / Gag Grouper season is closed until March 31st and Red Grouper is closed until March 15th. AJ’s are the hot bottom bite. They can be caught in about 80 feet of water over wrecks. In addition to the AJ bite, you are sure to have fun with the triggerfish and beeliners this month. Please check you FWC regulations prior to your trip for updates.

Going to troll or pole the flats? A slow reel is the key – flats fish aren’t fond of cold water. Some trout may be caught on the flats but you will find the majority of the catch to take place in deep holes of 10 to 15 feet, around structure / docks, around canals and inlets. I find that a jerkbait on a 1/4 oz jighead or live shrimp is the ticket.

The bays are covered up with bluefish. The blues will hit anything thrown their way. Also, Sheephead are in the bay around docks and in the pass around the jetties. The best way to catch these sheephead is to rig with a light leader and small circle hook. I have found it favorable to scrape barnacles off pilings and docks then start fishing with sand fleas. If the sheephead see your line your done!

snapp-2Redfish are being caught in bayous on oyster beds and docks. Some smaller reds are making their way to the flats but the bigger reds are still in deeper water. Just throw a 4 inch Berkley Gulp or live pinfish around docks and the jetties. I suggest – if you are fishing in the pass,  fish the outgoing tide, a one ounce SPRO jig and hang on – look for diving birds, as those big bulls are lurking below. There have been some reports of slot reds being caught on the flats using top water plugs.

The Dan Russell Pier is currently closed for construction. The Pier is scheduled to re-open Summer of 2010.


100_4111-300x228Melvin and Buffington Brave the Storm to Win Emerald Coast Redfish Club’s First Series Event 20+ knot winds, thunderstorms, and a tornado watch made for horrific fishing conditions as Panama City Beach hosted the first stop on the Emerald Coast Redfish Club’s Tour.  Jason Melvin and Brian Buffington found a way to capture the win and emerge as the Tour’s first leaders of the season.

“The weather was a concern on Friday before the event,” said Team Redfish Riviera’s Captain, Daniel Snapp. The weather folks were calling for 20+ knot winds, seas 6 to 8 feet and protected waters rough all day Friday and at 4:00 am Saturday morning – they were right!

100_4108-300x229Taking everything in consideration, the first event of the year, severe weather conditions and a new location at Bay Point Marina in Panama City Beach – the tournament ended up a huge success, said Tournament Director, Mike Schweppe. We ended up launching 32 of the 33 boats expected for the event.

Team Redfish Riviera, presented by Southern Peanut Producers and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, listed two teams for this event. However, the boat captained by Sean Fields ran into early engine problems and left he and his partner, Co-Owner of Team Redfish Riviera, Steve Bailey on the dock. “I am very disappointed,” uttered Captain Fields. We will be back and will give our sponsors, Redfish Riviera, Southern Peanut Producers and Margaritaville something to rave about. Team Redfish Riviera, captained by Daniel Snapp brought in one fish to give them a top ten finish.

img_0291-300x198Team Redfish Riviera, presented by Southern Peanut Producers and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville look on as their fish is weighed for a top ten finish.

Topping off the event was a second place finish by the 2008 IFA Gulf Coast Division Champion, Fred Myers and his partner Pete Turner. For more information and official results, please visit http://www.theredfishclub.com. The next event is scheduled for March 28th in Pensacola Beach, Florida.