In The Weeds
2015 Could Be Remembered as the Summer of Weed
By Sam White
It seems that the best parts of the Caribbean are being overrun with weed. Not the “puff puff give” kind there Bob Marley, but the pain in the butt kind. Sargassum. It’s everywhere. And not just in neat lines along the rips but in mats and globs and clumps as far as the eye can see. We checked in with captains fishing out of St. Thomas and the Dominican Republic and here’s what we learned.
Capt Joe Figiel has fished the North Drop for 15 seasons, usually from around April through November, aboard the Reel Tight. He says this year has been a tough one so far. “It’s the worst I’ve seen,” he reports. “And I’ve spoken to some other guys who have fished here for longer and they agree.”
But why is it so bad, and why this year? “We’ve searched the Internet for answers and if you find anything on it, it’s vague at best,” he says. “Some say it’s the water temp. Maybe where this stuff comes from, but certainly not the temps we have here. We’ve seen plenty of water that’s warmer and colder than this and never saw weed before to this extent.” Figiel believes that the currents have shifted and that certain currents are bringing in more of the weed now from wherever its original point of origin may be. “These same currents may attribute to why the bite has fallen off over the years and gotten better in other places,” he points out. “Some places have lost their success due to the lack of bait for larger predators. But not a season goes by down here [in St. Thomas] where we fail to see an ample food source and yet the marlin presence seems to be less.” Figiel says the Sargassum has definitely hindered their success in targeting whatever numbers of blue marlin may be on the Drop, and that reports from his other sources say it’s bad from the southern Caribbean all the way to Cape Hatteras. It’s just ugly out there.
The Dominican Republic
Capt. Tim Richardson on the Tradition has set up his Caribbean operation in the Dominican Republic, fishing out of Casa de Campo and Cap Cana. “The weed has been brutal here, in both places,” he says. “This is my fourth season fishing here in the DR and I’ve never had it this bad before. Talking to some of the guys that have been here for 20 years and even they say it’s the worst they’ve seen.”
He suspects possibly a very dry season in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic along with a weird current in April that adversely affected the FAD fishing. “The current broke off close to half of the FADs a few days before the tournament, so that hurt the fishing too,” Richardson says. When asked for a theory about why, he says, “I’m a big believer in the cycles of the currents in around the seven- to 10-year time periods. It seems that places can go hot and cold for these kind of time frames, like Madeira, and to a certain extent, Cairns. Whether you call it El Niño, La Niña or whatever, that’s up to others.”
Fishing the Lawn
OK, so it’s grassy—now what? You’ve still got to put together a winning spread but where do you start? Figiel says they’ve been pulling the same spread for the last few years off the Reel Tight so he makes a few small modifications when the conditions start to resemble the fairway rough at St. Andrews. “We pull six teasers and one hooked lure,” he reports. “Starting at the boat we have two dredges that are as streamlined as possible with only plastics, usually a mix of mudflaps, eels, Fire Tailz or something like that. Then we run two bridge teasers: one head and one squid chain combo. Then two cockpit lure teasers and finally our hook lure on the center rigger. The heads we choose have been ‘weeded out’—pun intended—to make sure we have confidence in how they will perform but still snag the
least amount of grass.” They rely on solid angling skills and a well-timed pitch bait to score, although a fair number of their blues choose to eat the hook lure on the way out of the spread too.
Tim Richardson follows a similar strategy setting up the Tradition’s spread. “We’ve had days where you could only pull squid chains and pitch for most of the day, but things that we did that really helped was to only use a single pulley on our Squidnation and Fire Tailz dredges that we run off the Lindgren-Pitmans,” he suggests. “This cuts down on the V of the pulley set-up catching all the weed on the pulley and also stopping the dredge lines from touching the rods in a turn.” For the squid chains, he’s stopped using express or flat-headed lures for the trailing bait/lure combo, going to a bullet Hawaiian Eye-style lure instead. “This reduced the amount of weed on the bridge squid chains enormously,” he says.
Another issue for Richardson is bait consumption. “We charter fish every day so we use lures a lot on the long riggers. A lot of our guests want to hook their own fish but with the weed so bad, every time you get some on a ballyhoo it would ruin the bait,” he points out. “We were going through so many baits every few minutes, it was just crazy. The little lures we’re using still catch some weed but it’s not costing you $50 or more a day in ballyhoo that are wasted when big clumps of weed get on the circle hook or on the bill and tear it up.”
“The dredges obviously snag the most,” Figiel says. “However, at least in our opinion, grass on the front of the dredge doesn’t necessarily compromise the dredge’s ability to attract fish. You have to think that if the grass isn’t cleared from time to time though, retrieval of the dredge itself could prove difficult at the most critical of moments.” It’s a lot of work for the mates but the bottom line is to keep the dredges as clear as possible.
So what’s next? “Unfortunately, I can’t offer any suggestions as to if there is anything we can do about it,” Figiel says. “We all joke that hopefully one of the more heavily-populated countries would find it as a new favorable food source, or maybe we can develop it into an alternate source of energy. For now I think we’re just doomed to plow through it and hope for the best.”
Are you In The Weeds? Send us your images. We documenting the conditions as they persist. send to firstname.lastname@example.org