Article by Editor-in-Chief J. Townsend.
It was 5:45 am and nine men stood in a group at the counter of H and M Landing in San Diego, CA. We were all there to celebrate the bachelor party for our good friend by chartering a boat to take us out into Mexican waters in search of fish. Wait?! A bachelor party on the high seas and not in some smoky barroom? Yes, you read that correctly! This send-off would surpass the cliche bachelor parties because it excluded the horrific hangovers, binge drinking, fear of bad choices, and unforgettable mistakes.
A deep sea fishing charter was a proper choice for our friend who is an avid outdoorsman and also a contributing author on this site. It gave us the opportunity to celebrate like gentlemen, have memorable experiences, enjoy a day out of the office on a boat at sea, catch BIG fish, and put food on the table. But it wasn’t all easy going. There were several instances of doubt, many peaks of excitement, and the normal challenges that a person sees when he steps out of his comfort zone to try something he has never dared to try.
The clerk behind the counter gave us a choice, travel into Mexican waters just past the Coronado Islands for Rockfish or we could travel further out to sea in search of Yellowfin Tuna. We would have to buy permits to fish in Mexican waters or we could pay a little extra for fuel to travel beyond the Mexican waters. In the end we chose the less expensive route in the hopes of nailing large Yellowfin Tuna.
We settled up at the store and then strolled down the dock in search of our boat, Jig Strike. There was a large amount of activity on the dock with boats just landing from multiple day trips out to sea. Deckhands were pushing carts loaded with Yellowfin Tuna and various other species of fish. Our hopes began to rise as we saw the amount of fish being taken from the other boats.
I had especially high hopes because I had been closely monitoring fishing reports. I had read of higher than normal yields of fish. This was due to an influx of warmer water in the area which made larger fish come closer to San Diego. A few days before the trip, the bachelor sent me a fishing report which detailed ten anglers aboard a similarly sized vessel limiting out on Yellowfin Tuna.
We were welcomed aboard Jig Strike by the Captain and a Deckhand. The Captain then told me that his other Deckhand/Cook was MIA and that he had called in a replacement. I felt as though I was a little kid who was waiting to get out of school for the summer. Then finally, like the last bell of the school day, our last crew member arrived. We cast off lines and scooted out of the harbor, finally on our way to the fish. A quick stop off at the bait holding tanks and then we were well on our way. We would be fishing with live sardines which are on the top favorites list for the tuna.
Two hours, breakfast, and a bit of seasickness, for some of the group, came and went. Then suddenly the Captain’s voice blared over the intercom. “We have a kelp patty on the right side of the boat, grab your poles and get a line in the water. Tuna sighting.”
“Tuna sighting?” My mind raced to thoughts of Moby Dick and the great white whale. Only my whale was a large tuna jumping high out of the sea. I slung my fishing pole over the side Â with excitement and flipped open the bail, releasing line down into the sea. I waited patiently and looked about to take in the organized chaos as it exploded around me. The Captain stood atop the bait tank, doled out bait fish, and shouted each time someone hooked a fish. The Deckhands rushed about yelling as they unhooked fish. They acted as cheerleaders and coaches all in the same instance.
Ten minutes passed and we accumulated ten or so fish on the deck. Unfortunately, none of them mine. The bite slowed and the Captain returned to the wheel house. Again his voice rang out over the intercom, “Lines out of the water, we’re moving on.” The request was a sign of defeat for me. I hadn’t caught any fish. I changed my mental game to be less independent and heed more of the instruction which was provided by the crew. After all, this was their job, to help people catch fish.
We continued on, traveling away from the quickly fading silhouette of land, moving further out to sea. Several of us crowded onto the bow of the boat, chatted, and scanned the horizon for and signs of floating kelp. The interest had peaked in those few minutes of fishing. Those of us who had not caught a fish were eager to get back at it again. Minutes turned to hours and hours turned to days! Not exactly but it sure seemed to drag on.
The next stop was at a marked kelp patty several miles from the last. I followed the instructions of the crew and cast my bait over the side at the stern. I looked into the water and watched as my little bait fish swam away. I waited… waited… waited… then nothing. I reeled the line back in, refreshed the bait, and then cast again. Mind you, the boat was not as calm as I portray. Picture this scene, everyone aboard is catching fish again, yelling with excitement over the equally boisterous commands of the crew.
Then randomly, a deckhand yells at me to take the fishing pole in his hands and tells me that a fish is about to strike the bait. I grab the fishing pole and brace myself. The fish hits the bait, Boom, the line begins to go screeching out. He yells at me, “Set the Hook!” I flip the lever and jerk the tip of the fishing pole upward. I have it! Again he yells, “keep the tip up and reel like hell!” So begin I to reel.
It is not like reeling small freshwater reel. This reel is sizeable and it takes some effort. My forearms are burning as I grip the pole with my left hand and zealously crank the reel with my right hand. This fight goes on for several minutes as I follow the fish across the stern of the boat and over to the port (left) side, fighting to keep him from swimming under the boat and breaking the line. The captain sees that I have the fish and yells at the deckhands, “Let’s get a gaff on that tuna!” The Deckhand yells wildly, “We have tuna, guys, get your lines in the water! Oh man! Tuna here, big tuna here!!” The deckhand extends the gaff over the side of the boat and hooks the fish.
I look down in delight at the Yellowfin Tuna that lay at my feet. I am pleased not only in the fact that I just caught this regal beast but that this meat will feed my family. Fresh meat! What an adrenaline rush! I took a few seconds, maybe seven, to let my arms rest and then I grabbed another pole, re-baited, and cast it out into the water. I certainly felt more accomplished.
We all continued fishing as we scrambled over our catch which was strung about the deck. Each man settled into their groove and began to communicate with each other, as the deckhands had instructed. We were told to cast off the stern of the boat, follow your bait as it swims, and then move up the side all while paying attention to others as they hooked fish. Every few minutes it was time to change out your bait and recast. During most casts someone would land a fish.
It was pretty much a repeat process for all of us aboard. We landed a variety of fish. Yellowfin Tuna, Yellowtail, Skipjack Tuna, and a couple of Dorado (aka Mahi Mahi). I caught every type but the Dorado which I desperately wanted to catch because they are so beautiful. I would see them swimming in the water as a flash of metallic bluish green, topped off with yellow. The Captain said that they are pretty territorial and most of the time there are only a male and female at a kelp patty.
Then, things slowed and almost on cue, the Captains voice was again heard , “Alright boys lines out of the water. It is time to head back to shore.” I began to count the fish and reached a total of 37, not bad for a quick session. We all cracked a beer in celebration. I felt a wave of mixed emotions. I was proud of the fish that I had caught because I felt I had worked hard to fight them into the boat. I was also a little disappointed because there was that elusive Dorado lingering in the back of my mind. C’est la vie. There is always next time.
I was standing at the bow talking to the bachelor when suddenly he reached past me and pointed out a passing kelp patty. In that same instance I felt the boat’s engine slow and heard the Captain on the intercom, “Grab your poles boys. We are going to hit this one spot quickly before we head back. There are some tuna down there.” It was the same drill as we all scrambled to find rigged fishing poles. We were not prepared to fish again so there was an almost giddy tone on the boat. I discovered that most of the fish were striking at the side of the boat near the kelp patty.
It was like looking down into the top of an aquarium at the feeding time frenzy with fish darting each way, some alone and some in pairs. I had never seen anything like it before in my life. The fish were literally fighting one another for my baitfish. Several times I watched the bright colors of a Dorado speed at my bait only for him to lose out to a quicker striking Tuna. The Tuna would then occupy a minute or two of my time with an exhausting fight. My mental tally of fish was creeping up to the teens for me alone. There was too much excitement going on for me to focus on anything but my own fishing reel. I refrained from starting at the stern and just decided to stay on the side and drop my bait into the water. Each time the bait hit the water a fish would bite.
Then finally after several attempts of drawing my bait away from other fish, I saw the strike. The Dorado hit it! The strike wasn’t like that of one of the Tuna. It was different, more majestic, more intense. The struggle to get him aboard was more difficult and more trying. After fighting a dozen fish I was exhausted. I reeled him close to the boat several times and he would speed back out to the depths. This went on a few times before I was able to draw the fish close enough to gaff and get aboard.
At this point, I had caught all the fish I needed and wanted. My body was completely drained, so I stopped and gave way for the others to enjoy my space on the railing. I took to helping clear hooks for the others and got some great video footage. That intense ten minutes was probably the most exciting moment I have had in the outdoors since I shot my first deer as a child. It is a scene that I will always look back on with pleasure and happiness.
We all limited out at that last kelp patty. Each man ended up taking home about 25 lbs. of cleaned fish. We were told it was a once a season occurrence where that many guys caught so many fish in such a short amount of time. On the way back, we watched the deckhand clean the fish with speed an precision. My mind began to piece together all the delicious recipes that I would be preparing over the next months.
All of my previously mixed feelings of the trip funneled into a complete rush of satisfaction as I stepped onto the dock. It was a great day at sea. I was happy for the chance to celebrate my friend’s upcoming marriage and I was cheerful with the day’s voyage. The trip did feel as though it was once in a lifetime.