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Jeff Lampe
Jeff Lampe

Jeff Lampe has been outdoor writer at the Journal Star in Peoria for 12 duck seasons. He lives in Elmwood with his wife Monica, sons Henry, Victor and Walter, and Llewellin setter Hawkeye. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he is an avid fan of the Bills and still has mental scars from four consecutive Super Bowl losses. Outside of hunting and fishing, Lampe's main passion in Illinois was Class A boys basketball (which sadly no longer exists). Former publisher of the Class A Weekly newsletter, Lampe is a co-author of "100 Years of Madness" and "Classical Madness," both books focusing on prep basketball in Illinois.

Illinois Outdoors
 

Scattershooting

A Web log by Jeff Lampe of the Journal Star

Illinois hunting and fishing

Deep sea delights

September 20, 2009 at 03:27 AM

Illinois hunting and fishing

Deep-sea details

Fishing season opens in March for Capt. Ben Fairey aboard Necessity, a 62-foot Resmondo boat that has its own desalinization system.

Fairey spends March through early May sight-fishing for cobia, for which he has the Alabama state record of 117 pounds, 7 ounces. Bottom fishing starts in May, when Fairey also books overnight trips for tuna, marlin, dolphin, wahoo and swordfish.

June through August is peak season and many opt to bottom fish for red snapper, grouper, dorado dolphin and mackerel. Charter season slows after Labor Day, leaving Fairey time to bowhunt and recuperate.

While the cost of overnight charters varies depending on length and the number of anglers involved, six-hour walk-on trips run $130 per angler and small children can fish for free.

“For $130 to go out on a million-dollar boat and fish and catch enough for a few meals, it’s a very inexpensive half day of entertainment,” Fairey said.

Learn more at captben.com, call Fairey at (251) 747-5782 or call his booking agents at (251) 609-2525 for walk-ins or (251) 981-4510 for charters.

 

When my rod tip bent almost into the ocean and line began ripping out of the reel, I knew something big was on the other end.

Twenty pounds? Thirty pounds? More? My mind wandered. Dreams of big fish had been swimming through my brain for weeks.

Imagine the surprise when I finally fought a 10-12 pound red snapper into the boat. “Nice fish,” first mate Tom Myers said.

I nodded, shocked. My arms were tingling. I was sweating. That snapper made me work harder than any flathead, blue cat or foul-hooked Asian carp I’d ever caught or snagged. And it weighed only 10-12 pounds?

That made me wonder how a really big ocean fish would pull? Could I handle a tarpon? Or even a 30-pound snapper?

Someday I hope to find out.

After years of resisting deep-sea fishing, I took the plunge last week during an eye-opening visit to Alabama’s Gulf Coast. For some reason I’ve never associated Alabama with ocean. College football, yes. White sand beaches? No. Yet that’s exactly what you’ll find at the southwest tip of the state.

You’ll also find plenty of fishing opportunities. “There are more recreationally caught red snapper in Orange Beach Alabama than anywhere else,” said Herb Malone, head of the local convention and visitors bureau.

And there’s more to catch than snappers.

A newly opened 1,600-foot fishing pier in Gulf Shores (pictured below) ranks as the longest in the Gulf of Mexico. “The beauty of the pier is no matter the wind conditions or the sea conditions, the pier is still fishable,” said John Giannini, a self-proclaimed pier rat who runs J&M Tackle shop in Orange Beach.

That was borne out early in the week when heavy seas postponed our offshore trip. Instead I watched anglers along the pier catch sharks, mangrove snappers and king mackerel.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Then Tuesday we caught hard-fighting redfish up to 25 inches long on spinning reels and 15-pound test line in Perdido Bay with Captain Bligh, or Hollywood as he is also known.

But the undisputed highlight was Wednesday’s deep-sea voyage — even though the prospect of seasickness had me fretting when the day dawned with 2-4 feet waves. Turns out my worries were unfounded, as the 62-foot Necessity handled the seas with ease.

In a six-hour trip that took us 15 miles into the Gulf — still in sight of towering condominiums — our group caught five species: red snapper, amberjack, cobia, king mackerel and the spectacular dorado dolphin. None were huge, but all fought hard.

Our best haul was off a public reef the state of Alabama built by sinking a decommissioned U.S. Army tank in 90 feet of water. “The Army donated about 100 tanks to the state and they have worked out to be great for fish habitat,” said Capt. Ben Fairey, who pilots the $1.2 million Necessity.

Fairey has worked fishing boats for 37 years and is one of about 100 charter captains in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Times have been tough for captains lately due to federal laws that this year limited snapper season to June 1 to Aug. 14.

“When I first started there were no limits and it was year-round fishing,” Fairey said. “We don’t want to deplete any species out here. But we’re trying to rebuild a fishery that is rebuilt. The federal government just doesn’t know it yet. We’re on the front-line. They’re not.”

No question Fairey is on the front line. He spends March through October on the water and Necessity’s cabin is decorated with 10 world-record plaques and pictures of huge fish.

In every photo the angler, while smiling, looks sweaty and exhausted.

Illinois hunting and fishing

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