When it comes to outdoor sports, deep sea fishing is one of my favorites. Nothing compares to the adrenaline rush you get when hooked up with a giant fish. You can spend 20 to 30 minutes using every muscle in your body to get that bad boy on the boat.
In this post I am gonna take you with me and my fishing buddies Kenny, Ray Ray, Scott, Larry, Naomi, and first timer Danny Fisher - the well respected BBQ Pit Master and owner of Baby Blues BBQ. We'll go 80 miles off the coast of Mexico on the sport fishing vessel, The Endeavor.
We start gathering our gear together in Santa Monica, CA to carpool our way down to the Seaforth Landing in San Diego, California. The boat is supposed to leave at 8pm, Saturday the 23rd, so expecting traffic we leave at 3:00pm. On this trip, we are expecting to catch around 20 to 40 lb Blue Fin Tuna with the occasional Yellow Tail and Dorado. Some of us have packed anywhere from 2 to 10 reels with 20 to 100 lb line test. In this case, it is better to be over prepared than under. Not having the right gear when 100 to 150 lb fish decides to surprise you can be very disappointing.
Just like with all sports, there are always superstitions. With fishing it comes down to ice chests. If you bring too many ice chest you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. If you go fishing intending to catch a ton of fish, the fish Gods might consider you greedy and more often then not, you won't catch any fish. If you only bring one ice chest and catch more fish than you can fit, it's the best kind of problem any fisherman can have.
For a few anglers it's all about their number on the sign up sheet. When you arrive you have to sign in. Next to your name is a number; this number is used for everything, your galley (kitchen and dining area on the boat) tab, your fish, and your trolling order. When Danny arrived he saw that his number 9 was taken, he kindly went up the to fisherman who signed in before him and asked to switch numbers - after all it is tattooed on his neck (his birthright after being born 9th in his family). Gladly the man swapped places.
For me it's number 5. It's my first time as a five and hopefully it will bring me good luck even if it's not tattooed on my neck.
Around 9 pm the boat arrives it has to unload and resupply. After unloading their last charter group, gear, and fish it is time for us to board. The second we are on there is always a mad dash to reserve a double wide bunk on the bottom of the boat. Then you get your rods lined up so you are as close to the bait tanks as possible. When at a stop, usually the first bait in the water is the first person to get a bite.
Once everyone gets their gear on board, it is time to set up your rigs and pay up to the Charter Master. Our Charter Master angler is Kenny Itomura. Kenny is probably the best fisherman I know and he tells the best damn fishing stories ever... even if the story ends with no fish. This particular trip is a day and a half trip so the cost comes to about $355 (not including, filet, galley tab, and crew tip) per person and that included the jackpot. For the jackpot, each angler contributes $20 into a pot and at the end of the trip the fisherman who catches the biggest fish (not including trolling fish) gets the jackpot. Good-hearted, grateful men usually keep the bragging rights and give the jackpot to the Crew, but only if he feels they have earned it.
Now that we are all on bored the next stop is the bait docks. This is where the crew loads up the boat with hundreds of large anchovies that we will use to put on a hook and hopefully land a large tuna. Most of the time at these docks you will find tons of pelicans just waiting for a fish to jump out of a net and become a tasty treat.
The bait tanks on the boat are loaded by placing a large net under the bait fish in the opening of the tank door. Each deckhand then rotates small nets, scooping up large amounts of bait and placing them into the tanks on board. There can be anywhere from 75 to 150 fish in each of the 4 tanks on the boat, but that is where things get a little fishy...
These bait fish are very sensitive. They have to cure in the water at the docks before they can be placed into our bait tanks. If their environment changes rapidly they die. Often on a single trip, 1/3 to 1/2 of your bait will die without even getting the chance to be a snack for another fish. But sometimes half of them don't even get used and end up back in the ocean where they came from.
On our way out we see the New Seaforth on its way back from a trip. On one of my previous trips, the temperature of the water rose about 10 degrees. This was on a trip that went 180 miles south of San Diego. This change in water temperature was too much for the bait to handle, so it turned. You will start to notice blood spots coming out from behind their scales which causes the fish to become unhealthy. You rarely catch fresh fish with bad bait. On that trip we only caught about 20 to 30 fish, but a boat that went to the exact same spot with fresh bait ended up catching 250 fish. So there are a lot of variables that need to be aligned in order to have a very successful trip.
Almost half way out of the harbor everyone is finishing the process of setting up their gear. Danny is learning from Scott how to tie 30 lb fluorocarbon to the end of his 30 lb spectra. There are several different knots you need to know as a fisherman and once you think you have learned all of them you spend the rest of your life trying to perfect them.
Kenny is checking the tensions on his reels. There is not a lot to do on a boat so there is a lot of bull shitting, pranks and messing around that comes with being an angler. Every trip I have been on all the guys rush to get set up and then head to bed so they can be up with the sun to catch their fish. Never on one of my trips has there ever been a bite at sunrise. I aways stay up late and sleep in till 8 am and then laugh at everyone standing around who was up early to catch fish. Kenny is always first so I gave him shit telling him to get to bed so he can wake up early and stand around... Boy was I wrong this time.
It's about 5:45 in the morning and I wake to the sound of the Captain over the loud speaker, "This is where all the fish are so it should only be a mater of minutes before they start biting" (He sounds exactly like Cliff Clavin from Cheers). It's just like the calm before the storm. Everyone is really quiet minding their own business not really talking to anyone. Most people just stare off into the distance looking for boilers (splashes in the water where the fish are coming to the surface).
There are 4 fishing lines running off the back of the boat waiting for a bite. This is called trolling. Once you hear the zip of the fishing line spooling out you know it's bit, and that there are probably more fish in the area. People scream out "Hook Up" and everyone makes a mad dash for the bait tanks to be the first in the water. Danny hears "Hook Up" and right to the bait tank he goes.
In a mater of seconds Scott is fighting with his first fish. One second he is cranking it in, the next the fish is spooling line off of his reel. This goes on for about 15 to 20 minutes. Usually the longer the fight the bigger the fish. You just have to be patient cause once you become over eager you may just snap the line with your aggression.
5 minutes into the stop everyone is reeling in a big one. Crew members are running around with gaffs, rushing to pull the next tuna on board. In no time at all the entire deck of the boat is a blood bath. Fish are flopping everywhere and almost every inch of you is covered in blood. At this point your heart rate is about 130 and you probably can't feel your arms from the shoulders down.
Deckhands are carefully walking the deck to make sure every fish has been tagged with its owner's number and that none of the lines are tangled up. Cause once one person is tied up it could just as easily be 3 or 4 in a matter of seconds. Thats why it's important to follow your fish around the boat and having good deckhands that can quickly get you untangled.
By this point it's about 6:15 am and I knew it the second I saw Kenny I was gonna hear it. "And you thought there would be no bites before 8 am!" He just laughed and laughed and laughed. I was gonna have to eat my words all day because we already had 30 - 40 fish already on the boat.
If there is one rule of thumb to not getting tangled with another angler - it's make sure you do the "Tuna Shuffle" and always follow your fish. If it's going under like Naomi or going over like this other fine angler: Follow your fish! It's always good to know the person standing next to you, so yelling over and under isn't taken personally. After all, we're all here for the fish.
More often then not you find yourself tangled up like this guy. It's always going to happen. It's not a matter of if, but more like when... Patience is always the key and in most cases - patience pays off.
A reward like this giant 30 lb Blue Fin Tuna ready to feed hungry mouths. You're probably totally wet at this point and you're bound to get blood on everything you wearing. It's safe to say you may never wear these clothes again because you can't get the fishy smell out.
Fishing has no age limit. I have seen men and women in their 90's work just as hard if not harder trying to catch the next big one; just like Naomi who is a legend in these waters. If she's not taking home the jackpot she often finds herself giving fish away to someone who didn't catch any. Never underestimate this master angler - you'll most likely be asking her for advise.
Now it's about 7:45 am and the cook has been so busy gaffing fish that he has to take a break and make breakfast for the whole boat. Danny is so busy catching fish he yells out his order through the galley window and when it's ready, takes his food to the bow to be consumed.
Scott is probably on his 4th or 5th fish at this point; he stops to realized he can no longer feel his fingers. He pauses to allow the blood to flow back into his hands so he can pick up his trophy fish - proof of winning the fight.
Without realizing it, this fish will win him the jackpot at just under 38 pounds. That's a lot of tuna but I'm pretty sure he earned it.
Larry is your quintessential fisherman. He has ups and downs that come with his intimate relationship with the sea. He is bitter at times but most consider him a beautiful flower with rough edges. Larry cast off into the distance and in seconds the chip on his sea legs falls straight to the ocean floor.
His face lights up as he begins to reel in his one true love - Durado (also known as Mahi Mahi or Dolphin Fish). Like most men in a relationship, he sweet talks his love all the way to the rails. "There ya go!" "Easy Girl... Easy" In a mater of minutes the fight is over and Larry has won.
The deckhand gracefully gaffs this beauty and hoist it up on to the boat. Durado are one of the more beautiful fish. Its' color is often brigher than anything man made on this planet. The bluest blue's and the brightest yellows.
Larry's content at the moment, just like any warrior after his kill. Soon he'll be back in the battle and if the next one gets away he might just let the bitter sea get the best of him.
Once the fish hits the boat the color almost instantly turn grey as the fish loses its oxygen only to be come one of the tastiest fish meats in the world.
The deckhand unhooks the Durado and tosses the fish to the deck below where it is constantly flushed with fresh sea water to keep it in its' most natural state.
It is just after 8am and the fish have stopped biting. At this point, 21 peole have caught just over 70 Blue Fin Tuna in just over 2 hours. This is some mighty fine fishing. It does not get any better than this.
While there is a break in action the captian starts looking for more boils and the deckhands start cleaning up the bloody boat.
Now is a great time to put on some sun screen and for Kenny to give me more shit about there not being a bite before 8 am. I would not be surprised if he joined Facebook just to leave me another comment about how good the bite was. That is some real fishing love you just can't find anywhere else. Danny puts on sunscreen but soon learns that if the smells gets on his bait fish he won't get any bites. The only way to kill the sunscreen smell is to take a bait fish and smash it all over your hands after you wash them. It's gory but really the only way.
The area we are in is known for its fishing pens. It's what draws all the fish in. There are 2 large pens about 60 yards across with fence that runs a couple hundred feet down. It is owned by a Japanese corporation that goes out and catches wild tuna, places them in these pens and feeds them to fatten them up so they become large enough to sell in the stores. Tons of chopped up bait is what keeps all the other fish coming around.
Now that people have had a chance to reset their gear, it's off to the next spot. People stand next to the bait tanks, almost as if preparing to get their guns ready and loaded.
Ray Ray gives Danny props for catching 5 fish on his first time ever tuna fishing but its only a few minutes before we are right back into the action.
Deckhands are bent over with pliers ready to pry hooks out of the fishes mouth so that the angler can go right back to fishing.
Danny catches a beautiful Tuna and now it's time for his photo. To properly pick up and hold a Tuna, you place your 4 fingers behind its gills and your thumb in its' eye. Then grab its tail and prop it up in front of you for a photo. Sometimes fish continue to have muscle spasm's hours after they are dead. Such was the case with Danny's monster so he felt the need to smack the fish as if it were misbehaving - eventually leading to a grip for his photo.
Anytime a new fisherman comes into the sport, he must eat the heart of the first fish he catches or never receive respect from his fellow fisherman. Danny being a great believer of tradition, takes a bite of the heart from the fish that he caught.
Now it was Ray Ray's turn. It must have taken half an hour but finally got this big guy on to the boat. Looking to be just over 30 lbs, it is often the fight that is most memorable and the high five your receive afterwards.
In may cases when other boats are not catching fish you will often see them drifing closer and closer in your direction. This is the moment when everyone on the boat starts yelling that they were there first and the intruder should move away. It is really bad fishing manners when you get closer than 100 yards to another boat. Even when those boats are in the same fleet, it usually leads to some flared tempers.
Larry has found another love and this time she is in the form of a Blue Fin Tuna - one of Larry's heart breakers. Like most of us, we will spend hours and hours reeling in a fish that will eventually get away. Larry through sweet words and maybe even some love songs, lands this beauty on the boat.
Thrilled is the last expression you might read from his face but right now, but Larry is elated. She put up a good fight but in the end it was the masterful work of a great deckhand who placed the gaff in the most perfect place without damaging any of the meat.
Larry expresses his gratitude by tapping the chap on the top of his hat - his form of affection is our equivalent of a bear hug and a kiss.
I did pretty well myself, even if I do look like Richard Dryfus from Jaws. I caught 4 Blue Fin and 3 Yellow Tail. That should hold me over until my next trip in 30 days when I hope to catch the "big one".
It's about midday and the count comes to 103 Blue Fin Tuna and 4 Dorado. Not bad for half a days worth of fishing. You can probably guess I will never plan on sleeping in again.
After lunch everyone shares stories of how big their fish was or how hard they had to fight. It's not long after everyone's blood sugar is back to normal levels that the words "Hook Up" are yelled out and everyone is back into action.
Yellow Tail. Now that the fish pens are no longer any use to us we scout the ocean for kelp patties. Large areas where large strings of kelp grow are usually feeding grounds for small bait fish that live off of bacteria. Those small fish usually lead to larger fish that feast on them. A good size kelp patty can have upwards of 300 fish on it. This trip we were left with the dozens of Yellow Tail that sat in wait for our lures.
The ocean is filled with tons of sea life. Often you will come across squid at night, and whales, shark, and dolphin during the day. I am not talking 3-4 dolphin - I am talking hundreds. They all swim together and once you cross paths you'll find them catching a ride in your wake and ridding the waves with you.
Just before the end of a horrible bet between Danny and I about what time the sun will cross the horizon we desperately look for kelp patties with any action left in them. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
We find action at one last stop but at that time most of the anglers have already taken their reels off their poles in anticipation for the long ride home.
Once the sun is gone, it is time for a meal a tasty prime rib cooked to perfection. It fills you up just enough to put you to sleep.
The crew goes to bed after its done prepping the deck for the1am filet.
All the fish are pulled out from below the deck and organized by angler number. The stack went all the way around the rails. We were scheduled to be at the dock by 4 am so the crew had to filet 127 fish in 3 hours. Once all the fish are out they look for the largest fish and weigh it. #13 Scott came in at 38 lbs making him the king for the trip.
You have the option of having the fish fully filleted into quarters, with the belly cut out or you can just have it gutted. Some like to filet their own fish but it usually comes down to how much room you have to take everything back with you.
Once the fillets are cut out, the skin, bones, and head are thrown back into the water and recycled back into the ecosystem.
You could say these are very happy happy anglers. There is a beauty to catching the animals that you eat. I don't think it's cruel and I am very respectful of this planet's creatures. I take great pride in being a part of this circle of life.
Most of us give away a lot of our fish to our friends and family for free. We love fishing and we take pride in giving what we get, so that the next time - we are just as lucky.
If the fish are too small, regardless of regulations, we would rather catch it when it gets to be a very large adult. It's important to respect the species, that is why we only go on 2 to 3 trips a year. There is no point in being greedy.
To find out more about Endeavor Sportfishing go to: http://www.endeavorfishing.com
You can find out more about the Seaforth Landing at: http://www.seaforthlanding.com
Written and Photographed by Sean Rice
aka Sean Rice