It must be February in Florida if you’re on a party boat in the Gulf of Mexico and everyone aboard is talking about ice fishing back home. We were at John’s Pass in Madiera Beach, Florida to enjoy a half day saltwater trip with Hubbard’s Marina. The weather was perfect and our motion sickness medication had kicked in. We had made reservations before we left Michigan and got in line to pay for our tickets. For two people, the cost was about $120 and that included the 5 hour trip on the boat, fishing licenses that were covered by the boat, all the cut bait we would ever want and pole and tackle rental.
Even though there were 60 people on the boat, it didn’t seem crowded because everyone had their own spot. On the way out into the Gulf, we got a quick lesson on saltwater fishing and safety. Someone spotted a couple of dolphins playing in the wake of our boat. We saw a lot of bouys marking crab pots. When we got about 8 miles out, it was time to fish. I was expecting to catch more fish than my husband because really, I’m better at fishing than he is. We put the squid bait on our hooks and dropped our lines down 40 feet to the bottom.
John had already landed a knobhead porgy, a red snapper and triggerfish that both had to go back and a couple of grunts before I even got the first bite. I successfully reeled in a pile of seagrass and had gotten my reel tangled because I forgot to keep my thumb on it once. Our stringer number was 36 and all the fish on it back in the ice hold were his. I mildly complained (maybe I was whining) to Squirrel, the deckhand, that I hadn’t caught anything. A minute later he handed me a pink fishing pole and told me to reel it in. He had hooked a nice sized grunt for me and let me land it. He took it off the hook for me and headed to the stringer. I told John I wasn’t that interested in any Pity Fish but then I finally got a bite. I caught 5 grunts over the course of the trip. Only 3 of John’s were keepers so I had more fish on the stringer at the end.
When we got back to the marina, they handed everyone their stringers as we were leaving the boat. The deckhands were available to clean the fish and only charged 3 fish for a dollar. We had met a couple from Wisconsin -Vikings fans not Cheeseheads – and they only had 3 fish between them for the day. We gave them 3 of ours and kept the other five. We were the last people in line to get our fish cleaned but they were moving fast. The pelicans and egrets had gathered around to pig out on fish heads so that kept us all entertained. When it was our turn, we let them know we were taking them to the restaurant to have them cooked. The fish cleaner told us his favorite way to eat them as he finished up.
With our plastic bag of fillets in hand, we walked upstairs to the Friendly Fisherman and got a table. The waitress asked how we wanted them cooked so we told her half Cajun, half regular fried. In about 8 minutes, we had a platter of fish in front of us with corn fritters, potato wedges and cole slaw to go with it. 45 minutes from stringer to platter. They were fantastic! We ate all we could and still had some leftover. Some other folks from our trip were at the next table packing up a to-go box so we offered the rest of our fillets to them. They gladly took them. The bill for lunch came and the total was $12 – not too bad!
One thing I have to say that impressed me about the trip with Hubbard’s was their deckhands. Joe and Squirrel did a great job of circulating the boat and picking up everyone’s fish for them. They were genuinely nice and didn’t talk down to anyone asking questions or needing help. A couple of people lost their tackle and they were quick to grab an extra hook and sinker to get them going again. The boat also had a concession stand with coffee, beer, sodas and snacks. The fishing areas had a nice roof overhang so you weren’t sitting in the blazing sun. There was an inside area with booths for sitting in case someone needed a break. The Captain had a nice loudspeaker so let us know when he was moving the boat and when it was ok to start fishing again. In all, they have a really nice operation.
I had originally wanted to do the all day trip that went further into the Gulf but we decided to go out on the half day. When John’s Dramamine wore off, we were really wishing we hadn’t locked it in the car. We took sunscreen and dressed in layers. We were happy and comfortable. I’d choose this over a day at Disney anytime.