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Sportsman's Challenge Pays Off for Junior Anglers

Attentive readers of Florida Sportsman Magazine have been noticing the contests announced each month on page 10. In the September 2012 issue, we issued a Challenge to Junior Anglers, "Best Story Wins a Reel."  We had a number of submissions capturing exciting days of fishing with friends and family. First and second place winners, selected by the magazine editors, won a new Penn Spinfisher V reel. (To read about the new Penn Spinfisher V series, click here.) Third place finisher won a box of Sebile lures.

Printed here is the first place story, by Forum Member BigFinn35. His goal: Capture an amberjack, among the hardest-pulling fish in Florida waters. You can also read BigFinn's story, and other submissions, on the original Forum post by clicking here. Second place story was from Blindbandit3343, and third place, Guitarshredder1. 

Be sure to read FS Magazine for more contests, including the ongoing "Tag a Phin" and "Reef Roundup." -- Jeff Weakley, Editor


I'm 16 and have lived in Florida since I was two. My earliest fishing memories are of my dad taking me out on our little Bayliner after church and catching tons of trout, flounder, and pompano. Though I moved to Sarasota later and joined the local rowing team, my love for fishing stayed. I fish whenever I can, whether it be for bass in my local golf course ponds or for snook and reds in the bay. But my real domain is offshore. While we are part of the Freedom Boat Club and don't own a boat, the 23- and 25-foot NauticStars available for use at their locations on Sarasota, Bradenton, and Englewood do fine for a run out to the grouper hole! Before last week, I had tons of fun offshore. Over the years, I'd caught cobia, snapper, grouper, bonita, mackerel of all types, and quite few sharks! But the one fish that had me entranced but stayed out of my reach was the mighty amberjack. I'd heard tales from my dad about their tremendous power and speed, as well as their taste once they were smoked and spread on a cracker! Naturally, I felt obligated to catch one of these monsters. But to no avail. I tried live baits, frozen baits, cut baits, and every jig in the box. But over my 3 years of fishing for them, not a single AJ ever came to the boat.

Resigning myself to an AJ-less life, I began posting on the Forum about my trips, inshore and off. Browsing the West Central and Southwest sections, I came across reports from a massive partyboat that made trips every week to the Middle Grounds. Suddenly, I had a goal. I begged my parents to go. I weeded and mulched for hours to earn my money, but the time was just never right. Finally, close to two years later, I got a package on my birthday. Enclosed was the receipt for two tickets on the Florida Fisherman II! Elated, I almost began rigging up then and there. For the whole summer I waited, making do with snook and some big trout with my fishing buds and the occasional offshore trip. Finally, August 31 arrived. Me, my dad, and my fishing partner Radik (fishingkid315) loaded our gear on the partyboat and set off for our destination: offshore to the Middle Grounds! After watching the people that chose to troll catch a few mackerel, I hit the bunks.

12:30 AM, the alarm sounds: Start fishing! I head to my spot along with close to 50 other anglers and drop my bait deep. Throughout the night, we pounded the mangrove snapper, with 12 keepers for me, as well as a few grouper.

Finally, the sun rose. This was what I'd been dreaming of: AJ central. When the sun made its full appearance, it was as if a switch had been thrown. All around me, people were grunting and groaning, their rods bent to the water from the big jacks. The deckhands rushed back and forth, gaffing the fish and slinging the 30- or 50-lb fish into the giant fishboxes. Brimming with excitement, I hooked up a pinfish on my biggest rod and lowered it slowly. 1...2...3... nothing. I hit bottom and got a bite, then reeled up another nice mango. Good fish,, but not what I was looking for.

Fast-forward 6 hours.

By now, I was slightly depressed, and had resigned myself to what I thought was my fate. My only hint of an AJ had been one huge hit and a 15-second fight that ended in a tangle and a cut line. I was consoled by the fact that this had still been an awesome trip, with lots of nice fish, but it seemed everyone except me was constantly hooked up with a nice AJ. I had been getting some good mangos on live grass grunts, so I baited up and repeated the ritual of sending it down. By now I had stopped my tactic of sending it down very slowly, in hopes of an amberjack taking my live bait on the way down. I watched my spool, making sure no backlash was coming. About 3/4 of the way to the bottom, I felt a burning on my finger. My bait had suddenly gotten about 50 times heavier, and line was flying of the reel. Shocked, I quickly engaged the spool and began reeling. As the line came tight, My rod jerked downwards with a force I had never felt before.

My depressed state of mind lifted faster than a robin next to a hungry cat, and i braced myself against the boat's rail for better leverage. My dad, excited that I finally got a good hookup, said, "Daniel, lift your rod for a photo!" My only reply was a glare and a hissing "I can't!" The fish fought like nothing I had caught on a grouper rod, stripping the clamped-down drag like it was nothing. I had missed two of my workouts for rowing to make this trip, but what was happening now was a pretty good substitute! After 20 minutes of reeling, sweating, grunting, and pulling, plus lots of cooperation from the other anglers, I saw color 10 feet down. I yelled for a gaff, and the deckhand waited beside me as my thick AJ came topside. Long story short, he was on ice 2 minutes later- after some photos, of course!

I was beyond thrilled with the fulfillment of my goal, one I had waited 4 years for. Flushed with success, I dropped again, and got the same result.

There was my 2-day limit, within 10 minutes! While the rest of the trip was amazing, and something I will certainly do again, that first AJ was the highlight of all my offshore experiences. While they may be trash to some, the amberjacks of the Gulf of Mexico have my everlasting respect and admiration. And my first was undoubtedly my favorite fishing experience.

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