A nine dolphin kind of day in South Florida

Rich DeNunzio with his 42-pound bull dolphin and the rod with the tie-wrapped spinning reel that he used to catch the fish. Photo courtesy of Steve Waters.

Rich DeNunzio with his 42-pound bull dolphin and the rod with the tie-wrapped spinning reel that he used to catch the fish. Photo courtesy of Steve Waters.

So far this year, offshore fishing in South Florida has been inconsistent at best.

Sailfish and kingfish, two staples of wintertime fishing, have been scarce. Even the nighttime tarpon bite in Miami’s inlets and Biscayne Bay has been slow.

Every now and then, though, the fish bite like crazy, which is why recreational anglers always need to be optimistic when they go fishing.

It also helps to be prepared.

South Florida fishermen Steve Armstrong, Dave Casey, Rich DeNunzio, Al Leja and Frederic LePoutre had a day they’ll never forget earlier this month fishing out of Port Everglades Inlet in Fort Lauderdale on Armstrong’s boat Reel Nole.

They caught nine dolphin, 19-42 pounds.

To put that catch in perspective, most anglers are lucky if they catch more than a couple of dolphin. The majority of those fish top out at 12-15 pounds.

“You know how everything you do is perfect and it all works out for you?” Casey said. “We found two war birds. One had four fish on him, and the other had five, and we caught all of them.”

The fun began while trolling under a man o’war bird, or frigate bird, in 550 feet off the inlet. A 39-pound bull dolphin ate a blue-and-white Ilander lure with a horse ballyhoo. Dolphin of 28, 25 and 19 pounds were caught on live goggle-eyes pitched behind the boat.  (For the doubters, all the fish were later weighed at a Fort Lauderdale marina.)

After that, Armstrong headed out to a weedline in 750 feet, where the men saw a giant sea turtle try to climb onto a floating lounge chair several times. They trolled along the weedline and hooked and lost a wahoo, but they didn’t catch anything.

Having drifted north with the current, they headed southwest, back to Fort Lauderdale, where they saw the second frigatebird flying over the same depth – 550 feet – where they caught their first four dolphin two and a half hours earlier.

Armstrong got in front of the bird, and his anglers put out three live goggle-eyes. They ended up with a cow dolphin tripleheader of fish weighing 30, 31 and 33 pounds.

“Then the bull showed up,” Casey said of the 42-pounder. “He swam up to the back of the boat, and Rich pitches a live goggle-eye back to him, and he eats it like a champ.”

The bull took off, and the spinning reel’s foot broke, coming loose from the rod.

When he saw DeNunzio holding the reel in one hand and the fishing rod in the other, Casey immediately came up with a solution.

Although he was fighting the 33-pound cow, Casey put his fishing rod in a rod-holder, ran to the front of the boat, and grabbed some tie-wraps and used them to attach the broken reel back to DeNunzio’s spinning rod.

“There was about three-quarters of an inch of reel foot to tie-wrap to the rod,” said Casey, who went back to catching his cow dolphin while DeNunzio successfully fought the big bull.

After all four fish were landed, a 21-pound bull swam up behind the boat and was caught. Then the fishermen called it a day.

A day they’ll always remember.

“I was born and raised here,” Casey said, “and I’ve never had a day like that.”

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Steve Waters has been the outdoors writer for the Sun Sentinel since August of 1990. He got his start in journalism in Charleston, S.C., where he was a sportswriter and covered sailing. In his spare time, he fished for striped bass on the famed Santee-Cooper lakes with one of the high school football coaches he knew and later bought a bass boat so he could fish there on his own. When his sports editor at his next paper, The Tuscaloosa News, found out he had a boat, he asked him if he wanted to cover the outdoors in addition to covering the Crimson Tide. It wasn't long before Waters realized that writing about fishing was way more fun than covering Alabama football. He went on to cover the outdoors for two more newspapers and a TV station, as well as sports ranging from golf and baseball to NASCAR and the NHL, before writing full-time about fishing, boating, sailing, diving, hunting, powerboat racing and environmental issues for the Sun Sentinel.

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