Reel Deal Sportfishing in Clearwater, Florida
We hooked ourselves up with Reel Deal Sportfishing for a morning fishing charter, and boy oh boy, it was quite the catch! With so many charters to choose from, it can be tough to know where to cast your net, but luckily, the great reviews on Trip Advisor and Yelp reeled us in. We were not disappointed! The crew, led by the lively and enthusiastic First Mate Johnny (or Taco, as he prefers to be called) and the skilled Captain Steve Hunsucker, greeted us with open arms and high spirits.
Their flagship vessel, the Reel Deal II, was nothing short of impressive. It’s a sleek and spotless 34′ Crusader sportfishing boat, powered by a beastly 450-horse-powered Cummins diesel engine. Equipped with state-of-the-art Raymarine fish-finder and radar, as well as all US Coast Guard-required safety equipment, we felt safe and sound out on the open sea.
The price of the charter includes everything you need for a day of fishing! They provide all the rods, reels, tackle, bait, licensing, and vessel amenities you could need. And their captains and mates are experienced offshore fishermen, which means they know the ins and outs of the Clearwater, Florida fishing scene like the back of their hand. They even fillet your catch when you return to the dock and offer advice on how to transport or prepare your fish. Plus, they know all the hot spots in town where you can have your catch cooked up to perfection. All you need to bring is whatever grub and grog you want for the day. They’ve got coolers and ice on board to keep your drinks chilled (yes, even a 7 am beer is allowed!).
Our charter left the dock promptly at 7 am, gifting us with an incredible morning view of the bay. The calm waters that surrounded us were dotted by dolphins frolicking under the bridge. We then set sail in search of adventure and tasty seafood, chugging towards one of the bait traps about 1 mile offshore. We were well stocked with live and dead bait as well as spoons and lures – plus, a broad array of fishing poles (which I’ll never claim to know a thing about).
From the moment we dropped our lines the Spanish Mackerel were biting with fury and vigor – though I mean 10 seconds after we dropped it! Johnny Taco helped me reel in my first catch – which was harder than expected after I realized I had to go beyond ‘reel, reel, reel’ to really get a good haul. He shared some new tactics with me which I could certainly use next time around.
It was just my husband and I on that charter but together we caught around 15 Spanish Mackerels – far more than two people would ever need for three meals a day! Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to try this unique fish for myself. Upon asking what happens when you get a particularly feisty fish? Johnny Taco kindly said “we use angles, maneuvers and even the boat itself to our advantage” – something that I anxiously looked forward to experiencing!
Ah, the thrill of the catch! We were on the hunt for a big daddy King Mackerel or Barracuda, armed with smaller Spanish Mackerel and larger bait fish. Alas, we didn’t manage to snag either of those fishy fellas, but we did come face-to-face with Gary the Goliath. And let me tell you, this fish had some serious spunk!
I had my line baited with a live Spanish Mackerel, and after just five minutes of slow trolling, I felt a tug on the other end. I grabbed my pole with the help of Johnny Taco and started reeling like my life depended on it. Every crank of the handle felt like a victory, and I was determined to see what was at the end of my line. But after 15 minutes of reeling and sweating like a sinner in church, my forearm was about to give out.
Enter my trusty fishing partner, hubs. He took over the pole, but even after 15 minutes, he was just as exhausted as I was. We looked to Johnny Taco for guidance and additional manpower, and he was more than happy to jump in and help us reel in this mystery fish. It was like a scene out of a country song – “Jesus Take the Wheel” became “Johnny Take the Reel.”
With Johnny Taco and Captain Steve taking turns at the reel, we were in for the fight of our lives. This fish was determined to give us a run for our money, and it kept running with the line at every chance it got. It was an invigorating group effort between the four of us vs Gary. Johnny Taco chattered out, “remember when I said we use maneuvers and the boat to our advantage? NOW IS THAT TIME!” Captain Steve threw the boat in reverse so we could gain some line on the beast. It felt like each time we gained line, the selfish beast took it all back. Just when we thought it had most of the fight drained…it powered right back up like it was nailing the Mario Kart Mushroom Power-Up and pelting the Bananas on our lane of the track. After a grueling 50 minutes of battling this beast, we finally caught a glimpse of Gary.
Multiple barracudas were popping in and out like they were playing peek-a-boo, adding even more excitement to the already intense situation. Johnny Taco and Captain Steve’s eyes were as wide as the moon, and we were all bouncing ideas off each other like it was a group project. But there were only two possible outcomes, as the Johnny Taco and Captain Steve made clear: we either find out what this creature is or it snaps the line and we’re left clueless.
Fast forward to the one-hour mark, and we were still fighting this sea monster. It was like the Bismarck’s last stand, but we were the British Royal Navy determined to come out victorious. And that’s when we saw it- the silhouette of an Atlantic Goliath Grouper. This thing was massive. It’s no wonder it’s the largest grouper species in the Atlantic, weighing up to 800lbs, measuring 8 feet long, and living up to 30 years. Captain Steve said it best, “smart fish don’t get big by being dumb.”
But our hearts sank a little when we remembered that Atlantic goliath groupers are endangered due to overfishing and spearfishing, so we had to release it back into the wild. Gary the Goliath was estimated to weigh at least 300lbs, but before we said goodbye, the hubs decided to jump in the water with him. And let’s just say Gary wasn’t too thrilled with the idea and gave him a “fish bitch fin slap.” We couldn’t stop laughing, and neither could Johnny Taco, Captain Steve, or myself. It was an unforgettable moment, and we were all grateful for the opportunity to witness such a magnificent creature.
After a long morning at sea, we finally arrived back at the dock. Captain Steve, being the true gentleman he is, filleted a few pounds of Spanish Mackerel for us to take across the street to Crabby’s Dockside. If you’re not familiar, it’s the kind of place that’s so delicious, it should be illegal. Crabby’s took our fresh catch and turned them into the best darned fish and chips this side of the Mississippi. The only problem was trying not to drool on ourselves. But don’t worry, next time we’ll be prepared. We’re already looking into how we can ship those extra fillets back to The Mitten, so we can share the love with our landlocked friends.
This charter was the stuff of legends. The kind of experience that will have us coming back for years to come. Johnny Taco’s humor kept us laughing all day long, while Captain Steve’s teaching style made us feel like we were part of his crew. These two are a perfect match, like salt and pepper or peanut butter and jelly. And let me tell you, they’re both living proof that when you find your passion, life just tastes better.
We loved this trip so much that we’re already planning our next one for January. We wouldn’t trust anyone else to take us out on the water. The Reel Deal is the real deal, and we can’t wait to see what kind of magic they’ll help us reel in next time.