Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Keep Rollin', Rollin', Rollin', Rollin', What?!

Our trolling lines.

Typically I am a planner. I want to have as much advanced notice as I can to plan out my trips so we can get the most out of it or to make sure we are prepared for everything that can come our way. That is why I was so frustrated with our recent vacation in the Outer Banks. I had been planning our fishing trip for over 6 months making sure we were going out for the right fish at the right time in the right location. All that planning was for naught due to circumstances beyond my control. But it left a bad taste in my mouth. A taste I could only get rid of by going back out on the water.

So what did I do as a natural knee jerk reaction to that experience? Well I decided to go on a last minute charter four hours away with my nephew, Ryan. We had a loose idea of what we would be doing, pot hopping insearch of dolphinfish aka mahi-mahi. We really had no idea when we would be leaving, where in the ocean we would be going or when we would be back. Basically we put our faith in the Captain to decide what we should do and just "rolled" with it. 

Life throws you curveballs. Sometimes you swing and miss, as with our two attempts to go inshore fishing in the Outer Banks. But sometimes you swing and connect, which is exactly what happened on our recent trip back up to the lovely state of New Jersey.

The day before we were to head up to NJ we learned from the Captain that since we would be driving such a long way that we didn’t need to get to the dock so early. There would be plenty of time on the water to find some fish. The weather report had slight winds in the morning which were to taper off in the afternoon. Not the ideal situation for fishing off-shore but definitely not the worst.  But just as a precaution everyone took motion-sickness medication. We also learned that the typical trip would have put us between 15 to 20 miles off-shore but because of water quality and clarity we would have to make a run out to about  50 to 60 miles off-shore to get to the good water. This was shaping up to be more than I bargained for but we decided again to just "roll" with it.

Captain Eric and Ryley with his bull mahi.
When we arrived at the boat Ryan gave me a look that said “We are going 60 miles off-shore in THAT boat?!?” to which I shrugged and said the Captain knows what he is doing. Indeed Captain Eric Kerber does know what he is doing. He has run a successful charter operation out of Belmar for a while now and heads down to Florida in the winter to work for another boat. When not out on a charter, Captain Eric is an Assistant Manager at a local tackle shop. Oh and did I mention he is also part of the Field & Stream Hook Shot’s crew which had recently posted a “How to” video for pot hopping mahi? Yeah we were in good hands.

We all climbed on board, got our safety briefing and started to head out of the inlet. Luckily for us Captain Eric had some beanbag chairs on board to make the 2+ hour trip more comfortable. Unfortunately for everyone else, Ryley had confiscated both been bags and was fast asleep. The ride out was a little bumpy but not too bad. When we reached the first few lobster pots 15 miles off-shore we were greeted by green chalky water with horrible visibility. So we kept on truckin’. We found the same water around many more pots the farther we got out, but slowly the water quality improved.

Me holding up Ryley's catch while he threw the horns.
Then all of a sudden, as if by magic, the water went from green to a deep cobalt blue. We were in business. We woke Ryley up and got all excited that we would be slaying mahi momentarily. Then the routine set it. Pull up to a pot, cast cast cast, no one home and off to the next pot. Repeat. It was beginning to get discouraging but we kept at it. Then out of the blue “fish on” and Ryley’s line was screaming drag. I still had my line in the water so Ryan went over to help Ryley as the rod was doubling over from the mahi on his line. I quickly tried to reel in my lure so I could help Ryley and then felt a solid strike on my line and my reel began to sing. We had doubled up! We frantically tried to keep the lines from tangling when my other nephew, Corey, yelled he had a mahi on as well. A triple header! The boat was in absolute chaos. 

Corey with his bull mahi.
Every time Ryley or I would get our fish close to the boat they would just dive down again out of the reach of the gaff. Luckily Corey’s fish decided to give up rather quickly so we still had two more to get aboard. After a brief struggle with my mahi, she got close enough for Captain Eric to get the gaff in her. That’s when I took over helping Ryley so that Ryan could cast out to the one other mahi we saw circling the pot. I got Ryley into a rhythm of lifting the pole and then reeling quickly as he tipped his rod back towards the water. Lift and reel. Lift and reel. But the fish didn’t want to cooperate. He kept peeling line off the reel as soon as we got him close to the boat. He just didn’t want to be caught. Several times he decided to go airborne in an effort to shake the lure. Thank goodness that didn’t work. After what seemed like an eternity Ryley finally managed to get the bull close enough to the boat for Captain Eric to gaff him. 

Ryley with his peanut mahi; more his size.
While I would love to report that we continued to slay the mahi for the rest of the day, we didn’t. We came upon several pots that help mahi, but we just couldn’t get them to bite. Ryan managed to hook up with a nice size almaco jack and at one pot Corey hooked into a decent sized mahi only to have if flop off the gaff. (Thank's Captain Eric!) We even located some floating jetsam, an old mail tub and mylar balloons, on the water and managed to get some follows and Ryley caught a small peanut mahi barely worth keeping. We had a decent day on the water and it was about 3:30 pm when the Captain asked us a question I don’t think we were expecting to hear; we could pack it in and head back to the dock OR we could throw out some lines and troll for tuna for a few hours before heading back in. He made it clear if we chose the second option that we wouldn’t be getting back to the dock until after dark, which meant we wouldn’t be getting back home until the middle of the night. Since it had served us perfectly well in those other instances we decided to "roll" with it again and we started to set out the lines.

The guys with their catch of the day.
I had no idea what to expect. Ryley and I had previously trolled for striped bass, but tuna get a LOT bigger than stripers. We had seen plenty of life already (porpoises, whales, turtles you name it!)  so we were hoping for the best while preparing to get bored out of our minds (trolling entails just driving the boat around with your lines out waiting for a strike). We were pleasantly surprised with tuna trolling though as the trolling part of it had lines splashing lures at the surface making a ruckus. We hadn’t had the lines out long with something struck a line and Ryan jumped on it. He fought the fish but ended up losing it as it got closer to the boat. About ten minutes later that same line got hit again and this time it was my turn. I ended up bringing in a butterball of a skipjack, which is part of the tuna family. That would be the last fish we would catch. Shortly thereafter we reeled in the lines and got ready for our two hour trip back to the dock.

Skipjack Sashimi
Once back at the docks it was time to unpack the boat and repack our vehicle. It was time for Captain Eric to take some last minute pictures and begin to fillet the fish. It was also time for one new thing to “roll” with. Captain Eric asked if we wanted to have dockside sushi in the form of skipjack sashimi. We all eagerly agreed because frankly we were starving. Captain Eric sliced it thin and we marinated it in soy sauce with some wasabi added to it. Now I love sushi. I could eat tune sushi all day long. But the skipjack sashimi was absolutely out of this world. I have had Bluefin and Yellowfin tuna and it never tasted that good. The skipjack was less than 5 hours old and it was glorious. I saw amazed to see that even Ryley joined in and had some of the sashimi, which he liked believe it or not.

Me and Corey with our mahi and Ryley with his.
This was by far one of the best times I have spent out on the water. Part of it had to do with the fact that I've always wanted to chase after mahi.  Part of it also had to do with the fact that we spent over 13 hours on the water relaxing and catching fish. But most of all I think it had to do with the fact that we just "rolled" with it. That kind of attitude made it so much more enjoyable for me and for Ryley. I wasn't worried so much that things had to be perfect and it allowed for me to enjoy those moments with Ryley just a little more. In those "roll" with it moments though it wasn't just me making the decisions, I often looked to Ryley for affirmation on what he wanted to do. That is an important aspect to keeping your kids happy during an activity no matter how long or short it is. They have to be up for it just as much if not more than you do yourself. So the next time you find yourself presented with an opportunity out of the blue just "roll" with it, like I did. Until then keep taking your kids outdoors...

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