A winter wonderland at sea


With the arrival of cooler weather, anglers are finding several species in abundance in South Florida’s marine waters.

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To book a charter aboard Free Spool out of Haulover Marina, call 305-582-5445 or visit

It’s official: fall has arrived — weather-wise — in South Florida’s marine waters. With the advent of the season’s first two cool fronts, anglers now can feel a bit of winter in the air, mostly in the form of northerly breezes.

That means abundant sailfish, kingfish, wahoo, cero and Spanish mackerel, grouper and snapper — without the necessity of traveling very far to find them.

Captain Dennis Forgione, owner/operator of the charterboat Free Spool out of Haulover Marina, escorted several clients to an action-packed half-day of multi-species fish catching recently at a 40-foot-deep ledge off Sunny Isles Beach.

In just a couple of hours, the party of four released a sailfish and three small muttons, boated a 38-pound king and another about 15 pounds, as well as an 8-pound mutton, one cero and three bonitos. All the fish were caught using 12-pound spinning gear.

“Pretty exciting,” said Debbie Blecker of Philadelphia, catching her breath after battling the sail with help from husband Tom.

Said Forgione: “It’s the time of year. Sailfish come in this shallow water. You can catch anything in here.”

A big bonus was the ease with which Free Spool mate Mike Harris was able to capture live pilchards for bait. With only two throws of a cast net in the Intracoastal Waterway just south of Haulover Inlet, Harris filled all three of the boat’s live wells to overflowing. He and angler Ray Convery of Crystal River were forced to discard numerous silver bait fish — much to the delight of swooping seagulls.

With a north wind and light southerly current, Free Spool anchored near the ledge and Harris and Convery tossed out liberal scoops of live bait. The Bleckers were given Penn Spinfisher outfits with 12-pound test. The line was doubled in an 18-inch Bimini twist and tied to a short piece of #3 wire with a 5/0 circle hook.

The fishing trip was sort of a busman’s holiday for Tom Blecker. As supervisor of parts and service with Penn Reels in Philadelphia, Blecker works with charterboat operators such as Forgione and fellow Miami captains Ray Rosher and Bouncer Smith to field-test new equipment before it is put into production.

The Penn Spinfishers in use on the Free Spool already had passed Forgione’s rigorous abuse with flying colors.

“The drag is extremely smooth and stays that way,” he said. “If you take the drag apart, there’s no salt.”

The reel lived up to that endorsement with the first fish: the huge king that whacked the live pilchard on the other end and powered away like a missile, taking so much line that Forgione feared it would empty the spool. Harris rigged a buoy to the anchor line, then disconnected it from the bow so Forgione could chase the king.

After about 20 minutes, Blecker reeled the fish close enough to be gaffed. There were high-fives all around when the fish finally was in the box.

The smaller king followed shortly afterward, then the sail hit one of the free-lined pilchards. Debbie Blecker took the rod and fought it, assisted by her husband. And again, Free Spool had to leave its anchor to chase the fish. When the Bleckers brought it to the side of the boat, Harris billed it, held it still for photos, then let it go.

Despite the light line and toothy fish, the party lost only one — a small king.

Forgione said using light tackle yields more bites, especially with live bait.

“It gives the bait more freedom to swim,” he said.

But on a day like that one, the live baits didn’t have their freedom for very long.

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