Tom's Boys Wreck Show
“I have a list of places I will NOT swim, you can add this place to the list, maybe at the top!”-Tom Rowland
I’ve heard Tom say this a few times in the past couple of years, on this day I couldn’t agree more. We started the day early, meeting up at the John Pennekamp State Park boat launch on Key Largo and loading up two Yellowfin 24s with crew, Tom and Rich and Tom’s boys, Turner and Hayden. The wind was calm and the plan was to take a quick run through Florida Bay out to a gulf wreck our friend Captain Shafter Johnston of Blue Moon Expeditions said had been on fire. We rolled out and settled in for the run through the Everglades and then offshore a few miles out into the Gulf.
As we got to within a mile or so we came off plane to take a look around and approach the area cautiously. When we got a little closer we began to see surface activity and a big school of jacks appeared. Rich was driving from the tower and Tom and the boys began firing away with topwater plugs and gulp shrimp and it wasn’t long before everybody had hooked up. These were good solid jacks, and were plentiful. As you were working one school at the boat, you could see several more schools in the distance tearing up bait on the surface. After getting a few to the boat, some extra large creatures showed up and many of the jack hook ups would result in the normal screaming jack run followed by a thump and a slack line. The sharks had found us, and they were there to stay.
There were a few little blacktips cruising on the surface but these weren’t what was making our 10-15lb jacks disappear. Every now and then they were able to get a few jacks to the boat and threw a couple in the livewell to see if they could help them figure out what sort of monsters were lurking in the depths. After a while of messing with multiple schools of jacks, the big rod and harness came out and Tom and Turner deployed a jack into the scary murky water. Strangely it took a while for something to sniff it out so they started to slow troll it around the area. Big shadows appeared from time to time and eventually a big bull shark emerged behind the jack and ripped the surface with it’s dorsal fin trying to chase it down. At the last second it turned off, refusing the bait. They changed the rig up a little and eventually began hooking up. The first few big hookups resulted in cutoffs and as they worked the jacks a little more to reload the livewell, it became apparent just how many big scary critters were around.
The renewed jack action and hooked and cutoff sharks started a flurry of activity and we started to see big sharks appearing over and over again just under the surface. Several big bulls were around and hungry and a big hammerhead showed itself for a second before fading into the depths. I watched a 10-12 foot bull rise to the surface and just casually follow the boat waiting for them to hook up or maybe fall in. They concluded that the cutoffs were due to the bait slipping up the line past the wire after the initial bite and then being eaten by a second shark. Rich adjusted the rig adding a secondary hook that stopped the slippage, and soon they were locked up to a big bull. The heavy gear and teenage adrenaline and power whooped the big bull quickly and soon Tom and the boys were face to face with a big set of chompers. Turner kept the pressure on as Tom wired the beast and Hayden helped with the pliers. A few moments later the big bull slipped back down below the surface and would be chasing hooked jacks in no time I’m sure.
We worked our way back over to the wreck and they decided to try to tackle a monster of a different kind. The boys exchanged gear and another jack was deployed just above the shallow wreck. Immediately two massive Goliath Groupers rose in unison to the surface and one engulfed the 10lb jack whole. This all happened in plain sight a foot below the surface. So now Hayden was locked up to a beast which dove straight down and tried to tie him to the wreck, but after a few minutes and a couple of adult hands on his shoulders he had the big grouper boat-side. Tom grabbed its massive jaws, holding it for a closer look as Hayden removed the hook. As a photographer I love the shots of a good face grab, they show the culmination of the whole day and the relationship between angler and fish.
After some awesome visual jack action and wrestling with a few monsters, we were ready to call it a day and head back to Largo.