About 10 miles offshore of Key Biscayne, captain Jimmy David was about to climb the 30-foot aluminum ladder from the deck of the L & H up to the tuna tower. The charterboat had just passed through the edge of a typical early June thunderstorm and David was eager to scan the horizon for mahi or whatever gamefish he could spot.
But he realized he had forgotten his binoculars so he went into the salon to fetch them.
It may have saved his life.
Just then, a lightning bolt struck the tower and a VHF radio antenna mounted to it.
“I think whoever would have been up there would have been in rough shape because the antenna pretty much exploded,” David said nonchalantly some four months after the June 8 incident.
The lighting strike fried the boat’s electrical systems and stopped it dead in the water. David and his charter customer used a cellphone to call for a tow. The L & H spent the entire summer in a boatyard on the Miami River where David, wife Debbi, their two oldest children and crew member Andres Valdes-Pages got the boat rewired, repowered with new, twin diesel engines and replaced the electronics, air-conditioning system and lights.
On the newly-restored L & H’s first charter Oct. 4, David, Debbi and son/crewmate James, 15, guided customer Marena Strauss to release her first-ever blue marlin, estimated at 250 pounds, following a 2 1/2 –hour battle. It was Strauss’ 18th birthday.
Then, on the L & H’s first full-day excursion Oct. 10, charter customer Annie Holcombe, 19, on break from attending Boston University, hauled in a mother lode of mahi, wahoo, kingfish, and tripletail.
Brisk east-northeasterly breezes kicked up seas three to five feet off Key Biscayne, but Holcombe didn’t complain and didn’t get seasick. With captain Jimmy and daughter Laurel, 12, scouting from the tower and son James working with mates Valdes-Pages and Sherman Huffman, the L& H was covered up with fish for nearly the entire day.
Trolling in waters 80 to 120 feet deep, Holcombe caught two kingfish. When the bite slowed, David pointed the boat offshore and spotted a floating, barnacle-dotted plank at a depth of about 800 feet.
The crew already had deployed skirted bally hoo and planers with feathers and spoons from the outriggers and flat lines. As the L & H passed the plank, a school of heavy-lifter mahis attacked the trolled baits. David slowed the boat and looked around for larger fish lurking further away. When he saw them, he directed the crew where to cast live herring and sardines.
“Dead center! Fire it out there as far as you can!” the captain told his son.
James hurled a threadfin about 50 feet behind the boat and a mahi quickly gobbled it. So many fish were attacking the baits simultaneously that James, Huffman, and Valdes-Pages had to hook them, then hand them off to Holcombe. As soon as she brought a fish close enough, one of the crew would gaff it, put it in the fish box and fire out another bait. Then the whole chaotic scene repeated.
“Welcome to an average day on the L & H!” said Valdes-Pages. “Organized mayhem.”
When the plank gave up no more targets, David and Laurel began searching for more debris. In about 1,000 feet of water, Laurel spotted a large floating pallet, and the fishing frenzy began anew.
“I love it!” Holcombe exclaimed between fish fights.
When the pallet dried up, David motored over to a wide trail of sargassum running roughly east-west off Haulover Inlet. Whenever he saw a mahi peeking from beneath a weed patch, he had the crew cast baits to it and when it struck, more would follow. Holcombe, James, Valdes-Pages, and Huffman literally had their hands full.
At about 3:30 p.m. with a box full of fish that had led the L & H clear up to the offshore waters off Hollywood, David steered back to his slip at Crandon Marina.
“That was fun, the chaos,” Holcombe said. “Everybody going up and over each other.”
Back at the dock, a small crowd gathered to watch the L & H unload its catch: 47 mahis to 17 pounds; nine wahoo; two kings; and two tripletail to 13 pounds.
But Holcombe wasn’t done. She booked the boat for two days later.
“On break, the only thing I want to do is come down here and go fishing,” she said.
With a cooler full of fresh-caught seafood, she likely is very popular with her dorm mates.
To book a charter on the L & H out of Crandon Marina, call 305-361-9318 or visit www.landhsportfishing.com.