Fish Post

Tidelines – December 13, 2018

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We were standing on the dock behind the Assembly Building, and since the winter issue was a few quick days away from going to print, the annual Fish Post Day on the Vonda Kay seemed more a celebration to the end of the year than just annual tradition.
This year’s guest list featured the standard—a heavy half of perennials and a smaller half of new faces—but I would say they were a heartier-than-normal crowd for a couple of reasons.
First, our party had to make the hour-ish drive from Wilmington to meet up at Vonda Kay’s temporary home. Since the hurricane took out most of the docks at Motts Channel Seafood (which will be repaired by springtime and the Vonda Kay will return), the Vonda Kay has had to provisionally move back to its roots in Topsail Beach. The result was some of my more casual anglers passed on having to get up in time to be in south Topsail by 6:30.
Second, since the hurricane had postponed our trip to early December, the low 40s temperatures that morning also weened out less intentional anglers. However, the cold didn’t seem to have any effect on the high spirits as the 30 or so staff, friends, and family motored carefully through Topsail Inlet on our way to our first drop, a spot that Dave told us he hadn’t visited in about 8 years.

Tom Curren, from Wilmington, with the gag grouper that took the Big Fish Pot on the annual Fish Post Day on the Vonda Kay with Capt. Dave Gardner.

Capt. Dave Gardner, our annual host of Fish Post Day on the Vonda Kay, was joined by Kerri, Tim, and Doug (the all star cast of mates), who went to work cutting squid and checking rods/reels/rigs as the gamblers in our party each put up the $10 for the Big Fish Pot.
The standard rule on the Vonda Kay is that everything but sharks count for the Big Fish Pot, as long as it’s edible. So false albacore, for example, don’t count either, even though we all probably know some fool that has eaten or will eat one. The Fish Post crew did go with a stipulation: any grouper trumps any other big fish, so for example, a smaller gag grouper would beat a bigger amberjack.
The captain and mates were great, as usual, on hospitality, but the early star of the day’s trip was J.K., the galley chef extraordinaire. I’m not a food writer, so instead of trying to fake food-writing vocabulary and style, I will just give you a couple of menu options off of the dry erase board hung behind J.K.’s one hot plate and small grill.
The Breakfast Club—bourbon French toast stuffed with bacon, ham, turkey, and cheese, and then finished with blackberry-jalapeno sauce; or perhaps the Sloppy Doe—spicy venison sausage, runny eggs, with a tomato & mustard sauce on grilled million dollar bread.
And that’s just two items off of the breakfast menu.
Our first drop produced a number of gag grouper, unfortunately all under the 24” mark, but plenty of black sea bass, grunts, and porgies began to fill up the stringers.
The second drop generated almost identical results of grouper and stringer fish, with the exception of a couple of eels, an octopus, and my big (4’) dogfish that had me fooled until about half way up that it was a grouper. Sure, the dogfish tangled up mine and the lines to my right and left, but on the plus side it gave me a chance to stir up reactions by arguing that my catch was a Big Fish contender, since technically a dogfish is a fish and not a shark.
My “dogfish is technically a fish” argument went over about as well as you would imagine it to go over—no one supported my line of reasoning, and they all basically promised that there was zero chance I was getting off the boat with their money in my pocket for a dogfish.
At our third drop the point was made mute. Newcomer Tom Curren finally brought up a grouper that went over 24”, so I was no longer able to stir the pot by straight facing my lame argument anymore.
This third drop was also where Dave put the boat on a good flounder hole. Several flatfish were hooked from the bow, as well as a few on each side. I brought a keeper flounder up off the stern, only to lose it as I tried to swing it onto the boat instead of waiting for the net. So when I later saw a bigger flounder (3+ lbs.) come up through the water column, I showed a learning curve and made sure to call and wait for the net.
The most valuable lesson of the day, though, came when I pulled up my bigger of two groupers on the day. My first had only measured about 21”, but this second one had a good chance of going 24+”. Dave took my grouper and laid it on the measuring stick. There were choruses of “only measure the fish belly down,” and then Dave looked up with a Cheshire grin to tell me the fish measured 23 and 7/8 inches.

The crew of the 2018 Fish Post Day on the Vonda Kay take time on the run in to pose with their stringers of fish. They were bottom dropping about 15 miles out of Topsail Inlet with Capt. Dave Gardner and mates Kerri, Tim, and Doug.

To me, my captain seemed a little too happy to tell me my fish was under, and in looking around, I don’t recall anyone but my wife being sad or disappointed that my fish didn’t make. I would say that just about everyone on that boat got pleasure out of my grouper being short, so the valuable lesson for me was that I now know who my true friends are—just me and my wife Leslie (and the only reason she was disappointed was because if I won the pot then the money would ultimately end up in her hands).
Capt. Dave Gardner and the head boat Vonda Kay will be back at Motts Seafood in 2019. The Vonda Kay is always a great boat for bottom fishing, whether you’re solo, with a couple of friends, or want to book it for your own private party. The best way to start planning your fishing trip with Dave is by going to
The Fisherman’s Post crew thanks you all for another great year. If we don’t see you at the winter boat shows or at one of our popular fishing schools (February 9 in Wilmington and February 23 in Morehead), then we hope you decide to fish with us in one of our 2019 surf or boat tournaments (see Save the Dates ad copy on facing page).
Thank you for reading. Thank you for sending in photos. And please look for the first issue of 2019 to come out in mid-March.

Tom Curren, from Wilmington, with the gag grouper that took the Big Fish Pot on the annual Fish Post Day on the Vonda Kay with Capt. Dave Gardner.