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Rod, Gun and Game: Have some fun in the sun fishing in Marathon, Fla. waters

WHAT A WHOPPER — Doug Hurtbise, of Marathon, Fla., formerly of Western New York, shows off an 8-pound red grouper. Photo by Forrest Fisher.
SPRINGVILLE — Anyone who fishes has pondered what others are doing in that lone boat to the west, or east. Curiosity is among the chief culprits that help drive anglers to ask questions to learn more about catching fish.

So, last Monday, while on vacation in the Florida Keys near Marathon, Fla., some of my curiosity was peaked. In Marathon, there are more boats on trailers, more boats in marina slips and dockside home slips and more tackle shops than I have ever seen anywhere else in the world.

This was my first visit to Marathon as a prospective angler. We met up with some old friends from Western New York who have been spending winters here for the last 15 years or so, Joe Fischer and his wife Chris. They were our local area guides, helping us get oriented on where to shop, where to eat and where to fish. Their winter residence is also on a canal, with a dock, a small tarpon on the feed sloshing the surface nearby every few minutes, all day long. Smiling, Fischer said, “I love this place in February!” It is not hard to understand.

Just in case there might be time to fish, I bought the yearlong license that runs from the date of purchase for 12 months, for $47.50, not that I had any plans to return before next winter. When I fished Florida in the active military in the 60s and 70s, saltwater fishing was free.

As New York residents have escaped the Empire State to run south from our high taxes and cost of northern living, Florida has raised prices and taxes too, in recent years.

Fischer, one of the Western New York representatives to the New York State Conservation Council in Albany, also knows many of the folks from WNY who also spend winter months in Marathon and the nearby Keys of Florida, including one old friend, Doug Hurtubise.

In the early days, when Lake Erie was finally being cleaned up from pollution, around the late 1970s, Hurtubise had formed an organization that took a leadership role in helping sportsmen learn more about walleye, perch, bass, musky and steelhead fishing around our Lake Erie and Niagara River, the New York Walleye Association. It still exists and is still doing well, today.

Their early formation led to many anglers learning about the great fishery resource that Western New York offered. Several other organizations formed from their original fellowship, including several bass clubs, a musky club and the Southtown’s Walleye Association.

In any case, Hurtubise was among top reasons why folks attended the New York walleye meetings held at the 100-year-old George Washington Fishing and Camping Club on Niagara Street. Hurtubise knew how to catch fish, especially walleye. He shared information on trolling, vertical jigging, lines, lures and leaders. Then, as he was getting older, he discovered Florida fishing and the Florida sunshine, and it wasn’t long before he moved to the Florida Keys.

When asked why he moved permanently to Marathon, the 83-year-old Hurtubise said, “You see that orange ball in the sky over there?” He pointed to the sun, smiling. “My house is on a canal that leads directly to the ocean, my boat is in the water and next to my house, my beautiful wife and I can fish when we like – the fishing can really be great and our aging arthritis seems all the better, for being here.”

Fischer had called Hurtubise and had set up a fishing trip with this WNY fishing legend who now was first mate on a regular, twice-a-day saltwater fishing charter known as “Sea-Dog.” Hurtubise had recently reduced his work schedule to three days a week with the charter, and this schedule allows him some free time to fish for himself.

Hurtubise has a fishing craft for the ocean that is common to this part of the country, a stable 25-foot Sportcraft, powered by a 250-horsepower Mercury outboard engine. Hurtubise prefers the outboard to an inboard because you can power trim the prop to avoid shallow water areas when coming or going from port and it will trim so high as to keep it out of the corrosive saltwater, when docked.

We met at Hurtubise’s home and dock, loaded our gear and ice, loaded up with sunscreen and away we went. The time was 9:45 a.m., not too early and not too late. Hurtubise said, “The time and tides usually don’t matter for saltwater fishing, in these parts, but location, presentation and chum make all the difference.” Most folks know all about those first two fishing rules of thumb, but I, for one, did not know a thing about chum.

While you can buy menhaden chum in 5-pound frozen boxes in any local bait shop, in Walgreen’s or at the K-Mart® in Marathon, Hurtubise makes his own. Using a power grinder and rough fish caught for bait, he freezes the mix in 10-pound blocks and uses them in a bait bag attached to each side of his boat. Hurtubise considers the chum, “essential and perhaps the most important.”

The chum attracts baitfish, the baitfish attract predators and as anglers, we catch the predators. Our target fish was the yellowtail snapper, among the wariest of saltwater reef related fish, sort of like Lake Erie walleye. Lure colors can matter, line size can matter and bait can matter, in catching these tasty saltwater table fish. Hurtubise uses 20-pound Berkley® Vanish fluorocarbon line on all his gear when he fishes for himself. On the charter boats, they only use a short fluorocarbon leader attached to regular monofilament.

Our first stop was a shallow reef about 20 feet in depth, though it was easy to see every rock on the reef bottom, with live colorful bottom fish also visible. We used light spinning rods and small hooks with cut squid bait to catch forage fish for bait. A few minutes later, we headed for a 60-foot drop off and we anchored.

Over the next four hours, we hooked many fish, including filefish, red grouper, yellowtail snapper and toga.

Linda Jackson passes

A great many outdoor folks knew and loved Linda Jackson, wife of Niagara River Anglers Association president Paul Jackson. Linda Jackson passed away on Feb. 1. Linda and Paul Jackson have been common folks in the management and assistance of dozens of projects for the NRAA and Lake Ontario Trout and Salmon Anglers Association and other groups and outdoors-oriented projects in Niagara County. Linda Jackson was also a best friend of the late Norby Antonik, a sportsmen and friend of Erie County youth outdoor programs. Antonik had received help in finding a replacement kidney through her, prolonging his life for at least 10 years before his passing two years ago. Jackson was loved by everyone. The outdoor community will miss this wonderful lady.

WNY Ice Fishing

Thanks to the extended cold periods this winter, Lake Erie is developing some thick ice cover and our inland lakes are, too.

Inland ice opportunities include Chautauqua Lake, Silver Lake, Cuba Lake and the many Department of Environmental Conservation-stocked small lakes such as Case Lake, Harwood, Allen, New Albion, Red House Lake and Quaker Lake. Quaker Lake was stocked with a number of breeder trout, but also offers some excellent northern pike fishing, with live chub bait. Silver Lake and Cuba Lake also offer good fishing through the ice for northern pike, but be aware that these fish are typically full of eggs getting ready for spawn, as soon as ice goes out. Please use your discretion to keep them, at this time of year. If you do keep them, while they are relatively bony and difficult to fillet, they are tasty.

The Buffalo Small Boat Harbor and Chautauqua Lake offer opportunities for crappie and yellow perch too, with many smelt also available at the Small Boat Harbor. If you are new to ice fishing in winter, don’t forget about the DEC ice fishing basics website at

Outdoor Calendar

Feb. 16: WNY Winter 3-D League Shoot, Evans Rod & Gun, Cain Road, open to the public, 7a.m.-2 p.m. For more information, call Mike Matala at 337-0126.

Feb. 15: Southtowns Walleye Annual Banquet, Lucarelli’s Banquet facility. For more information, call Antoinette Grote at 684-9523.

Feb. 22: Ducks Unlimited, Southtowns Chapter, Annual Banquet, Creekside Banquet facility. Call George Rocky for more information at 674-3075.

Mar. 6-9: WNY Sport and Travel Outdoor Show, Erie County Fairgrounds Agri-center Building Complex.

Mar. 15: Erie County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, Annual Banquet and Awards Dinner, Father Justin Hall, Cheektowaga. For more information, call 941-6159.

Send information for the outdoor calendar, 10 days in advance to


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