This past August, a group of friends and I went on an overnight offshore fishing trip. On a sunny; Saturday morning we met at the marina in Longport, N.J. to board Capt. Frank Kureck's 37' Hatteras. Leaving the dock at about 10:30 A.M., the twin 454 gas engines worked away for a few hours to get us to the fishing grounds. We were headed to the area of the Wilmington Canyon and then on to the edge of the continental shelf. Oh, did I mention that Hurricane Dennis was churning away in the area of the Bahamas?
The weather was nothing less than great (The calm before the storm I suppose). Once we were on station, the seas were less that 3 feet, and as we progressed into evening they did not grow to the heights of 4' to 6' that were expected by NOAA. Even into the next day the seas remained remarkably flat. Of course that didn't keep me from making my obligatory trip to the leeward rail of the cockpit. It never seems to fail on the offshore fishing trips, gas/diesel fumes and my stomach don't work well together. That having been said and done it was time to do some "fishin"!!
Very shortly after we started to troll, we had a strike. I was on the fly bridge at the time and was quite amazed to actually see the fish go for the bait. Through the clear blue waters of the Atlantic, I saw a silvery-greenish flash and, as fast as I could blink, BZZZZZZZ went the Penn reel! Yes, Virginia, there is blue water offshore! It was early afternoon, and we were anxious to fill the boat with fish. Unfortunately this fish wasn't even going to fill a large cooler. We had hooked a small yellow fin, just over the legal length. It was definitely a sport fish, but not too much of a fight for my brother Mark, who had the chair at the time. It sounds funny to say this, but at the time it didn't seem like a small fish. But that perception would change.
As afternoon yielded to evening the fishing continued. Well, at least the trolling did. The fish, unfortunately, had better things to do. Eventually, as we worked our way past several long lines laid by the commercial fishermen, we came to the canyon wall where the bottom drops past 600 fathoms. The water temperature was fluctuating between 75 and 78 degrees -- maybe a warm eddy off the Gulf Stream. We were about 75 miles offshore, and Sargasso weed kept fouling the trolling lines. Maybe this would prove to be a good place to be.
With a pretty full day of trolling we were at this point getting discouraged by the fact that we had only hooked into one fish, a small yellowfin. As afternoon gave way to evening, at last the reel sang one again. It was Bill's turn at it, and he said it felt like a pretty good size. After a short fight the fish approached the stern of the boat. Yellowfin again, about 36-40 inches (Nice Fish). Unfortunately, however, he was able to shake the hook just as the mate went to gaff him. We were feeling pretty low, but the fishing continued.
Just as evening approached we hooked another big fish. Brian was next to do battle. I positioned myself behind Brian to keep the chair square to the line as the fight started. This was a very strong fish, and he had no thought of jumping right in the boat for us. It was clear that this was going to take some time. This fish was hooked very well and seemed to love the line he was hooked on, because he just kept taking more and more of it (poor Brian). Slow back -- crank down; they were the instructions. Seems simple enough, but this fish seemed to know exactly when Brian was resting and took every advantage he could. Of course everyone on the boat was offering encouragement and suggestions (all these wanna-be fishermen). I'm sure Brian had heard enough, and after about an hour, the skipper came down to the cockpit.
He couldn't understand what was taking so long. He momentarily took the rod from Brian and said "this is a big fish". He then tried to assure Brian that there was no shame in passing the rod off and that this is one fish we did not want to lose. Arms throbbing and exhausted, Brian, after a bit more fight, agreed. It was now my turn!
I positioned myself in the chair and took hold of the rod as firmly as I could. I could not believe how strong this fish was, even after an hour's fight. We were going to catch this monster, even if it took a six man tag-team. Slow back, crank down; over and over it continued. As I tried to maintain the rhythm, I remembered back to a fishing trip in 1979, where I was lucky enough to catch a seven foot White Marlin. My arms hurt then and I was sure they were going to hurt again. After about another hour, we were making good gains, and soon the leader was in sight. In the light of a couple of halogens mounted above, we caught a sight of a quick, silvery flash through the swirling waters off the transom. We were now very close, and the captain didn't want to lose this one. He and the mate each grabbed a very large gaff, while my brother took position at the helm. As the fish came to the surface, he was gaffed. The problem was that two of them could not lift him over the stern, and so the call went out for help. It took four men to get this fish over the rail -- "My kingdom for a transom door". This big fish made the cockpit look awfully small and with his flopping around, things were even a bit dangerous. So the mate commenced to knock him out! WOW!!! This was a big one. A Bigeye Tuna, 57 inches long and 44 inches in girth, we estimated his weight at about 200 lbs.. Amazingly, I wasn't sore. To say I was stunned by the actual size of this beast was more like it.
We continued to troll a few more hours, but with no luck. It was now time to prep for chunking. The mate, Bill and I each had a turn at cutting up what seemed to be a thousand butterfish, while everyone else on the boat caught some much needed sleep. Cut some for a bit and chuck a couple of handfuls, a thankless job for sure. As we drifted, we would periodically hear the click of the reels. The mate would then check the baits only to find that there was minor nibbling (probably sharks). As I was resting in the chair we hooked into a shark. The thing that I suppose surprised me most was that when I got the rod from the mate, he had me fight the fish from the rail. I wasn't so sure I had enough left in the tank for this, and having this rather expensive rig leave my hands did cross my mind. As I held the rod and slid across the deck on butterfish scraps I started to crank him in. After a few minutes he mercifully bit through the line, and I was back to the chair. A little while later, we had another strong hit, and again I was at it. This time I knew what to expect, assumed the position and began to reel him in. After a bit of time he appeared, a Blue Shark, 5 foot or so - the mate grabbed the leader, cut it and let him go. Night turned to dawn and then to day; the fishing continued but still no luck. By 0900 or so, it was time to start heading back. We continued to troll on the way back in, but no more fish were caught
So back to the barn we went. It was not a very busy trip, but it turned out to be fairly productive. We cut 8 large filets back at the dock, gave a share to the captain and mate, packed the rest on ice, and headed home. If you ever get the chance to do some offshore fishing I highly recommend it. I've read that the fish are not as big or plentiful as they once were, but if you're lucky enough to catch a good sized fish, you'll never forget it.
... Mike Petrillo