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Blue Waters, White Knuckles, Red Snapper – All In a Day on the Gulf

By Bobby Cleveland

bcleveland@clarionledger.com

BILOXI – Capt. Earl was only an hour south of Horn Island when the Gulf of Mexico turned blue.

Flying fish were jumping from wave to wave, and Robert Earl McDaniel had his Whipasnapa charter boat pointed at a distant oil rig and was racing to get lines in the water.

His three fishermen, me included, were holding on with everything we had. I had a death grip, highlighted by my white knuckles, on the gunnel rail.

“Boys,” Capt. Earl said, “this is some pretty water, I just hope it’s not too pretty.”

Capt. Earl, who specializes in finding big red snapper – he calls the really big ones, all females, sows – in the Gulf, was anxious.

After having several trips cancelled or postponed by bad weather, he was ready.

In addition to fishing for a living, Capt. Earl just plain loves fishing.

Especially for sow snapper.

We were out in the Gulf June 10 the day before the Mississippi Gulf Coast Bill fish Classic.

Those boats, which would leave later that day to find marlin and tuna further off shore, would enjoy seeing the blue water. Turns out it wasn’t such a good omen for us.

At our first rig, we couldn’t get a bite. At the second, we caught a couple of undersized red snapper and grouper and were getting discouraged.

That’s when Capt. Earl taught us a lesson.

Having watched us struggle, he grabbed a big pole, put on a really big chunk of cut bonito for bait and dropped hes line 120 feet to the bottom of the oil rig.

After reeling it up a few feet, he stopped, braced his feet and took a good grip on the pole.

Within a minute, I felt the boat rock and heard a loud grunt.

I turned and saw Capt. Earl’s pole, which looked like a broom stick, bent almost double.

Yep! This was a big fish.

About 10 minutes later, the fish was whipped, photographed and iced down. Capt. Earl was drying his hands,smiling.

“Told you we’d find the sows.’ he said. “You just gotta know what to feed them and be patient.”

One by one, we all added sows to the box. We also added a keeper grouper, a few mangrove snapper and some smaller reds. We hooked several other big sows, but lost them to barracuda, sharks and bad luck before we got them up.

We finished the day with 10 red snapper, six short of the limit.

But, when you’re catching sows, especially those like Capt, Earl puts in the boat you don’t need many to fill a big fish box.

Then on the ride in, while you white-knuckle the rail, you can dream of future meals.