Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hatteras - Deep sea fishing

(Click on any of the photos for a larger view)

The one activity we had planned for Hatteras was a day of deep sea fishing off the Outer Banks. I'd never been and was really looking forward to it. My Uncle Bud is a fishing fanatic, and has his own 25-foot or so boat back home in Maine. He always goes deep-sea fishing on his Hatteras visits. For the past decade or so, he's gone on the Sea Creature. He's good friends with the captain/owner.

The Sea Creature is a 58-foot boat, the largest charter that leaves out of Hatteras Harbor Marina. Trust me: you want a large boat when you go 30 miles off-shore, especially in rough seas. My brother, uncle, dad, brother-in-law, and myself were the only ones who went fishing. The prior two days had been incredibly windy and rough off-shore and no boats with any brains went out. It was forecast to be better but still rough, so those of us who hadn't been out in deep water took no chances. We had ample supplies of Dramamine. And we were very happy about it.

We got to the marina a little after 6:15am. 3:15am for someone who was still on Arizona time. It was a gorgeous morning, though. No clouds, the rain was gone, and the wind had died down significantly. We loaded our gear onto the boat, threw our lunch in the fridge, and by 6:30 we were under way.

Hatteras is on the west side of Hatteras Island, facing Pamlico Sound. The Outer Banks shelter the Sound and it's generally fairly smooth water. After leaving the harbor, it was a nice smooth ride. As an added bonus, we got to watch a spectacular sunrise.

The smooth water didn't last, though. To get out to the "blue water", as it's called, where the Gulf Stream is, you need to go through the Cut between Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island to the south. This is a very rough patch of water due to all the tidal flows and can be tricky to navigate. There are tons of barely-covered sand bars all over the place to add to the fun. Luckily Creature knows his way and while rough, it wasn't anything too dramatic. The sea was pretty choppy once we cleared the cut, with 5-10 seas and the occasional larger one.

At this point, let me briefly digress. While getting ready that morning, old age crept up on me and decided to play a practical joke. While brushing my teeth, I bent over and managed to pull a muscle in my back, 20 minutes prior to cast-off. The timing was impeccable. Undaunted (or just stupid), I downed some Ibuprofen and went anyway.

So back to the boat. The trip out to the fishing grounds took about 90 minutes. Sea Creature is a very fast fishing boat. We caught and passed many boats that left before us. We were catching some pretty good height going over waves, and quite frequently we'd crash into the next wave with a very painful jolt. I was seriously regretting my decision at this point. Add in the copious sea spray the wind was swirling around the boat and my lack of rain gear, and it was a truly miserable time.

Why didn't I go inside the large cabin, you ask? Well, if you want to ensure you get seasick, that is apparently the best thing to do. Sitting outside in the fresh air with something to focus on far away is your best bet. And did I mention that the Dramamine makes you wicked drowsy? I was nodding off from time to time and after we got back, I found out that my brother and B-i-L were as well. The night before there'd been large amounts of Cabo Wabo and Don Julio shots and apparently my brother was fighting more than just sea sickness.

This is a little video I shot with my camera. It will give you a little taste of what the sea was like, but this was taken after it had calmed down a little. I'd planned on taking more pictures, but between my pulled muscle and the rocking of the boat, I wasn't too mobile. Running into the cabin to get my camera took some effort and keeping it with me would have probably ruined it.

At around 8am, we arrived to the fishing grounds and they got all the various poles and lines rigged. We had probably 8-10 fishing lines of various sizes trolling behind us on the outriggers. It's kind of hard to tell from these pictures, but the ocean is an incredible blue color out there. I can see why they call it "blue water". You just don't see it close to shore. I grew up in Maine less than a mile from the Atlantic and hadn't witnessed it like that before.

Fishing is all about patience. And boredom. It seemed like forever before we got any bites. In reality, it was about 90 minutes.

Around 9:30, one of the reels started to whiz frantically. Shane, the mate, told someone to get into a chair. My brother took a seat and Shane gave him the rod. Immediately after, a second rod started to play out and my uncle took that rod. After several minutes of reeling, the fish were close enough to the boat for Shane to use the gaff hook to try to land them in. My brother got a nice looking Yellowfin tuna, our first trophy. As fate would have it, my uncle, the most experienced fisherman among us, had his get away just as he got it to the stern of the boat for Shane to gaff. Still, we got a nice tuna, so I was quite happy. I LOVE tuna in all it's forms.

After another wait, two more rods hooked something. I sat in the starboard chair and Shane handed me a rod. B-i-L sat in the port chair and took the other rod.

As I frantically reeled, pulled, lowered, repeat, I was surprised at how much line there was to reel in. Plus the whole time Creature was yelling instructions/directives to each of us from the flying bridge. (I never saw him the whole trip once we cast off. He stayed up there the whole time) It didn't help that I'm a lefty and the handle was on the right side. Eventually, though, I was able to get the fish to the boat and Shane gaffed over another Yellowfin. He tossed it into the fish locker on the stern and then jumped over to help B-i-L land his own Yellowfin. With that, I decided I was done fishing. I got the experience of hauling in a tuna and didn't want to risk hurting my back any worse than it already was.

We weren't alone out there. If you look closely between the two large rods, on the horizon you can see a large container ship. It eventually got fairly close, but I didn't get a shot. It was huge. I guess one of the main shipping lanes was just a few miles from where we were. We saw several large container ships. First part of the day, though, we didn't see any other fishing boats.

Over the course of the day, we caught six dolphins (fish, not mammals). My brother, uncle, and B-i-L rotated rod duty. I really wish I'd been able to get a picture of a dolphin on the hook running beside the boat. They are a cool bluish color underwater.

Near the end of the day, Shane started packing up the gear. We weren't quite done, though. As a surprise, Creature took us over the wreck of the E.M. Clark for some jigging. Unlike the tuna and dolphin, a fish called an Amberjack hangs out at the wreck and are incredibly easy to catch. After literally two jigs of the rod, Shane hooked one. Instead of the chair, you wear a belt that you put the rod in to bring them up. While catching is easy, they are renowned for the huge fight they put up once you start to reel them in. The short, stubby rods used for the AJs bent over double to the point you thought they'd snap. Eventually, we caught five, but released three back.

Once we let the last AJ go, Shane stowed the gear and Creature headed for home. I'd been fighting nodding off all day, so once we got back into smooth waters of the Sound, I went into the cabin and lay down on the bench/couch. Next thing I know, B-i-L was shaking me awake. The boat was docked and they were getting ready to unload the fish. I was told that Dad tried to wake me up first, but I was completely zonked.

Here's the final catch of the day. From left to right, three Yellowfin tuna, six Dolphin, and two Amberjack. Total weight was about 200 lbs and we got 80 lbs of fillets. One boat had over 500 lbs, but our fish were higher quality. My uncle was disappointed we didn't catch a Wahoo, as he and my aunt say they taste better than any of the other fish in the area.

We cooked up some of each fish for dinner. The tuna was very good. The dolphin as well. Surprisingly for all of us, the Amberjack was amazing. None of us, even my avid fisherman uncle, had ever tried it. Lightly seared in some oil, it was great. All of us regretted letting the three that we'd caught go after dinner. My brother has never been a huge fish fan and this was the first time he'd tried fresh tuna. He absolutely loved it, likening it to the best steak he'd ever had. Our bad luck is that Tara and I are in Phoenix, and all the fish are in my uncle's freezer in Maine.

Overall, I'm glad I got to experience deep sea sport fishing. Would I do it again? I'm not sure. Without the pulled muscle, I'm sure it would have been much more enjoyable. Finding out how good Amberjack is was worth it. And catching my own tuna? That was pretty cool. I just wish some of it was it our freezer. :)

1 comment:

Friend Mouse said...

Wow - that whole day sounds amazing (minus the back injury). And such great fish! Nicely done.