What to Expect When You Go Deep Sea Fishing on a Charter Boat

I have been badgering my buddy Bob to take me deep sea fishing for years. I’ve always wanted an Old Man and the Sea experience and he’s an avid fisherman, so I figured who better to take me out on the water than him? He kept agreeing that yes, he should be the one to accompany me on my first ocean fishing trip, but he also never set a date, so after a few years I added it to my bucket list and figured I’d get to it someday. And then out of nowhere Bob sends a text asking what I’m doing the following weekend and the next thing I know I’m getting out of bed at 4:30 in the morning and stumbling around in the dark to find my way out the door.

Now, just to be clear: usually the only way I’d get out of bed at that hour is if my house were on fire, but for this I made an exception. No pain, no gain and all of that (took that line a little too literally for my zip lining bucket list check, but that’s a story for another day). Plus the combination of a sunrise*, boat ride, and fresh fish was just too tempting to pass by.

I should note here that I don’t have a lot of fishing experience, outside of ice fishing during the frigid winters of Saskatchewan. Although as a kid we lived in Iowa for a while and I remember catching catfish a few times with my dad and a vague recollection of sitting on the murky banks of the Mississippi, watching those whiskered bottom dwellers flop around the inside of a cooler. I also recall a rather gross incident back when I was in college that involved reeling in a jackfish after baiting the hook with a knee scab, but all told I’ve probably only been fishing a dozen times. And I’ve certainly never done it on a boat in the middle of the ocean, all Hemingway-style.

Never one to do anything halfway, my buddy Bob showed up for our adventure equipped with everything we would need to pull giant marlins and swordfish out of the water. Yes, enormous fish were exactly what I imagined I would catch out there, which Bob said made me the perfect angler already: chock full of exaggerated catch sizes and bloody battle stories. In addition to the numerous poles, weights, hooks, rags, and coolers, Bob had even bought me my very own fishing pole in my favorite colors, orange and gold. I was beyond excited, which says a lot considering it was pretty much the middle of the night.

After all 77 of us wannabe fishers shuffled onto the boat, we headed out into the cold, choppy waters, cloaked in darkness and eerie silence. Our first stop was a bait dock, a floating shack perched on a bobbing dock surrounded by barking sea lions desperate for a taste of the squid the crew was gathering. Once the crew was finished hauling bait onto the boat we drove for another hour into the golden rising sun – a magnificent sight worth every moment of lost sleep.

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We finally stopped, threw our lines overboard, and almost immediately managed to get tangled into one another’s lines. Have you ever seen 77 people attempting to untangle fishing line? I assure you it’s both funny and frustrating. Clearly, there were way too many of us trying to fish the same space, but eventually we all found our groove and started cranking in the catches.

I’ll just kill your anticipation right here and admit that no, despite all of my pre-trip smack talk, I did not reel in a 1,000 pound marlin or 10-foot swordfish. However, by the time we started heading back to shore, I did manage to possess seven rockfish (err, five of which I actually caught and two that Bob donated to my “I’m a natural angler, look at me go” cause). Considering I spent half of my time tangled in one of my neighbor’s lines, that’s not bad.

For those of you who would like to experience this adventure for yourself, there are a few things to know before you head out: for the highway robbery (or pirate price, in this case) cost of a buck a fish, the crew will fillet your catch for you, which I gladly paid because I am not even going to pretend I know how to do that. Also: dress in layers, bring Dramamine just in case, carry cash, pack rags for your soon-to-be filthy hands, and wear shoes or boots you don’t mind getting dirty because you will be stomping around in fish guts.

Minus the missing marlin, my deep sea fishing experience was everything I had dreamed it would be. If you like learning a new skill, enjoy boats, and love nature, I highly suggest you try it. And I’m not giving up on someday scoring that giant fish: I have my own pole now and know how to use it.

*This post is dedicated to the memory of my grandpa Curly, who got up early every morning just to see the sun rise and salute the promise of a new day.

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