Wednesday, January 12, 2011
So I am a guy and I'm by the ocean with time on my hands. It shouldn't be a surprise when I tell you that one day we rented a boat and went deep sea fishing, the first time I have ever been on a boat in an ocean. When I was younger, I had no fear and went on any of the fair rides or could read in a moving car for hours on end without repercussions. Then as I got older, things started to change. I couldn't read as long in a moving car, sitting in the back of buses and cargo vans left me feeling a little green and once a few years back, I came darn close to feeding the fish while riding a large car ferry boat across lake Michigan. I finally came to admit that I get sea sick. So when this offer came along, I couldn't refuse but took precautions by taking some Dramamine. Now as I was taking it, others in my family were also taking a version of it called Bonine which is supposed to be longer acting and non-drowsy and teasing me, who is very susceptible to anything that causes drowsiness, that I would sleep through the whole trip. Well the joke ended up on them but more about that later.
We showed up to a very quiet dock a few minutes before the agreed upon time and after walking up and down docks, making a phone call and then following the sound of a large engine warming up on a chilly morning, we found our ride for the day. I have omitted many pictures and the name of the boat for reasons clear later in this post but it was large one capable of holding twelve passengers and the captain and first mate were two of the nicest people on this earth. Seconds after we were aboard, the ropes were cast off and we were cruising through a myriad of docks and boats seen in the two preceding pictures. Once we cleared the breakwater, the throttles were opened up and we were soon cruising at a good clip on a very beautiful day. About forty-five minutes later, we idled down over our fishing spot for the day about nine miles from shore and directly over a large 400 feet long hull of a World War II era boat that had been sunk there years ago for fishing habitat in about fifty to seventy feet of water. We were given a few seconds of instructions and at the sound of the boat's horn, we dropped our lines in the water.
The poles and gear that we used can be seen below. The men used the heavier duty white ones and the ladies used the black ones. The gear was a large lead sinker that probably weighed several pounds with a few feet of line tied off to a simple spiral shaped hook. Our bait for the day was seven to nine inch herring and a smaller six inch cigar fish. We were told to let the line spool out as fast as possible until we hit bottom, engage the crank gears and reel in about ten cranks worth of line. I was the first one in the water and within seconds was leaning back reeling in a large red snapper. The first mate would unhook the fish for me, check to make sure its air bladder wasn't full of air, in which case he would make a small puncture in it so that the fish could rapidly descend back to its home depths, hook on another herring and I would repeat the process. For a period of forty-five minutes, I and five other people with poles, probably pulled in a fish or an empty line once a minute. I pulled in so many heavy fighting fish that after forty-five minutes, my back began to ache and my left forearm was cramping up. I handed off the pole and was forced to take a break. When my muscles went from being on fire to a dull ache, I would grab back onto the pole and go again for another period of time cranking in fish. Unfortunately, the red snapper weren't in season and that is mostly what we caught though we did catch a few black grouper, one of which met legal limits to keep.
Another fish that we caught a lot of were dolphins. As far as I can tell, the four dolphins found us in the harbor and followed us from there to the fishing spot nine miles out. It was neat to see wild dolphins and I tried in vain to take a picture for the sole purpose of posting on this blog but they were hard to catch on pixels. But all my fuzzy warm feelings of them soon disappeared when we started reeling in fish. They would wait until one was on a line and being helplessly hauled to the surface and swallow him. On the other end of the line, our pole would suddenly be yanked down against the railing and it was all we could do to hang onto it. Then one of two things would happen, the dolphin would either yank the fish we had caught off the hook or we would yank the fish from the mouth of the dolphin. But that's not all. As we reeled in pound after pound of beautiful and expensive to buy red snapper that we couldn't keep because it was out of season and had to throw back into the water, the dolphins would be waiting and probably half the time would get to eat the snapper anyway. Initially I thought that after a couple fish the dolphins would have full bellies and swim off but if anything, they kept getting more daring and eating more fish as the morning wore on. By the end of our fishing experience, I would have been willing to harpoon the suckers just so I could fish in peace.
I spent the ride out to our fishing spots and much of the time when I was resting my aching back and arms talking with the captain and the first mate. Like almost everyone on the front lines of something regulated by the government, in this case the red snapper fishing, they thought the government was doing a piss poor job. They said twenty years ago catching one red snapper a week was unheard of and we probably pulled in over one hundred of them in two hours. During the few months when red snapper is legal to keep, the limit is two per person per day so they said that they could catch their limit in eight minutes and head home, a colossal waste of gas. It reminded me a lot of the whitetail deer situation here in Iowa. Meanwhile, black grouper used to be a plentiful fish twenty years ago but overfishing and large limits have reduced their numbers to the point where they hardly catch them anymore. The captain said the government asked their opinions on numbers of species of fish but rarely did anything until after it was too late. I have no doubt that there is another side to this argument but I can certainly see the need to let the states regulate the fish on a smaller scale than the federal government.
So despite the presence of the Coast Guard who we saw a couple times during our trip, it didn't really shock me when we finally put away our rods and were heading back and I saw a bucket with three or four of the smaller red snappers we caught still up on the deck of the boat. When we were all back inside and the boat was throttled up and moving towards shore, the first mate gave one last look around to make sure the Coast Guard wasn't around and quickly filleted out the red snapper. They were chunked up, sprinkled with some Greek seasoning and put on a paper plate and steamed in the microwave for four minutes. Four plates full of red snapper, which they referred to as our shore lunch, were served up and devoured by us on the ride back into the breakwater area. That lightly seasoned red snapper steamed in the microwave was the best seafood I have ever had in my life times ten. It just doesn't get better than that and I have a feeling that I would have kept eating until I foundered but with nine people enjoying it just as much as I was, we ran out before that could happen. The captain said off hand that we had probably eaten $200 worth of red snapper had we purchased it on shore.
When we got back into the docks, the first mate cleaned out the one grouper that had been a keeper and put it in a large Ziplock bag for the ride home and after thanking them, we left for home. The Dramamine I had taken had long since worn off and all the adrenaline from catching all those fish had counteracted any drowsiness effects so I was feeling raring to go except for my aching back and forearms. All those that had taken the longer lasting Bonine however, were looking pretty drugged and very sluggish and spent most of the afternoon napping it off. In the end, I probably would have been okay without any at all as it was a perfectly calm day when we were out on the water, the last calm day we would see for the rest of the week. The next two days were very windy and eight foot waves crashed on the beach so I imagine it would have been pretty rough out nine miles from shore. But had the call went out, I would have gone out rough seas or not just for another taste of that fresh red snapper.