MIAMI (MCT) - For inexpensive, late-night entertainment, it is hard to beat party boat fishing on the Sea King in Islamorada.
You can escape the daytime heat, catch dinner (or maybe even several dinners) and maybe make some new friends.
The mangrove snapper are spawning, with prime-time expected from now through mid-August. Tasty, grayish-brown fish with sharp bicuspids weighing up to 10 pounds are showing up on patch reefs and rocky ledges throughout South Florida, primarily in depths of 40 to 60 feet at night, when the moon is dark.
"The dark side of this moon will be wide open the rest of the season," Sea King owner/captain Bill Hauck said.
Nearly all South Florida party boats offer night trips in the summertime, but Hauck has gone the extra step of conducting outings from 1 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. on weekends. The postmidnight excursion allows members of the Keys' service industries to go fishing after they get off of work. It also gives the boat's evening customers the opportunity to stay on board if they haven't caught their limit on their previous trip.
The 75-foot boat was sold out during a recent weekend's red-eye. Two days before, for the 8 p.m. EDT Thursday to 2 a.m. Friday trip, the boat was about half-full with 34 customers. The Sea King made two drops on the late-night voyage - the first to a 52-foot-deep rocky ledge. This was followed by the second - to a 46-foot mixed bottom of rubble and sea fans.
On the first spot, several anglers caught mangrove, yellowtail and schoolmaster snapper in the 3- to 5-pound range using cut bait on 15-to-20-pound spinning tackle with "knocker rigs" - half-ounce to one-ounce egg sinkers next to a 3/0, long-shank, live bait hook.
Hauck and mates Teri Rich and Brian Greene put out a chum bag and a circle net, hoping to attract pilchards for live bait. But the bait stayed down, and so, for the most part, did the snappers.
The deck of the Sea King alternately rang with excited shouts demanding the landing net, followed by periods of relative quiet as anglers merely waited.
David Llerena, 15, of Sunny Isles Beach, who was fishing with his father, David Sr., caught one of the largest mangroves - about 4 pounds.
"The biggest fish I ever caught," he said. "It was hard."
The fishing slowed a bit on the second spot - more yellowtails were caught, along with a couple of bonnethead sharks, but not as many mangroves.
"They're still making their way out," Hauck said of the reluctant mangroves. "Maybe they'll hang around this year. Unless we get a hurricane. Then they're gone."
© 2008, The Miami Herald.
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