I love that window of time immediately after an intense fishing trip when the fish stories are too fresh to re-tell, your physical body is beat-up and achy, and your mental capacity resembles the spinning wheel of a resetting iPhone. Those few hours after you’ve cleaned up but before you’ve slept, when you’re coming down from the high of fishing, and you're wrapping your head around your deep affinity for an endeavor that seems to keep costing more money, and occasionally puts stress on your health, safety, and personal relationships.
I'm convinced that much of the great fishing-related literature was written during these periods immediately upon return to shore, because the author just wanted to be left alone with their thoughts and remind themselves–through the aches and exhaustion– why it carries such meaning for them. I’m not a literary scholar, but I’d posit that Herman Melville first set pen to paper to tell the tale of Moby-Dick as an excuse to sit down for a while to recover from a post-voyage hangover, while Mrs. Melville stood in judgement and chirped that whaling was just an excuse for Herman to hangout with his friends and drink beer, and does this 'Aaron or Ahab or whatever his name is' guy even have a real job because he sounds like a bad influence.
So when I got home on Saturday from my first overnighter to the Canyons on the Offshore Investment I cracked open another (entirely unnecessary) beer and tried to debrief myself before I fell asleep on the couch. In between Googling "how to get blood out of [item of clothing]” enough times to show up on an NSA watch-list, I tried to jot down a bunch of notes from the trip while they were still fresh in my mind, but it would be a few days before I had the chance to write it all out...
Like most great fishing trips this one had come together a little-last-minute, but the weather looked like it was going to cooperate and I managed to have the weekend relatively free of conflicting commitments. Keith and Mark (Bates ’00) pick me up Thursday at 10pm for the trip to the Cape, after we had finished work, packed up, and had our hall-passes stamped for the weekend. All signs pointed to it being smooth-sailing to Falmouth given the time of day…so of course we immediately hit bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-93. Three lanes cut down to one so that three DOT guys could watch one DOT guy dig a hole. Nice teamwork boys.
We get in to Keith’s late, half-heartedly drink a beer and head to bed for an early start. Given that the last time I pushed-off on the OI had been after a night of heavy Carlo Rossi drinking, I was very up for a good night’s sleep before 30 hours on the boat. Keith managed to sleep for maybe 3 hours because he’s a goddamn fishing robot, while Mark and I have a snore-off until a giddy Keith wakes us up. Coffee is brewed, the assembly-line production of an unnecessary number of sandwiches-per-person is completed, and the boat is loaded up.
One of the oft-referenced great parts of being a BFC alumnae is ending up meeting, through fishing, a bunch of other Bates alums from earlier and later years who you immediately get along with as though you've been friends for years. I had met Mark a few times before and instinctively liked him, but hadn’t fished with him until this weekend. It makes you wonder if the Bates Admissions Office has a quota to fill each year of gentlemen who like outdoor pursuits that involve staying up all night in unfavorable conditions, canned light beer, and coming home with all of their clothes in a trash bag. The BFC might not make the cover of Bates magazine or admissions pamphlets like the ski team, but goddamn do we have our own version of school pride.
The ride out is flat and sunny and we do our best to be ready if a helicopter flies overhead looking to film a Coors Light commercial. As we near the canyons, we exchange radio chatter with a variety of men who sound like they consider Jimmy Buffett a trusted lifestyle advisor, and speak with the thinly-veiled bravado of a Dos Equis commercial. It quickly becomes apparent that Keith not only holds his own in these conversations, but is considered a familiar and trusted source of intel by these other captains– some of whom he’s never met, their friendship built entirely over VHF radio. These men will henceforth be referred to as "Keith’s boyfriends” by Mark and me. Keith seems to find less humor in it than we do, fair enough.
There was a bluefin tournament going on, so much of the early radio chatter was other boats complaining about how their catching of yellowfin was preventing them from catching bluefin, which we equate to complaining about getting blow-jobs because you’re trying to get laid. After a quick stop to make casts into a few bait-balls with heavy bird activity we reach the edge of the Canyon and get our spread out. There are dolphins and whales everywhere we look, but they don't seem to have a Tuna entourage along with them.
Now, I know a very little bit about off-shore fishing, but I’m lucky enough to have friends who are great fisherman, and invite me along to make sarcastic comments, sandwiches, and power-moves on the radio (fish love R&B classics, just ask any marine biologist). So, without a strong understanding of how to rig a ballyhoo without it looking paraplegic, I focus on doing a lot of hosing off the deck, pointing out dolphins to people who are disinterested in seeing any more dolphins, and asking rhetorical questions about whether anyone else needs a beer. I know my role on the boat.
So, after a few passes along the edge with no luck, I switch the Sirius over to a hardcore rap station that drops the N-word so frequently that 3 white guys are noticeably uncomfortable singing along, even though we’re many miles offshore and no-one is in earshot but a pod of dolphins. (Thanks to rapgenius.com I was able to track down not only the lyrics of one of the songs, but an incredible "translation" of an especially memorable line.)
Within 5-minutes of the radio change we’ve got a rod bent over. Clear the spread, I strap into a fighting belt, Keith and Mark glove-up, and boom, I’ve got my first-ever yellowfin on the boat.
And thus begins the great correlation/causation debate that surrounds fishing superstitions. Switch to rap and a rod bends? Stay on that channel for hours. Pour a little Crown Royal overboard and the bite starts up? Better keep that purple bag within arms-reach, Poseidon's thirsty. Did cracking that Coors Light call in another fish? Better have another one, wouldn’t want to jinx it.
There’s a consistent line of weeds floating in the water, which wouldn't be a problem if we weren't dragging a giant leaf rake full of hooks behind us. But other than constantly de-weeding lines, the water looks good, we’ve got consistent dolphin and whale sightings (at this point even I’m sick of them), and the fish-finder is marking bait. The bite is sporadic, but we put another keeper Yellowfin on ice before the sun starts to set and layers of clothing start to go on for the night.
Set up for the overnight drift for Swordfish, involving floating glowstick-filled balloons on the surface with squids bumping around in the depths under blinking LED discoballs. An eery look with green globes bobbing on the ocean under a star-filled sky, hypnotic even. So hypnotic I can feel my eyes start to close…I’ll just go up front and lie down on this bean-bag for a few minutes…
Wake up about three hours later. Whoops. Did I miss anything? Apparently yes, Keith and Mark had picked up and moved the boat, at-speed, to another location and I slept through it, water crashing over the bow into my face and all. I guess that answers my earlier question of is it easy to sleep on the boat?
I’m half-awake as Keith and Mark sort through confusion and crossed lines with a swordfish hooked up beneath us. I offer literally nothing to the equation as my sleep-and-whisky-addled brain watches it transpire, and the fish is lost to Keith’s dismay. There had been talk of continuing a swordfish streak, which is a surefire way to curse yourself. I go back to check the beanbag for any damage and am out like a light within seconds, apparently I sleep really well on the OI waterbed.
As the sun starts to rise we swap gear, put the spread out, and switch back to the troll with the promise of a dawn-bite waking us up from the nighttime daze. Almost as soon as the sun is up, the bite turns on and we have multiple rounds with 2-5 rods going off at once as schools of yellowfin find our spread. A lot of small “rat” schoolies, but with some keepers mixed in. We put two gaffed fish on the deck at once during a full knock-down of, which means two fish bouncing around spraying blood in a manner that it looks like we tried to put them out of their misery with a hedge-trimmer.
We’ve had 20+ on the line and have five 30-60lb yellowfin and a stocky Mahi Mahi in the icebox when the bite seems to turn off as quickly as it began. The weather report turns out to be inaccurate and with rolling seas and no promising reports coming over the radio we decide to pick up and head north, stopping to check a few lobster pot buoys for any circling Mahi but with no luck. Apart from a minor hit-and-run incident with an unidentified whale, the ride back home is relatively smooth. Or so Mark tells me, as I’ve fallen asleep again and Keith has nodded off for a few minutes (the man literally doesn’t sleep).
We return to the Falmouth dock covered in a thick layer of crunchy salt, as though Poseidon himself shook-up the OI and rimmed it in kosher salt like a margarita. Hands as cramped and scrunched up as an arthritic grandma, covered in fish scales and what feels like hundreds of tiny cuts given a once-over with sandpaper. Sore in a bunch of muscles that you never know you had, but are apparently well-used when keeping your footing on a boat in rolling seas.
|"Tommy Boy Luggage"
Fish are processed on the dock, a discussion about the shotgun techniques for hunting seagulls is given far more serious consideration than is warranted, and the boat is cleaned of its carnage. We fill two coolers and a Coors Light cooler bag with beautiful tuna steaks and mahi-mahi filets, dump the remaining melting, bloody ice on top, and throw everything in the car. All clothing from the trip is covered in salt and fish blood and is tossed into Tommy Boy luggage with the hope that it stays air-tight until it reaches the washing machine.
I get home and take one of the more satisfying showers of my life, realizing that I'm still swaying involuntarily from sea-legs and exhaustion. My fridge is packed full of sushi-quality tuna meat, my entire body aches, and I can feel my eyes starting to close again. My bed feels really nice, but I could sleep anywhere.
When I wake up the next morning was I ready to do an overnighter offshore again? No, probably not. Am I ready to go again today? Absolutely. But first I gotta buy some Oxyclean and a vacuum sealer to finish cleaning up from this trip.