Coastal Angler Magazine September Editorial by Capt. Scott
A confident Greenhorn
My story takes place many years ago around the start of one of the largest tournaments on the East Coast. As a young Captain at 18 years old I had a lot to learn, many years of experience and maturing later proved that my young and dumb mentality was for sure incorrect. This was my first season as a licensed Captain on this particular boat. Knowing the boat very well, as I have spent the prior few years mating on this boat, I felt I was ready to take the helm.
It was a great experience for me as my first ride at the helm was a boat that just tournament fished. Leading up to this new prestigious tournament, we were having a heck of a year. Back then if you placed in a tournament you were invited to fish the Tournament of Champions out of Cape May. Going into the big event we already had two invites. So now you see why I thought I was all that in my rookie year. We won the Beach Haven and the biggest Tuna during the Ocean/Viking Tournament with a Big-eye. Still, the emotions you have when arriving to fish the big show is unexplainable. Boats came from everywhere and you feel like you made it the super bowl of tournament fishing!
Last chance for a big Blue Marlin
The format was set-up to fish 3 out of 5 days. The end of the week had the weather going to crap, so the majority of the fleet fished the first four days. We elected to fish back to back take Wednesday as a lay-day and fish Thursday before the blow. I am a believer in a fish bite before weather.
As Thursday rolled around the board was looking good. All categories were pretty much filled with nice fish except the Blue Marlin category where not one fish has been weighed. Now I will set the stage. On that Thursday most of the fleet including ourselves had fished their last day with maybe 8 to 10 boats that need to brave the big seas on that Friday.
It is 2:30pm and lines out soon. We have some tuna on board, but nothing to bring to the scales. The radio overall was busy with fish here and there, but nothing sounded like a board changer and still I have not heard of a Blue Marlin. When on my left long and I remember this like it just happened, a big blue piled on one of our most productive lures. Fish on! Now the problem we have is this. The fish was hooked before quitting time, but you still need to be at the scales by 8pm. I called a committee boat and reported we were hooked up. Now we battle the clock! Today’s boats do 30 plus knots we were running 22kts….25kts running real hard. Knowing I have an 80 mile run and a slob of a fish on that could win all places in the BM category, priority was to get this fish in and get it in quick. Many misconceptions novice anglers have is to back down. Why chase with the flat end?? Chase with the pointed end! Wide up and running parallel to the magnificent fish was just awesome. A sight and feeling burned into my memory. Within a little bit over an hour we had a fish over 500lbs boat side ready to come in. Everyone did a great job, including the angler who was just beat. In a tournament you must follow IGFA rules and the angler cannot be assisted. Now the next problem:
A race to the end
Here we are giving high fives and cheers, when I need to be the bad guy and yell down to get the fish in the boat! Knowing our time was running out I was like a child having a temper tantrum. I needed to get going. We did have a fish door, but the shoulders on our girl and the weight made it almost impossible to pull through. Too much time was passing trying to get this fish in. So, I turned the rig, backed down into the sea and at every swell we would gain a couple of inches until she was in. Now the race back to the dock. I calculated a little bit off the top end we would arrive to CM inlet just before 8pm. We had plenty of fuel just needed the time. As I approached the beach I was able to get the tournament on the radio. I explained position, speed and ETA. The response was as long as I turn on the Red on the approach by 8 pm I was good.
The next problem I had was the Coast Guard Station. Upon reaching the turn buoy we normally idle starting at the CG station to the marina. All week the CG has been positioned outside the base with flashing lights to keep order of the many boats fishing the tournament. Please know I have the highest respect for the CG and I would never…never disrespect the order of such. Upon arriving at the inlet; it must have been around 7:56pm and I knew if I idled I would not make it. I reached out to the Coast Guard to explain my situation and ask for some leeway. The Coast Guard responded as I thought. My circumstance is in no way more important than to the safety of others. Should I disregard the rules of the road I would be fined. I returned to once again announce my situation and that as long as I am not endangering another vessel or property I was going to remain on plane. Now, as for property, the harbor is wide and that is not as much as a concern as smaller vessels. The fact it was late, the harbor was pretty much empty of boat traffic. The CG acknowledged and launched a boat to ensure I was not endangering others and as I mentioned, later chase me down with the ticket book! With the CG behind me lights flashing I made it to the Red buoy at 8pm. The fish was going to count!
I came off plane and notified the CG of my intentions and said they would meet me at the dock. The short ride from that buoy to the Marina I bought a truck, a down payment on a house and boat (in my head of course with all the winnings). Here is where the young naive thing comes in.
For the Captains that have done this, nothing beats backing down the chute to the scale during a big tournament knowing you have a great fish. Grinning from ear to ear and recovery from the stress of getting back in time, the truth was about to be told. As we hoisted her up and the weigh master yells 569. Damn we did it. We are sitting in all places, with one day left and a crappy weather day at that. AND only a few boats left to fish!
Now for the man with the blue light. The CG was appreciative of my communication, but that was not an excuse for my actions. We were boarded and the vessel was turned upside down and for good cause. The owner at the time of course agreed with me, but I was issued fines for creating a dangerous wake and having life jackets in the packaging. Good lesson here, even though we had plenty of open life jackets on board, all safety equipment must be free to use in case of an emergency. Thinking I just won a boat load of money I was not too concerned with the fines.
As things settled down, boat is cleaned up and I am about to go out and tear it up. I was living large. I still remember to this day the owner looking at me and saying “Don’t celebrate just yet, there is still one more day of fishing left.” Again young and arrogant I replied; there is no way in heck we will not get anything! As he nodded, I turned around and headed out to live it up! The next morning I woke with a tremendous headache and hung over. But that did not stop me from getting up and making our rig look extra nice. The reason is I figured everyone would want to come see the winning boat.
It’s not over until it’s over
The weather forecast was right on as the wind was blowing hard. 10 boats fished that day and one came back early with engine problems. 9 boats and a hard wind, I got this I thought!
First boat came back from fishing around 5pm. Remember this was before sat and cell phones. You had to wait to see as the fish came in. I made my way over to the boat that just came in to see how the fishing and seas were. The guys were cool and the Capt. said he heard a couple of the boats got on some kind of Blue marlin bite. He said he heard at least one boated. Well thanks for the info but that is not what I wanted to hear.
It felt like eternity before the next boat came back. Sitting there on the bridge with my boss next to me, feeling a bit nervous to be honest, he says to me…”we haven’t won just yet”. I said now that I know a boat has one I am not so confident. Really! Four days of fishing with just our fish to show for it and now a handful of boats fish and they have one or some!
A boat enters the marina and makes the pivotal turn to back into the scale. As the boat is halfway in the chute I can see a big tail on one side and a bill on the other. It’s a big blue! As they go to hoist her up I can see she was going to beat us. Dang, what are the chances? Here comes the call 702. Wow. Second place with a 569 is still respectable. As I head over to congratulate the crew, the mate on the boat informs me it was incredible BM fishing. They caught two, release one and boated the one. A few boats around him had some BM bites and he knows more were boated.
Here comes another boat backing in. Again I see a tail….Really! As they hoist this big girl up I see she is not as big as the other one, but clearly bigger than mine. The call was 625. Now I just went from winning it all to third place. With three boats remain to weigh in. It’s looking good to at least place. Until!!!!
I had my fingers crossed as another boat backed into the scales hoping for a white marlin or tuna. Unfortunately for me it was another Blue Marin. As this one was hoisted up I can see we may be ok here. It was skinny compared to ours, but almost the same length. And the call…507. Yes we got it. With a couple boats left I was ready for a cocktail and claim my third place.
As I was about ready to head up to take a shower, here comes another boat making the spin to head down the lane to the weigh station. As she pulls in I am watching from the bridge of our boat I can see the dock hands reach for the big ropes and I knew another blue. I was off the bridge and to the scale like lighting. The fish is pulled up. Looks like ours and I can’t make the call. As the weigh master calls it out my heart sunk. 571. Two pounds will always haunt me forever.
To lose it like we did is not conceivable with a handful of boats fishing on a crappy day. But to lose it to 2 pounds on the last fish weighed is just plain scary. Many lessons learned that tournament. It’s not over until it’s over. What a great experience and great job by our entire crew.
As with everything in life you must learn from experiences and not dwell on the misfortunes. We did not leave that tournament with a trophy or big check, but I left a wiser man. We did return in the next tournament and we won the tuna division of the Tournament of Champions. Tight lines and keep the rods bent!