ON THE NO VACANSEA, Fla. -- Capt. Mario Cote is prepared to catch multiple species when he heads out of Port Everglades Inlet on charters on his 32-foot Contender No Vacansea, but more often than not, tuna and dolphin have been the highlights of recent trips.
Typically for this time of year, kingfish and sailfish would be the best bets off South Florida. But kingfish have pretty much been missing in action and sailfish catches have been scarce, aside from a few tournament boats that get into pods of them.
For Cote, skipjack and blackfin tunas keep his customers happy, as do the occasional sailfish and dolphin.
"We always catch some tunas, but it seems like there's more," Cote said. "It seems like they're always in 400-500 feet. You catch them shallow, too, but it seems that 400-500 feet is what they like."
Before he heads out for the tunas, Cote slow-trolls or kite fishes with goggle-eyes and pilchards in 100-200 feet. That would normally produce some sailfish and limits of kingfish, but this has not been a normal year. On a trip earlier this month, our trolled pilchards produced two bonitos in 180 feet.
After that, Cote headed to a wreck in 220 feet to drop live goggle-eyes to the bottom for groupers, which can be kept until the season closes for four months on Jan. 1.
He did catch and release a nice amberjack, but a total lack of current did not help our grouper efforts. So Cote put away the heavy bottom tackle and headed offshore for tunas.
Starting in 400 feet, he put out a mix of small, colorful feathers and skirted jigs, two on each side of his boat, on conventional outfits spooled with 20- or 25-pound monofilament line and 40-pound mono leaders.
The tunas did not disappoint. We had singles, doubles and triples of skipjacks, many of them small, but all of them fun to catch. For even more fun, Cote often puts out spinning rods rated for 6- to 12-pound line and spooled with 15-pound braided line.
"My customers love it when they catch fish on those spinners," said Cote, of Hollywood, Fla., who can be contacted at 954-632-9340 or through his website novacansea.com.
When targeting tunas, Cote looks for patches of weeds or birds or fish jumping out of the water.
"When you have a patch and minnows underneath, you usually have skipjacks and blackfins," Cote said, although he noted that sometimes there are only skipjacks.
He trolls at 6-8 knots for the tunas and said he could go as fast as 12 knots, but the slower speeds also allow him to catch dolphin.
We were in 850 feet when a school of dolphin suddenly showed up and attacked our lures. By the time we landed two of the fish, one on a light spinner, the school was gone, although we trolled in the area a little longer.
From there we headed in to 30 feet to a spot where Cote has consistently caught African pompanos. He tossed out a bunch of live pilchards and cero mackerel were quickly sky-rocketing on the baits, but they ignored the pilchards on our hooks.
Soon after the cero display, Cote caught and released a small African pompano free-lining a live pilchard.
When no live bait remained, Cote put out two spinning rods with wire leaders and small jigs and trolled back to the inlet. That tactic produced two ceros, which are considered to be the best-tasting mackerels, especially when broiled.
As for the skipjacks, Cote said his wife, Julie, broils them and then makes tuna salad. I tried that, mixing the cooked tuna with mayonnaise, celery, onion and mustard in a food processor and enjoyed the result. I also grilled some of the tuna and seared some of it and enjoyed that as well.
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