GULF BARRACUDA PAYBACK
It was a beautiful day to fish. My friends retired career Marine and Air America pilot for ten years in Laos, "Lucky" Waller and retired Army Green Beret Len "Champ" O'Donovan were my fishing buddies for the trip to the blue water 40 miles south of Pensacola Sea Buoy. We departed the boat dock an hour before daylight to reach the edge of the drop off just after sunup. The seas were calm and the Saratoga made 28 knots with the V-8 engine near max power on the way out. We had four lines rigged and ready to put out when we approached the first fishing spot at 35 miles. We had a Penn 50 and a Shimano 30 on the planer lines and two Shimano 20's on the surface lines. Lucky was in his usual position when not fighting fish-lying flat on his back on the deck behind the seat pedestals. He claimed his heart caused him to feel weak and he had to rest. My suspicion was that Lucky was easily seasick and would never admit it. Len was sitting in a deck chair I had brought along. Only a few weeks earlier, Len had lost his leg at the knee due to circulation problems. This was his first trip since his operation. Len chain smoked and would not stop even to save his limb.
The Loran showed we were a half mile from the fish spot when I pulled the throttle back and slowed to 7 knots troll speed. Len already had his planer line ready to drop a duster and cigar minnow bait down behind the left stern. I put the heavy planer with duster and cigar minnow out on the right stern and let it go back and down about 40 feet. I then put out the two high surface lines. The longest rod had a duster and cigar minnow about 200 feet back while the nearest one was at 100 feet with a new King lure I was trying for the first time. I told Lucky that we were ready to fish. Lucky stayed on his back and said, "I'll get up and man the lines when we get a strike." Apparently, the slow troll was making him even sicker than he felt on the drive out.
When the Loran depicted us 200 feet out, I warned the crew, "Stand by your lines. We're getting close!"
The fish finder began to show lots of targets below as the bottom rose to greet us. Suddenly three of the reels commenced screaming almost simultaneously. Lucky literally jumped off the boat deck and grabbed the medium long line with the King lure. He was cranking the reel as he pulled the rod from the holder. I brought the throttle to idle and ran for the remaining bent rod. Grabbing the deep planer line, I reeled as I watched Len O'Donovan hopping on one leg rapidly reeling with his right hand while his pole was bowed as with a heavy fish. The fish on my line was big and a fighter but I had the Penn 50 and brought a 25 pound Barracuda up to the surface and gaffed it aboard quickly. Looking over at Len to see how he was doing, I saw his pole suddenly go almost straight as though he had lost his fish. Lucky had a 15 pound King close enough to gaff so I gaffed it and lifted it into the boat. I kept the gaff in the body of the King as it beat the boat with its head and tail. I reached beside the seat pedestal and pulled out my club. Two whacks across the eyes of the King Mackerel and it quivered and became quiet.
Occasionally I was asked by Tommy Holmes, owner of Outcast Bait and Tackle, Pensacola, Florida, to teach a class on King Mackerel fishing. I would start with a question. "What is the difference between meat and fish?" The answers would be many and varied but most common being. "Fish are better for your health." I would provide them with the correct answer, "You don't beat your fish." Then I tell them to disregard that answer because you must beat your fish or you will get hurt catching King Mackerel. I showed them a couple of "night sticks"' that would work best. A nice grip, light weight but hard enough to put a really big fish to sleep.
Len reeled his fish to the surface. It was a big King Mackerel but it had no fight. Taking the gaff over to bring Len's King into the boat I saw only half of what had once been a 20 pound King Mackerel. The King had been sliced in half. What remained felt like it might weigh ten pounds. Surely a Barracuda had gotten to the King while it was busy fighting Len.
We trolled over the spot several times and soon had six Kings which was our limit. We then followed a weed line until we hooked a Bull Dolphin and then headed home with our catch.
We parked the boat at Sherman Cove and then carried the 200 Qt. fish cooler to the cleaning stalls. Len's half King was first to be cleaned. Without the tail end, the fish had to be skinned in reverse. I took the electric knife to the tail stub and sliced up the spine to the gill and then flipped the fish over and continued down the skin producing a long filet on each side. I noticed the King's stomach was gorged so I slit it open. There was a Barracuda in the King's stomach. It was a foot long and weighed probably 3 lbs. We marveled at the size of the Barracuda and how the King was still going for more fish. Greed had to have been the reason because the size of that Barracuda precluded stuffing any more bait inside the King. We theorized that the King ate the young Barracuda and Mama Barracuda was upset enough over that violence that she got even with the King.
Payback is HELL!