Deepwater Amberjack Attack!

• Sanibel Island & Fort Myers – Hot Winter/Spring Fishing
• Yellowtail Fishing – Like Munching Popcorn, Want More!
• Offshore Structure, Forage – Where Fish Giants Grow

By Forrest Fisher
“Good morning! Welcome aboard!” Captain Ryan Kane said in a confident and cheerful voice. “Welcome to Sanibel Marina. It’s going to be a great day, the weather is perfect. Meet my first mate, this is Kasey, he is also a charter captain.”

The morning sunrise provided a splash of orange and yellow color, there were beautiful long shadows, birds were tweeting the way God intended, baitfish were slurping about on the surface everywhere, and an occasional dolphin could be seen just under the surface too. Another great winter day in southwest Florida was awakening. The sweet smell of morning saltwater fog was lifting above the quiet waterfront at Sanibel Marina in Lee County, Florida, near Fort Myers.

As Captain Kane (Southern Instinct Charters, turned the ignition key to start his three (yes, three) 250 HP Yamaha 4-stroke engines on the transom, we knew this day would somehow be special. Captain Kane maneuvered the sleek 36-foot center-console Contender from the boat slip to the nearby bait shop dock to pick up his regular order of 10-dozen large live shrimp. The 50-gallon aerated saltwater bait-well was ready.

Just then, a humble voice with a giant sea-experience smile beckoned us to join him for a short talk about fishing details for the day. First mate, Kasey Szereski, had fishing gear in hand as he explained how the rods, reels and lines would be rigged for the fishing day ahead. He kept it simple, “We’re going to use lightweight jigs, simple chicken rigs and our secret chum to attract and catch Yellowtail Snapper,” he said. He voice bolstered confidence.

We were on board with good friends from Western New York, Bill Hilts and his beautiful wife, Sandy, and all of us were really happy that we could finally find some time to get together in the outdoors with a fishing line in the Florida sunshine. The first thing the girls asked was, “Is there a bathroom aboard?” Captain Ryan showed the ladies that there was a secret hold with entry from a door in front of the console that went below decks, and there was actually a walk-in “Johnny”. The girls were relieved.

Kasey continued, “We might also find some Grouper and a few other reef species of fish, including Amberjack, Cobia, Barracuda and others, sometimes sharks are nearby too. We’ll adjust to what we find and there is one thing we can guarantee, you’re going to have a great time!”

It didn’t take long to reach our destination 65 miles offshore, a communications tower rig in 70 feet of water. The water was clear and deep blue in color, and it was so smooth with little wind. Shore was not visible and it also seemed mysterious and sacred all at the same time. It was exciting.

The supporting structure at the base of the tower rested on the bottom of the Gulf, creating a matrix of fish-holding runways, complete with schools of various snapper species, blue runners, forage and all of the villains of the deep sea nearby. That included barracuda, amberjack, sharks and more.

“The fish we’re looking for are in and around the base and legs of the tower structure,” said Captain Ryan, “All we have to do is get them up here to us, so we’re going to anchor and use our secret chum to lure them out. The rest will be lots of fun for all of you.” It sounded like a great plan.

The boat was anchored with 300 feet of line and the chumming process commenced. Baitfish arrived in minutes and the fish that feed on baitfish were following. We flipped out tiny 1/16 ounce jigs with painted yellow-head jigs and live shrimp into the gentle tide current and down into the chum stream using open-face spinning reels. They were light rigs with 20-pound braided line and short fluorocarbon leaders.

It took just a few minutes for the first fish to slam the bait. From then on, it was fish frenzy. We caught fish, including Blue Runners and giant Yellowtail Snapper, most of the day. It was such fun. With either species, it took about 4 to 10 minutes to land them from the deep, they were powerful fighters. About half the time, we would get the fish half way to the boat and then a giant amberjack, cobia, shark or barracuda – some as long as 5-feet, would grab them and take off. The reels were screaming, our sore arms spoke of the rigor.

The Yellowtail were beautiful and big, some were 5 and 6 pounds each, much larger than the usual near-shore catch of the same species. These are fish that are considered among the most tasty for the dinner plate and we confirmed that the next day.

Since we were loosing so many blue runners and Yellowtail to the other predator fish, the crew decided to use one of the blue runners for a test bait trial. Using wire leader and a specially rigged hook set, the bait rig was attached to a level-wind Penn reel loaded with 200-lb test sinking line.

That worked great! We hooked up with 5 or 6 of the amberjack brutes, some of those getting chomped off by sharks. At the end of the day, Rose landed the big fish of the day, a 64 pound Amberjack, one of five or six that we played, but we lost the others, they’re a tough fish to land. She talked to the fish during the 30-minute battle in a lingo I have never heard in our 47 years of wedded bliss, “Get your silly tail in this boat, I’m a grandma, listen to me you big fish!” There might have been one or two other slurred words in there too. Then the drag would scream again, and after an arm-wrenching 30-minute battle, Kasey slipped the gap below the surface to capture the catch.

Above all this fun, we watched at least three other boats that had made the run to this offshore area, none of them had even on single hookup. Our captain knew what he doing and his expertise was plain to realize by all of us on the boat. We kept only the tasty fish, the ice cooler held several good meals.

Yellowtail Snapper fishing at its finest with my old friend, Bill Hilts (right), and two of the many fish we landed on one sunny winter day near Fort Myers, Florida.

It was an incredible fishing day and a day that all of us will never forget. That was about three weeks ago, Rose shared, “You know, I’m still flying so high from that big fish, it was so much fun.” Everlasting adrenalin moments in our memories is what having such fun in the outdoors is all about.

Winter in southwest Florida offers many opportunities and there are direct flights from many major cities to the Fort Myers airport. Just think, you could be here in a few hours just doing what you like to do.

Also nearby, there is much natural park wildlife to see, bring your camera. There is one place of special interest for history buffs, the summer homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. You can learn more about that here: Until we came here, I never knew these two American icons were good friends.

Life in winter can be fun if you take the time to get away from the snow. For more about the beaches and other sites to see, visit