Deep Sea Fishing 101 is what I call my first time out. Over the years I had strolled through many marinas, watching the charter boats come in, enviously looking on as the lucky fishermen posed beside their catch. This year I decided to take the plunge. While in Maui, I agreed into sharing a 6 hour charter with three friends, one being a woman non-fisher(at half price). I had some concerns as my fishing experience was limited to 12-foot boats. This was the big leagues; reels the size of SUVs and a fighting chair. But the charter guy said we needed no experience to fish the big water. The only rules were to bring our own food and drink, and don’t ever bring bananas aboard (a superstition to do with rotting fruit).
Before dawn we headed for the marina. Our excitement grew as we were welcomed aboard the 37-footer No Ka Oi III, by our tattooed captain, Junior, and the fish guy, Jack from PEI. Our group of three was joined by a Texas fellow. We stowed our food and drinks and cameras and sailed south out of Maalaea harbor. It was a beautiful calm morning as we watched the sun rise over the dormant Haleakala volcano and passed Kahoolawi, a barren island once used as target practice by the US Navy.
Jack set up our five rods and hooked on artificial squid lures, playing out the lines to skip the lures along the surface at varying distances behind the boat. Each of us was assigned a rod number and every half hour we’d rotate, the idea being that the outside lines, one and four, get hit the most, as fish strike from the side. Our bait was different colored squid lures
On the deep blue open water beyond Molokini Island, we hit ten-foot swells, making us wonder what happened to the No Ka Oi I and II. Going to the head, or toilet, required a combination of marksmanship, timing, and luck. We passed the time gabbing and watching flying fish sail beside us and slice into the water. Sea birds dove into roiling masses of bait fish on the surface.
Then it happened.
“Rod four!” Jack yelled.
A mad scrambling ensued as if he’d called “battle stations” to naval cadets. Everyone parted as I charged to rod four.
The rod bowed deeply as line played out with a steady screech. Jack gestured me to the fighting chair as he pulled the enormous rod from the holder. We guided it into the rod holder between my legs, just under the chair, and I took hold of a powerful force. This was no lazy walleye. My heart was flying. I was the ‘man’ in the chair and the star of the show.
Junior cut back the boat speed to a crawl while Jack gave me a few pointers: pull up the rod to 45 degrees and reel until the rod went down to touch the transom. Pull up, reel down, pull up, reel down.
Thoughts of the big kahuna, a massive 750 pound marlin raced through my mind. I suddenly became aware the fighting chair had no seat belt. Landing a monster would grant me bragging rights forever on any Alberta lake. The line didn’t feel like I had on a whale, but I badly wanted whatever it was. After about seven minutes, I hauled in a 10 pound ahi, a yellowfin tuna. It was a piece of cake.
It was a beautiful fish; blue and yellow and silver colors so bright it looked like a ceramic model. Despite this one’s small size, I was pleased to catch a tuna, the fastest fish in the ocean.
Another reel screamed. “Number two!”
We whooped and cheered when my buddy raced to the fighting chair and soon hauled in a 30 pound mahi-mahi (aka dorado in some parts). Amazingly, it was even more brightly colored than the tuna. Later, he brought in a 22 pound mahi-mahi and finished his fishing adventure by retching over the side a few times. He was our first casualty from seasickness, forcing him to lay down for the last few hours. On the bright side, it freed up a spot.
The continual pitch and yaw brought down another. If you’re prone to seasickness I’d recommend the motion sickness wrist bands or take some Gravol. Short of a medical emergency, the boat will not return until the charter is over. When the sun was beginning to cook us we headed back to the marina just after lunch. We all had caught fish; 4 ahi and 2 mahi-mahi. Our triumphant return was announced by the captain who raised the fish flags: yellow for mahi-mahi, blue for ahi.
In Hawaii it is customary that fish caught remain with the boat to defray miscellaneous costs at the captain’s discretion. However, we were allowed to keep some fillets. It is also customary to leave a tip if you catch fish. Our captain agreed to clean a mahi-mahi and one ahi. The remainder was destined for a nearby restaurant. Our catch was hung by their tails from an arbor on the dock and we posed with it, talking like pros, bragging. It felt wonderful to be on the boat side of that display.
The best part though may have been the delicious fish BBQ and reliving the excitement at dinner. And like the fish, I am now hooked.