Wednesday, August 3, 2022

July 2022: A Week Back in the Florida Keys

Our inReach Track Captures to & From the Keys

By mid-July most everything in south Florida was hovering in the low 90’s – including temperature, humidity, average age, and the region’s political EQ.  We did our best to ignore all that, and despite the daily afternoon thunderstorms and “air you can wear” atmosphere, we completed all the provisioning tasks and boat preps for our next run back to the Florida Keys.  That included a slightly-early 100-hour interval service on Ghost Rider’s Yamaha outboard engines, since we would be rolling past the 500-hour mark in the first few days of offshore trolling.  Now it was time to go fishing.

Sat, 16-July, Fort Myers to Marathon

Joined by good friends Dan and Julie Eisenberg as crew, we piled into Ghost Rider and departed at 0815 on Saturday, 16-July.  Before 0900 we had rendezvoused with three other boats from our Grady-White boat club just east of the Sanibel Lighthouse, then pointed the bow south towards Key Colony Beach (KCB) in Marathon.  The air was already feeling like warm soup, but was generally clear with light winds from the southeast, providing mostly flat seas.  Cruising at 30 MPH with Ghost Rider in the lead was quite comfortable.

For Some Reason Our Fleet Companions Wanted to Maintain
a Single File Formation Behind Ghost Rider....Not Recommended. 

Rain and thunderstorms were predicted for the afternoon, and shortly after rounding the Cape Romano shoals just south of Marco Island a solid line of storms grew across our planned path in perpendicular fashion.  We did not see any lightning activity, so using real time radar and the XM weather display we picked the least foreboding area and punched through at speed.  Precipitation was generally light and only lasted around 20 minutes, although the water surface on the back side was waffle-iron rough for the following hour, so we slowed our speed to around 25 MPH for a spell.

As we neared the island chain the sea surface flattened again, and after cutting through the narrow Vaca Key pass we arrived at Key Colony Beach just after 1400.  We proceeded to the KCB marina to top off fuel tanks, then docked at our nearby rental property and unloaded our gear.  We were joined there by two more good friends, Doug and Cat Cox.  All of us had rented this particular property several times before; we keep returning to it (when available) due to the roominess, cleanliness and ideal location – a short canal ride to the open Atlantic, ditto for the nearby marina for fuel and bait.

It Wasn't Too Difficult to Find a Hole to Punch Through This Line of Storm Cells

  Sun, 17-July thru Thu, 21-July (Marathon/KCB)

The next five days were all quite similar….we left the dock each day around 0900 in stiff southeast winds that clocked 12-18 knots, and in seas that ran from four to six feet through early afternoon, then calmed a bit to the two to four foot range of boat beaters.  It was warm and humid every day, and while some showers would occasionally transit the area, they were few and far between and not a factor – basically the norm for this time of year in the Florida Keys.

We Really Like This Rental Property in Key Colony Beach, So We Keep Returning There.

Easy & Protected Docking for Ghost Rider, and a Good View, Too

And while the storms and rain were barely noticeable, unfortunately the same was true for the fish.  Finding fish is never an easy or simple challenge, but for this particular week it was particularly frustrating.  Our targeted species was mahi-mahi, also known as dorado or common dolphinfish, a fun fight and excellent eating – when you can find them.  We would also occasionally pick up a blackfin tuna or a wahoo on the troll, but not this week.

The Crew of Ghost Rider in Trolling Action...Doug, Cat, Juli & Dan

Noting that NOAA had pegged the Gulf Stream further out than normal – 27 miles south – we ran out there in some rugged seas, but still weren’t finding much in the way of keepers (minimum of 20 inches to the tail fork in this part of the ocean.)  Even trolling the famed “Marathon Humps” (sea mounts), where the usually tell-tale birds and weeds (sargassum) were plentiful, produced nothing.

Pic of Our GPS Fishing Chart While Trolling the "Hump"....Easy to See the 300' Rise of the
Sea Mount in the Surrounding 780' Depths.

Over the course of the week, we caught and tossed a few mahi shorts and boated only two keepers, usually in 600-to-700-foot depths.  Results from the other boats in our club were similar, and more broadly the fishing reports for the area reflected the same.  For the mahi species in particular, which is normally plentiful in these waters given their rapid reproduction and growth rates, this was not only frustrating, but also worrisome.  All we know is that with Dan and Doug along, it sure wasn't for lack of skills, experience or fishing gear.

Of course, we still enjoyed the boating and spending time with good friends, fully cognizant that just being able to attempt this kind of recreation is a generally rare opportunity.  As for the diagnosis of the poor fishing results, that jury is still out, but that seems to be the trend lately.

We Were Damned Proud of This (Expensive) Mahi...Pictured Left to Right Are
Juli, Dan, Cat, Chelle & Doug

Fri, 22-July, Marathon to Fort Myers

We actually cut short our stay in the Keys by a day – not just because of the fishing and sea conditions, but mainly due to a family matter back in St. Louis that required our attention: our brother-in-law and fellow fishing friend, Wayne, had passed away.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that even the fish were in mourning.

So we packed up and evacuated the rental on the morning of the 22nd just after 0900, cut back through the Vaca Kay pass, and began the sortie back home.  Thunderstorms were already plentiful in Florida Bay, necessitating an indirect route back north, as a big one in particular was already directly in our planned path and looking very ominous.  By taking a jaunt more to the northeast towards Cape Sable we managed to skirt that one on its backside as it built even more and moved slowly northwest, while passing just to the west of yet another that was just coming off the mainland.  Lightning of the air-to-water variety was especially frequent and fierce in the nasty looking cell to our west…when you can smell the air after a big bolt, you know you’ve gotten a bit close.  (Meteorological tidbit: lightning heats the air to as much as 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit…and that can split the air’s N2 and O2 into random, separate bits, occasionally recombining to form O3 – ozone, which has a bit of a chlorine smell.  But over south Florida waters, where Sulfur content can be high, you can also get that sulfuric (rotten egg) odor wafting your way.  Another definition of too close.)

Weather for the Trip Home Required Some Detours

But our path and timing were fortuitous, as we managed to speed ahead and around those two TRW cells; then they merged together just behind us into a wicked-looking dark gray wall.  There were more cells (also quite electrical) building to our north and east over the mainland, but we managed to outpace those as well.  And in spite of the dicey looking atmospherics, we experienced only a brief rain shower and had very smooth water all the way home, arriving at our dock before 1500.

We Managed to Thread the Needle Between Storm Cells Before They Closed in Behind Us

It didn’t take long to offload all our gear from the boat and get Dan & Juli’s car packed up again for their drive back to their Englewood home.  Then the next morning we did the same with our car and made the long, sad drive to St. Louis to grieve for a good man.

Aftermath (Boat Business)

Ghost Rider performed admirably throughout the trip, undeterred and unaffected by the sloppy sea conditions.  Mechanically it ran perfectly.  We had a barrel-bolt latch break on the cabin entry door (corrosion failure, now replaced by a beefier one), and a minor drip leak from a seam in the weatherstripping around the windshield vent opening (corrected by a dab of black RTV caulk.)  That’s pretty damned good.

Looking at the Tropics

As of this posting (early August) we’ve gone over 30 days without a named storm spooling up, an odd situation given the way above-average tropical forecast for the season.  For now, an abundance of Saharan dust streaming across the low latitudes of the south Atlantic is keeping potential development probabilities low….and we certainly welcome that.  Of course, we’re only 1/3 of the way into the season, so there’s a long way to go.


With the brunt of brutally hot and humid summer weather now upon us, we’re going to take a boat break for a spell.  We’ll keep y’all posted when additional plans develop.  In the meantime, more pics are posted below. 

Wayne & Rick's Sister, Linda, and a Good Day's Catch....Taken About 8 Years Ago at the Same Dock.

Afterword:  My brother-in-law, Wayne Watson, passed away at the age of 75 during this interval.  He was a big guy with an equally big heart, but ironically it was his heart that physically failed.  A Huey gunship pilot during the war in Nam, he was a damned good definition of guts, grit & courage. We’d occasionally argue about politics and whether rotary or fixed wing pilots were better, but that never got in our way….he always remained a friend and a fun fishing buddy.  Wayne was aboard some of our best fishing trips to the Keys, a fun-loving good luck charm, one of the Good Guys.  He is missed & fondly remembered. 

(Rick R / Aug-2022) 

Another Fish!  Doug, Rick, Chelle, Cat & Dan

Whenever Rick Would Flush the Engines After a Day of Trolling, This Manatee Would
Position Himself to Enjoy the Fresh Water Draining Out.

Ghost Rider Dockside with Fish Flag Flying

Chelle and Cat Busy in the Kitchen

Dan and Doug Relaxing with the Day's News on the Telly After A Day of Fishing

Track Capture of Our Diversionary Route Home (via Google Earth KML File)


  1. I love these Blogs. They keep me tied to our Florida past. I know that route and it's fun to vicariously ride along, dodging isolated storm cells from my desk chair in Indiana.

    GR looks good, and I'm happy the Yams are purring along. On one of your runs back to FL from St Looey, hang a left and come see us for a Toaster Show or something if you're in no hurry to get back South.

    Condolences sent your way for your Brother-In-Law. Take care.

    1. Hey Bill….thanks for the post…good to have you along even if only vicariously. One of these days we’ll get up there….