Back to Fort Jefferson

Seventy miles west of Key West there is an island group called the Dry Tortugas. Everyone thinks that Key West is the end of the island chain, not so. The islands continue to stretch to the west and the fishing always seems to get better as you get further from Key West. This past week, we did a trip out to the Dry Tortugas. There is an old fort out there called Fort Jefferson. The fort is steeped in history. It was originally built during the Civil War. It sits on the edge of a key called Garden Key. Garden Key is not much more than a sand bar. It is a engineering feat that would be tough to build today even with modern technology.  No shots were ever fired from the fort in battle. By the time the fort was completed, the rifled canon was invented and made the fortress obsolete. After the Civil War, the fort was turned into a sort of a military prison. One of its most famous residents was DR Samuel Mudd. Dr Mudd was sentenced to incarceration there after setting the leg on John Wilks Booth. ( whom broke his leg after shooting President Lincoln). He was sentenced in a sort of a witch hunt. He had unknowingly aided a criminal. If you have ever heard the term "My name would be mud if I did that". It comes from Dr Mudd.

On day one, we left from Key West. It was a slick calm ride. We headed for a wreck abour 10 miles NE of Fort Jefferson. Soon after leaving we stopped and watched as a pod of 20 porpoise frolicked in the calm waters around the boat. Upon getting anchored up on the wreck, we started dropping live baits and small fish as bait. But small crabs turned out to be the best bait. We caught a nice mess of big Mangrove Snapper up to 7 pounds but we lost more than we caught due to the many Jewfish that have inundated these wrecks.

By mid day we headed into the park and went for a swim. The water was very clear and the reefs (protected because it is a national park) teemed with giant lobster and fish. By late afternoon, we made our way to the actual fort. Our guests explored the fort and I checked in with the park rangers.  While there you can not help but notice the number of Cuban refugee rafts and boats on Garden Key. A friend of mine was at the fort 3 weeks ago when one happened to arrive with 20+ people on it. 

We had an amazing sunset and dinner anchored up in the little harbor by the fort. It was one of those special evenings that you find yourself just sitting and starring. It could be straight out of that song by Jimmy Buffet "That one particular harbor."

The next morning we headed south and tried for some grouper but did not have mush luck, so we headed further out to the Gulf Stream to look for Mahi Mahi. On the way out I spotted something big floating just off my course line. I angled over towards it and realized quickly that it was a cuban make shift boat. I have to tell you there was a lump in my throat as we approached the ragged craft.  I saw no people and worried that they my be dead in the belly of the boat. But as we circled the boat we saw that there was a marking spray painted on the side that stated " OK US Coast Guard." This means that the Coast Guard has already checked out the boat. I can not tell you if the Coast Guard rescued the soles aboard the boat or what. But it was very sobering to see what those cubans must have endured back in Cuba to want to board such a rickedy craft. 

After leaving the raft we had some outstanding fishing. After only having our lines in the water for a short time. We had a 400 lb Blue Marlin crash one of our teasers. It just kept crashing it and crashing it. We presented bait right by its head but it only wanted the mud flap shaped black rubber fish on the end of the teaser. After what seemed like and eternity, the marlin made one last charge right past our baits and stole the fake rubber fish that it wanted so badly and disappeared.  It was frustrating but a beautiful sight. After that we trolled for a better part of the morning catching all the Mahi (dorado) that we wanted. We had a live well full of baits and found it best if we just stopped trolling and stopped when ever we found the fish.

It was really an amazing weekend with great friends. I enjoy trips like the one we did that last weekend so much. No one had cell phone service and we all just argued and laughed and fished and ate.

Originally posted by: Captain Ed
Fort Jefferson







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