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Chasing Down A “Biloxi Triple” Capt. Earl enjoys a 3-fish challenge

By Bobby Cleveland

The Clarion-Ledger

bcleveland@clarionledger.com

BILOXI – The fish box was full of big sow red snapper and several nice mangrove snapper that assured his passengers would eat well for months.

But, for Robert Earl McDaniel, or Captain Earl as he is known, there was disappointment when he steered his 25-foot Whipasnapa back to port.

The fish box was one fish short of a Biloxi triple.

It wasn’t that Capt. Earl struck out. It was more that his fishing party failed to get the cobia needed to complete what McDaniel calls a Biloxi triple – catching cobia, red snapper and mangroves on the same trip.

We had our chances, thanks to McDaniel. We hooked one fish twice, and lost it both times. We caught one short cobia and another keeper broke off at the boat.

“The real Biloxi triple is to catch 200 pounds of all three, and we do it all the time, especially in May and June and then again in September and October,” McDaniel said. “Those are the four months that the cobia are passing through and in biggest supply.

“As for the snapper, both types are always on the rigs. We can catch all we want of those just about anytime we want to go. Of course, there’s a season now on red snapper, so from Nov. 1 to April 20, we can’t keep them.”

Last Monday, in the Gulf of Mexico south of here, McDaniel had us on snapper immediately and we began to fill the fish box.

By 10 a.m., the captain had to rearrange the fish in the box to make sure they were all iced.

`If it’s digging a hole …’

The mangroves came first, hitting at the first rig.

When McDaniel turned us south to the second oil rig, the big red snapper turned on.

Capt. Earl handed me about a three-quarter pound chuck of king mackerel to use for bait.

It looked like, well …

“We call it a pork chop; that’s what the big sow snapper like, a big thick slab of meat,” he said.

I dropped it down to the bottom in 120 feet of water, then reeled it about 10 feet back up.

I felt a nibble. Then another and then … WHAM!

“That’s how it happens,” McDaniel said. “The little snapper will peck at the pork chop until the big sow shows up and eats it all in one big gulp.”

I cranked as hard as I could and could barely gain an inch on the fish. Then it really got hard.

“If it feels like it’s trying to dig a hole in the bottom of the ocean, that’s a big sow snapper,” Capt. Earl said. “That’s what the sows will do.”

This one was trying its best to dig another oil well adjacent to the ones already pumping oil to the rig beside us.

It took me 15 minutes to pump and grind the big fish to the top.

“About 15 pounds,” McDaniel said. “That’s good but we’re after 20s and up.”

Not me, I thought, not if the 15s were that much effort.

`… then it’s a sow’

Fortunately for me, the 15 was as big as I caught. Also fortunately for me, my partners Joe and Dave caught several bigger ones.

But it was Capt. Earl who had the magic touch and he kept hooking and reeling 20 pounders like it was easy.

Robert Earl McDaniel, 40, began Whipasnapa Charters two years ago.

Seemed at the time to be a natural progression for this Grenada native who has lived most of his life on the coast.

“I love fishing,” he said. “I love the Gulf, and I’d be fishing every chance I had anyway. It’s not so much the thrill of catching them myself as it is seeing others catching them.”

He’s good at that. His brother Randy, of Grenada, holds the state record for cobia at 106 pounds, caught with Capt. Earl during the 1996 Gorenflo Cobia tournament.

“A $30,000 fish,” Capt. Earl said.

He has his sights set on two more state records, for both red and mangrove snapper. He wants his clients to catch them.

“I’ve had people have them on before, only to lose them,” he said. “We’ll get them sooner or later.”

Now that would be Biloxi Triple to be proud of.