"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."
--Herman Melville Moby Dick
Herm was onto something there. Putting to sea can often be a success in and of itself. For instance, I have been trying, and failing to board one of these tuna boats since early March--and even this one was very nearly canceled. As a matter of fact, what was to be a 40 hour trip was truncated to 36 hours, and with that, an entire destination change. But I could not have cared less about any of that. I was just ready to shove off, put land to the stern, and just unplug for a couple of days. In fact, I almost saw actually catching fish as a nice little bonus. Good thing, too, or I'd be really dejected by the trip I just experienced. But I'll get to that.
Now, several people were really upset about the change in plans. Seems the whole point of the 40 hour run was to head to this monstrous oil rig somewhere out there that takes 11 hour to reach. This old timer showed up with a cooler full of cut blackfin tuna that he intended to use for bait. I have no idea what he intended to catch once he got there. He told me that this mystical rig is "the second tallest free standing structure in the Western hemisphere." Seems like I've heard about ten different buildings referred to as such over the years, but it made for a good story anyway. A few guys got their refunds and went back home. Apparently they have tried to make this trip on four separate occasions and each one has been canceled. I might take that as a hint.
Nevertheless, a more traditional trip was planned in place of whatever that was, and most of us went along for the ride. They let us board at 5:30. I got a bunk all to myself. Scoreboard! Usually I'm sharing a bench with a stranger and trying to sleep in a seated position hunched over my backpack + pillow. This might as well have been the Ritz.
It may look awful, and it kind of was, but I loved every minute of it. I took a lower bunk that was nice and dark. This meant when I wasn't fishing, I could get real sleep. I also took a DVD player, and worked my way through The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and half of For a Few Dollars More. Awesome. The food, however: Not awesome. I have never used this boat before, and I really liked it. Nice, friendly people. But, wow. They won't let you bring on your own food or drinks (which most other boats do), and then you find out they don't even have a grill! For the next 36 hours it's chips, candy, and whatever they can microwave. The 7-11 style microwave cheeseburger--not so excellent as a best option.
So, the fishing. During the day we made several stops looking for vermilion snapper (AKA beeliners), grouper, and other reef fish. This is exactly what we do on 12-hour boats. I wasn't all that excited about these stops, but I should've been. We were each rigged up with two hooks and cut squid, like so:
On my very first cast, I caught a keeper red snapper (if it were red snapper season, which it isn't) on one hook and a nice Atlantic sharpnose shark on the other. This would be my most successful moment over the entire 36 hours.
Side note: There is currently a urine-dispensing competition between state and federal authorities over red snapper fishing. In fact, TX, LA and FL have filed a joint suit; we'll see were that goes pretty soon. Here's the issue: The states won't close their red snapper season to recreational fishermen, so the Feds are fighting back by cutting their season down to 12 DAYS TOTAL (June 1-June 12). Oddly enough, the boats I use ONLY have federal permits (no idea how that works), so that puts a serious crunch on their entire operation. Don't get me wrong: I'm all in favor of sustainable fishing quotas. My son will likely see the day that the great bluefin is finally fished into extinction, and that breaks my heart (totally different conversation). However, the red snapper is the most ubiquitous fish in the Gulf of Mexico. They are like carp or bluegill on Tablerock. Friggin' EVERYWHERE. You seriously have a harder time avoiding them than you do catching them. On Saturday, I accidentally caught 20. 15 will be considered keepers one month from now--when I will be allowed to keep two. No one can convince any Gulf fisherman that this is a species in decline.
I did keep 4 beeliners and the shark, which is pretty decent. Then we moved to the tuna grounds. First up: The Nasen Spar. We got there at 8:00 PM or so.
You know, here's the good news: I can finally cross the yellowfin tuna off my bucket list! Well, sort of. If you would've told me that I would catch ZERO blackfin on this trip, but I would catch TWO yellowfin, I would've done a cartwheel. Because I would not have instantly remembered that (unlike blackfin) yellowfin have to be 27" long fron the mouth to the fork in the tail. Mine weren't. They were the perfect size for blackfin, and they went right back into the ocean. I actually made a 9 second Windows Movie Maker clip of one of them, but I got severe Tired Head trying to figure out how to include it here. So try this: Think blackfin, but with yellow fins. There. We also went to the Boomvang Spar.
All told, I had two tuna break my line, and I caught two undersized yellowfin. And that was fishing non stop from 8:00 PM to 3:00 AM. Four bites total, over all those hours. I finally just retired to my bunk and gave up the whole idea. Oh, and the boat landed 156 blackfin. Yeah. This guy next to me got blanked also. It's never happened to me before, but it always happens to several people each trip. I mean, I always knew when I caught 3 and 20+ people each took multiple fish, but the boat only took 65--for 40 people.. Well, that had to mean several people got nothing at all. My turn, I guess. But dang. 0 for 156? Those are Josh Hamilton numbers. I learned something new that night: If you aren't catching tuna, overnight tuna fishing SUCKS! It's exhausting, and way past my bedtime. My back was killing me. You have to jig for tuna, which means you are in constant motion. I nearly injured myself while failing at fishing. Not just anyone can say that.
This guy at the starboard/stern corner caught 22 by himself. Using exactly the same jig I was using (and the guy next to me, for that matter). To paraphrase Rangers manager Ron Washington: That's the way [tuna fishing] go. A deckhand told me that guy comes on every trip. If he's that hot every trip, then Greenpeace needs to pay him a visit. Maybe even the Sea Shepherds. I went from being happy for him, to trying not to look in his direction at all. By 1:00, I was seriously considering finding his bunk and throwing all of his dry clothes off the bow. He was an absolute machine. The jerk.
We started fishing again on Sunday around 1:00, and more failure was headed my way--but this time I kind of liked it. Maybe I have a syndrome or something. I think I was just glad my old-man back felt better.
Sunday Failure #1: Let me introduce you to the ling (AKA cobia, and not to be confused with the lingcod over in the Pacific):
Never caught one, but they too are on my bucket list. I am told they are the best table fair the sea has to offer. I had one on that dwarfed this fine specimen. It was a full five feet in length. And I lost it because the deckhands took their time to gaff it. Here is a transcript of the actual conversation (while my 5' ling splashes around against the hull of the boat):
Deckhand One: "Hey [Deckhand Two], you gonna get that?"
Deckhand Two: "No, you can."
Deckhand One: "But I'm like, untangling these knots and stuff."
Deckhand Two: "Oh, my bad. Okay. Hang on."
The entire starboard side of the boat let out a collective moan on my behalf. Even The Jerk said, "That fish was crazy big! Sorry, dude!" It would have easily been the biggest fish landed on the trip. I looked up at the end of my rod, the little tassel of frayed line flapping in the wind. Deckhand One brought me some more hooks and a sinker, and he was gone. He didn't even stick around to retie it for me. I think they were afraid I was going to lose it, and they all headed to the port side waiting for my storm to blow over. But I didn't lose it. I just rigged the pole again and kept fishing. Things happen. But I've got to tell you: That one hurt. Hurts.
Sunday failure #2: This one doesn't bother me nearly as bad, for some reason. Maybe it was because I didn't lose this fish through the indifference of someone who would eventually expect a tip from me. Maybe that was why. No, this was just a beautiful thing to watch.
I was fishing with a whole threadfin herring that my neighbor gave me. I left the spool open so any would-be takers could run off with it before I set the hook. Line started to leave; I engaged the spool. In no time this fish was on the move! I had to go down the rail to the corner, displacing The Jerk (who was a really nice guy, actually). I stood on the corner and line continued to strip off my spool faster than anything I have ever seen. As I neared the end of the spool, I began to come to terms with the fact that I had no way to slow this...whatever it was down. I think I began to say goodbye right then. But the interesting thing was, a guy on the stern had a different fish doing the exact same thing--stripping line against the drag and swimming out to sea at an incomprehensible speed. Our lines were parallel for about 10 seconds. And then, almost on cue, the two fish crossed paths with each other and broke both lines in one single motion. Random or not, I had to admire it. It was like watching kids fighting with kites. I would've liked to at least known what it was. Probably a huge yellowfin or an amberjack, I guess. But it was mighty fast and strong, whatever it was.
And that was it. Trip over. Reel in and get ready for 5 1/2 hours of ride back to shore. I actually caught about 35 fish, but I ended up with 7 vermilion snapper, a dumb old trigger fish, and that shark--absolutely nothing I couldn't catch on a 12 hour trip. The boat in general, did just fine.
Oh, and by the way: Barracuda have no sympathy for fish in distress.
Who knows. Maybe this was a karma purge to set up for an awesome 2014? During this trip I discovered that the old adage "Good things come to those who wait" is a mathematical certainty. Why? Because either "something good has come" or you're "still waiting." I had a really good time, tuna or no tuna. I did happen to get this one picture of Boomvang Spar that I think may come in handy during some of our more heated debates here at Rock M, and that has to count for something, doesn't it? So this one is up for grabs, should anyone find it useful for some reason. I guess it pretty well summed up my mood by about 3:00 AM. Sorry.
Anyone have a recipe for shark steak teriyaki?