Day 5: Swimming with the catch.

Day 5: Swimming with the catch.

The final day of the Fishtrack.com challenge with blue skies and lake water I couldn’t of asked for a nicer day, except for a cold snap down here, but that why there are air conditioned cabins!

Cristina stayed back at the resort to a day at the spa, beach, paddle boarding and doing nothing, which we both struggle at the last one.

The started out great when a couple of the guys in the crew discovered the night life of the hotel and provided some great humor at breakfast.  They were both going on 3.5 hours of sleep!

This was suppose to be a challenge for the ultimate angler and while Cody and I were both competitors, it was so nice to be on the water out there our competitive spirit diffused into the moment.  The crew would yell, “fish on,”  Cody would say, its yours, then I would say, “No go for it.”  It drove everyone nuts, come on you guys get on it!

We began bottom fishing with jigging and the electric downrigger (the beer drinkers pole).  The yielded a bunch of snapper and a couple odd species.  Eventually a good size Jack which we put right on a shark hook.  Not too long after a big one took the line out quick.  Excitement rose until he got it off, probably a 25lb jack too!

Continuing on we (Sharp and Walt) set up a trolling set up.  Just for clarification, from now on when I say we, I mean, we all watched Sharp and Walt set up everything for us to catch fish.  Steve (a new face on the boat today) and I  were up on the tower looking for birds, whales and whatever with scopes.  Suddenly Steve spots mahi trailing the back of the boat.  Quickly we all jumped into position….
Well kinda… as Cody and I reached for our cameras, but wait, we are suppose to be reaching for the poles!  Lol.  I got a few shots off the first catch and then grabbed a pole as we had a double header.  I faught it in until it was ready to be gaffed.  As soon as we had it in the boat I got my housing out and then jumped in, joining Cody and Skye.  Cody also had his water housing shooting while Skye kept an eye for incoming sharks.  Supposedly the Silky sharks make their way in quickly here.  With the three of us in the water my chances were less, right?

As many of you follow my work, everything I shoot is natural, no baiting, chumming or releases, not even air for my lungs to get my nature images.  This was the first time shooting a catch and release.  I have to say I had mixed feelings shooting the scene and the fish that were part of the game. I was covering the game and in that context it was very interesting, providing a lot of different options.  Cody had a lot more experience and was way more comfortable getting in with lines hooked on fish and many other elements where things could turn.  What a rush, thanks to a great crew that out us in the right place to get them.  We continued to troll and got onto another few Mahi providing a busy day.

Mid day Kevin spotted a Hump Back whale breach and suddenly we were all focused on seeing another.  It was almost two miles away but with them being so large you could see it.  The next breach I was lucky enough to see and it was impressive.  We headed that way as Walt and Sharp most likely rolled their eyes, saying inside their head, guys we are here to FISH!  We say them again with camera ready but not breach.  Once to the spot they were no where to be found.  The whales are here to give birth and then head back north for the summer.  They are all protected but like Sea Turtles need a lot of help to keep the numbers high.

We continued on, setting up bait all around us on the rods.  An hour or two into it we had another shark bite but came up empty again.  Later on we went full bore chumming up the waters, with a ton of bait out, cleaned mahi and tuna guts and live bait everywhere.  Finally we came upon a school of Tuna, where we had a solid hour of action.  I caught a bonita and nearly had a hefty Yellow fin tuna before mr. shark stole it.  What a great way to end the day!  Thanks to sharp and Walt for pretty much doing everything except reeling the fish to the boat and of Kevin for captaining!  We headed home to another epic sunset.  At the dock they crowned both Cody and I equal winners of the challenge with both of us were fine with even though Cody had two great Bonita at the end of the day by himself that definitely put him past me on fish!  Joke was we were going to have a handline face-off with the giant tarpon under the dock but it never really happened, thankfully!

Can’t thank Fishtrack.com enough for putting on the photo contest and Otterbox and Ocean Surfari for fulfilling the trips expectations!  Great times!

Tomorrow we head home after a quick morning SUP session with my wife while relaxing and catching up on being gone for 3 days on the water.

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Day 4: (Fishing)

Day 4: (Fishing)

Today we met up with the rest of the crew in the morning at breakfast, meeting the other Fishtrack/Otterbox Ultimate Angler winner, Cody Spinadel whom is also a photographer, his friend and pro fisherman Skye with Blue Heaven Charters from Islamorada and Charlie from Fishtrack.com.  We all headed to the American Yacht Harbor with Kevin from Ocean Surfari in a pretty tricked out wrapped graphic Toyota truck.  Feeling confident they were the guys to get fish with.

Kevin captained the boat while Sharp and Walt from Ocean Surfari were there prepping when we arrived.  Today they would work their butt off hunting for fish for us!  These guys live to fish, just like I live to explore and shoot.  Throughout the day it was interesting to watch how determined they are to find fish.

It was an overcast day with 2-3ft rolling seas, which according to them was somewhat better for fishing than calm waters.  Cristina instantly wasn’t feeling too hot but pushed through it and started feeling better after a couple hours.  What a tough wife I have, I don’t think anyone even knew she was sea sick.  Captain gave her a magic Jolly Rancher and it helped, who knew!  Throughout the day we tried just about every type of fishing you could do off this boat, and even did some catching as well!  To be honest though, it was just one of those slow days.  The crew seemed a little bummed but the rest of us had fun being out on the water.

We caught atleast 20 fish, including Yellow eye Snappers, Tuna and Bonita, nothing to brag about (or even share pics with but I did anyway!).  The bill fish just weren’t biting or even Mahi.  Towards the end of the day we decided to give it a go at catching a shark.  Excitement arrived when a large Great Hammerhead surfaced while investigating one of the Bonita we had put on a large hook.  No bites but it was pretty neat to see such a large animal come up!  Cristina and I were perched up hi on the tuna tower giving us a great view.  We had put in a solid 11 hours on the water and the session was capped of with a solid sunset, while the seas pretty much completely laid down.   Pretty great day for me and stoked to have the chance to be out here with all these guys, watching and learning.  After getting into the harbor the rest of the night consisted of two things, stuffing ourselves and sleeping.

 

Ben Hicks
www.benjhicks.com
www.bocaratonphoto.com
Instagram @benjhicks
facebook.com/benhicksphotos

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Pacsafe Travel Gear

SunBum Suncare

Watershot Housing

Cressi Dive gear

Day 3: Day 1 On the boat with (Thanks to Ocean Surfari, Fishtrack.com and Otterbox)

Day 3: Day 1 On the boat

As mentioned in my last post, the driving force behind this trip was a winning image of mine “Snook Hunters” got me an all expensed paid fishing expedition from Fishtrack.com and Otterbox.  Today is our first day in St. Thomas and we head out early to meet up with Ocean Surfari, a badass charter company with some of the nicest guys and gear in the business.  The other winner and crew were still traveling to St. Thomas today so it was just Cristina and I on the Davis Yacht.

Many of you would torture me for revealing what we did today on this boat, hardly fish, which is what it is made for.  We actually searched for bait balls along the cliffs of the coast.  These are ample opportunities for me to jump in an shoot whatever may be inside the ball as well as the bait itself.  We gave the crew Sharp and Walt a break from their usual full on fish hunting missions and searched for stuff to shoot most of the day.  We would searched for diving birds, boobies or pelicans in this case, which would indicate a bait area or even ball.  Next I would get in while someone was on the Tower about 25ft up and direct me where the tarpon where in the bait.  It worked but the water was a little mercy, as we had found throughout most of these islands (comparing to Bahamas, Indonesia, Fiji, etc).

It was a mellow day, nothing too intense, which is just what Cristina and I needed after traveling and driving so much in the previous days.  I had chosen to do this because I knew the next two days were going to be fishing days where i would get plenty of action.  Towards the end of the session I saw a ray deep below.  Not many people know but I have had ear problems my whole life, in fact deaf in my right ear, which doesn’t equalize.  Of course this means I can’t scuba dive or go too deep.  Over the years though my body has gotten a bit more used to going deeper.  This ray was about about as deep as I can go, before making any problems for my body.

We ate lunch on the boat and continued in until the late afternoon.  Nothing too great but it wasn’t for lack of trying.  Ocean Surfari put in the right place thats for sure!  Towards the end of the trip we busted out a few poles and did some bottom fishing, catching all types of brightly colored snapper.  It would of been pretty sad to go out on this boat without atleast touching a pole!

Back to the American yacht harbor we went, where the 4-5ft tarpon roamed below the docks waiting for fish scraps.  Tempted to get it, but the merky fuel soaked waters kept me at bay!.

From about 4 pm on, finally Cristina and I went and passed out on the beach under the trees, something I don’t do too often.  Staying at Sugar Bay resort was interesting.  An all inclusive  package meant eating free at all the restaurants and free people watching for all the ridiculous drunk tourists.  Its a good thing we will be busy all day because this was a world of difference from the Eco resort from just a day ago.  Iguanas roaming the pool deck was pretty interesting though!  Tomorrow we fish.

Ben Hicks
www.benjhicks.com
www.bocaratonphoto.com
Instagram @benjhicks
facebook.com/benhicksphotos

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Day 2: Swimming with the reptiles of the sea

Day 2 St. John

As the sun rose over the island of St Thomas I perched myself high above Ram’s head point on St. John to potentially get a great image, but it was cloudy!  This illustrated much of the trip so far.  Sun and then clouds constantly!  Being a photographer, I kinda needed sun.
Shortly after the sun rose I headed back to Concordia packed up my housing and headed to Hurricane Hole to shoot another spot I was told might be good.  The wind was on it early and the water here is very sensitive to it, clouding it up.  The edges of this tiny bay were lined with mangroves which provided some interesting sea life.  I didn’t see much exciting though.

Cristina had headed to morning yoga and we met back up at our studio to make a breakfast and pack up to begin our journey on the northside of the island slowly making it back to the ferry to get back to St. Thomas.

The North coast of St. John is lined with steep hills descending into the sea onto pearly sand beaches.  Not too bad a place to be.  We ended up at Maho Beach and explored with the camera in and out of the water, eventually finding Green Sea Turtles grazing on the grass beds.  I swam with them for about two hours, many being skittish but one juvenile was very interested in the camera and even came up to me, a rarity for these guys.  The water wasn’t as clear as I would have liked it to be but the surface was.

Next up was checking out the rest of the beaches, which by the time we were there were filled with tourists from the cruise ships. We didn’t stay at any of them but just explored.  Continuing the drive back the ferry were we back up onto it and gives ourselves a little rest for about 35 mins on the way back to St. Thomas.  Upon arrival we had to move quickly as we were returning our rental car in an hour and still had to get some food and drive across the island in rush our traffic.  We made it and then hoped on a local taxi/bus.  Not sure how to describe it, but they have these open air trucks with 3 rows of seats that you flag down and take around the island.  Kinda like a converted Ford F-250.  We taxied all the way back to the other side of the island were we would be staying at Sugar Bay Resort for the last 4 nights of our trip.  This part of the trip is my winning prize for my Snook Hunters image were three Snook are traveling below a pod of bait.  We checked into the resort and then headed for dinner to watch the tourists act like idiots.  Quality entertainment!

 

Ben Hicks
www.benjhicks.com
www.bocaratonphoto.com
Instagram @benjhicks
facebook.com/benhicksphotos

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Cressi Dive gear

 

US Virgin Islands Day 1

Day 1
My trip to St. Thomas and St. John derives from a couple different purposes.  It began with winning an all expenses paid fishing trip to St. Thomas from Fishtrack.com and Otterbox.  Stoked on winning with my now popular Snook Hunters image.  My wife Cristina and I also really needed a little vacation so we extended the trip to include some more exploration on St. John.

The first part of our trip would be just Cristina and I exploring St. John.  We would fly into St. Thomas and a pretty quick flight from Ft. Lauderdale and then rent a car, drive across St. Thomas, get on a car ferry (40 min) and then drive across St. John to Concordia, and Eco Resort I had booked a couple nights with.
I had no clue that driving here would be similar to driving up Mt. Everest.  The roads were really steep and our Toyota Yaris seemed to prefer non inclined surfaces.
FYI, this trip will not include any surfing!  I know thats a rarity on my shooting trips but it will include catching (not just fishing).

We awoke the next morning high on the mountain side over looking Salt Pond Bay on our balcony in our own little studio.  Concordia has no air conditioning and is mostly off the grid!  The cottages all sit on a very steep mountain side where there are stairs lining it to get around.  We really just relaxed this first morning.  Making breakfast from going grocery shopping the night before with our premium priced groceries.  After about an hour, we were done with the relaxation on the trip and were ready to start the adventures.  Oh, and did I mention St. John is 2/3 National Park!

We packed up an hiked a 30 min trail to the beach way down below us.  Coming into the beach we realized we weren’t the only ones there and that there was a parking area near!  There goes our hike in only thought!  We got into the water and explored the entire bay for about 1.5 hours in which I forgot to put my SunBum sunblock on the back and got some tomato action.  My beautiful wife mermaided around while I shot some images.
Back to the beach we chilled out for a while in the shade and watched the tourists be tourists.
We hiked back up to Concordia and hoped in the pool cooling off from the strenuous hike back up (in flip flops).  Made lunch and then headed out in the Yaris, where I now embraced its power by trying to patient when going 2 mph hour up some of the hills.
Cristina’s good friend Jimmy, a marine biologist for the USGS living here gave us a tip on a spot to  go check out of the beaten tourist path.  We headed to Princess bay, lined by mangroves on the one side of the back and a rock face jutting down deep into the little bay creating a very diverse environment to possibly fine many different species of wildlife.  It turned out to be a really neat spot.  A little creepy at times but awesome!  Noseums worth very healthy after eating us upon entrance and exit of the water.
That night we met Jimmy in town as he was having a get together before he left for grad school in Chili.  Long but very productive first day!  Tomorrow starts the real hunting for images.

Ben Hicks
www.benjhicks.com
www.bocaratonphoto.com
Instagram @benjhicks
facebook.com/benhicksphotos