A Florida Keys Summer Dolphinfish Story
On July 17th, 2022, Captain Marty Lewis was a man on a mission. That mission was to help Vinny Yeager, age 66, catch his first Dolphinfish (Mahi-Mahi). Just eight months before, Vinny had the trip of a lifetime along with his son Nick aboard the very same vessel. Captain Marty helped Vinny catch his first Sailfish. In fact, Vinny also caught his second and third Sailfish that day!
Main Attraction Co-Owner Katie Lewis enjoyed the article and video about the trip as well as receiving positive feedback on it from her customers. Katie decided a summer trip was a good idea and she extended another generous offer to Nick and Vinny Yeager. They could return in the summertime to try and help Vinny catch his first Mahi!
When Katie asked Nick what dates he had in mind, he thought about the many hours his Dad spent catching small Mangrove Snappers in the canals and ponds of the Florida Keys and near his home in Melbourne, Florida. Nick thought his Dad would get a kick out of catching much larger ones on the Reef. Katie agreed that combining a summertime Mahi Trip with the Mangrove Snapper spawn was a great idea, but planning a fishing trip six months in advance means no guarantee of success.
Katie mentioned she had lined up a summer fish camp for July 15th and 16th, with the 17th as an optional weather day. Katie and Captain Marty chose this weekend because it was a few days after a full moon, and they knew there was a good chance the Snapper bite would be good. Since the summer weather is rarely poor, she invited Nick and Vinny down for that weekend to fish on the 17th if the optional weather day was available. They could go fishing, shoot videos, and take photos with the professional photographer she had scheduled for the fish camp.
On July 16th Nick drove down from Melbourne, Florida, with his father Vinny, his mother Nati, and his wife, Bruna. Everyone enjoyed the beautiful picturesque drive through each key (island). On the way down, the Yeager Family stopped at the Famous Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada for lunch. They had a lovely meal and quite a few laughs while feeding the Tarpon!
The next stop was the Dolphin Research Center so Nati could realize her dream of swimming with Dolphins (Porpoise). Four years ago, Nati decided it was time to overcome her lifelong fear of the water and learn how to swim. Knowing what this meant to her, Vinny arranged a Dolphin encounter for his wife at the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon, Florida. Shortly after arriving, Nati fulfilled her dream of swimming with dolphins! After a nice dinner, the Yeager family returned to the hotel to get some rest; after all, the guys had a big day planned!
The next day, on the morning of July 17th, Captain Marty Lewis pulled the Main One out of his slip at the Marathon Sailfish Marina. Nick and Vinny were excited and wondered what the day might bring. Captain Marty mentioned he had been Tuna fishing the day before, and it was pretty good, but Mahi fishing would remain to be seen.
Captain Marty ran a few miles West and anchored up in 25 feet of water. The Mate for the day was also named Nick! Everyone had a good laugh because both Nick’s were dressed identically. It was pretty funny. Both had dark beards, the same royal blue Main Attraction shirt, the same navy blue Main attraction hat, and the same color shorts even! The Mate Nick dropped a chum block as the boat pulled up to the area. He then headed to the bow to set the anchor with Marty at the helm.
The rocket launcher was filled with light tackle rods and reels outfitted with a knocker rig, a small lead that slid up and down the line with a small hook. Everyone grabbed a rod and started dropping down to the bottom with a piece of cut bait. The moment each bait hit bottom, there was furious tapping on all of the lines. The Mangrove Snapper were there in full force and hungry as ever!
Because of the sheer number of fish under the boat, it was quite tricky to hook the fish. Mangrove Snappers have many sharp teeth and will voraciously nibble the bait right off the hook if you let them. The trick was to ignore the taps until you got the tug and set the hook. As soon as they hooked a fish, it was essential to lift and wind as quickly as possible to get the fish up and away from the rocks, where they will break the light fishing line with ease.
Nick Yeager holds one of the many Mangrove Snapper they caught that morning.
After the fishing heated up, the group switched to whole ballyhoo baits and live bait to try and catch some of the larger fish. They also hooked the occasional grouper that morning, some small ones caught and released, and others lost to the rocks. The bite was fast and furious; it was all hands on deck to quickly get those snappers in the fish box and head offshore to look for Vinny’s first Mahi.
Vinny Yeager holding up one of the smaller Grouper he caught that morning.
Eventually, the bite slowed down, but by then they were nearly limited out on Snapper anyways. The photographer JJ put on fins and jumped in the water to get footage of the remaining Mangrove Snappers beneath the boat. He brought a spear gun and took the opportunity to shoot the last two Snapper of the day and get some neat footage.
Once they limited out on Snapper, it was time to head offshore. It was still overcast and looked like it would be a better day for Tuna than Mahi. The plan was to head toward the Tuna Fishing grounds and look for Mahi along the way.
The Big Show
Vinny and Nick were happy to catch anything, but they were hopeful they would catch at least one Mahi before getting into the Tuna. As the Main One headed south, a wonderful thing happened, the clouds parted, and the sun began to shine! Nick knew what this meant; the odds of catching Mahi were increasing! He whispered to Vinny, “Dad, I am pretty sure you will get your first Mahi today.”
Marty slowed down the boat in about 650 feet of water and told his crew to put the spread out. He was trolling some broken weed lines looking for fish. While the grass wasn’t the three-dimensional sargassum that holds bait, it was a flat grass that we typically refer to as “bay hay”. It isn’t as good a sign as sargassum grass because it doesn’t often hold fish, but it meant the current was there to form that line, and Marty felt it was worth trying out.
As usual Captain Marty was right, and the left flat line went off as the rod bent over, “Grab it, Vinny!” Everyone yelled with excitement. He picked up the rod, and sure enough, as he got tight on the fish, a yellow and green 8lb Mahi jumped clear out of the water. Vinny cheered with excitement, this was it, his first Mahi ever! Nick pitched a ballyhoo straight back and hooked a Mahi. They now had a doubleheader on Vinny’s first Mahi! Once the first fish was in the boat, the pressure was off; they had accomplished their goal very early in the day! They caught a few more dolphinfish before heading further south.
Vinny’s first Mahi must have known the importance of this moment, it raised its dorsal fin and posed for the photo!
Once those fish were in the boat, Marty headed further south. It was just after noon when he spotted a small set of birds working near a weedline; he approached the birds and had the Mate pitch a bait out, but no bites.
Marty had the crew put the lines out, trolled next to the weedline and made another pass at the birds. Not more than 5 minutes later, the right long rigger went off, and the rod bent over.
Marty yelled big fish! Seconds later, the Bull Dolphinfish leaped out of the water. Vinny cheered with excitement; even from far away, it was clear this fish was well over twenty pounds.
Vinny picked up the rod from the holder and began winding to get nice and tight. As the fish approached the boat Captain Marty told the crew to let Nick gaff the fish for a nice father and son moment.
Vinny lifted on the fish, and Nick took his shot striking the fish cleanly just an inch behind the gill plate bringing the large Mahi into the boat. The fish made a loud thudding sound on the deck as all 26lbs of it flopped around on the deck.
Everyone cheered with excitement, and there were high-fives all around.
Nick thanked Captain Marty emphatically for once again coming through for him and his Dad. What a winfall, Vinny’s first Mahi trip ever, and he catches a Slammer? Unreal!
Vinny (left) and Nick (right) posing with the large bull Dolphinfish.
Nick was relieved that Dad got his Mahi on their first try, and really everything after that was icing on the cake. Marty decided he wanted to do some deep dropping and get some excellent eating fish. Vinny and his son sat back having a cold drink while the Mate prepped a large electric reel. Just a few moments after the chicken rig reached the bottom; the rod was hit almost immediately. After about 5 minutes of watching the Hooker electric reel fight the fish, a 20lb Snowy Grouper appeared!
This was terrific news; Nick exclaimed to his Dad, “we will be eating like kings tonight!”
Nick holds up a Snowy Grouper with his Dad Vinny.
One More Time
Captain Marty took them around again for another drop in a slightly different spot, and just like before, the hookup was within just a few minutes. This time it wasn’t a Snowy Grouper, but instead, it was a Barrelfish! Nick was excited because he had never caught one one of those before. Barrelfish are considered an uncommon catch in the Florida Keys, although Captain Marty catches them regularly. Barrelfish is regarded as high-quality eating, but the meat is dense and thick. Almost the texture of chicken! Some prize the Barrelfish meat for this quality; others prefer the lighter, flakier texture of Grouper or Snapper.
Once the Barrelfish was dropped into the icy brine, Marty figured he might as well put out some big lures and a teaser just to see how much the fish Gods would bless him that day. About half an hour into the troll, a big Blue Marlin showed up in the spread and hit the right rigger bait hard! Seconds later, the fish spit the hook, which was a bummer, but everyone on the boat was in great spirits after such a fun day of fishing. As a bonus they had a box full of meat for everyone to enjoy more than a few tasty fish dinners!
The crew hung the fish on the racks, and Vinny and Nicholas took their photos with a catch to be proud of.
Nick and Vinny with their awesome catch.
Time To Reap The Rewards
Afterward, they went home, showered, and took their wives to Lazy Days to have some of their catch cooked up. The fried Snowy Grouper was the meal’s highlight (as it often is.) the Mangrove Snapper was also delicious. The Barrelfish was very firm and Nick liked the taste. Nati loved the fresh Mahi that she ordered Blackened. Once back in Melbourne Nick made “chicken nuggets” with his barrel fish when they got home and reported that it was quite delicious.
From left to right, Vinny, Nati, Bruna, and Nick.
That concludes the tale of Vinny’s first Mahi; we hope you enjoyed it. If you are interested in heading offshore for an adventure of your own, call us at 305-289-0071 or visit our contact page.