Offshore fishing offers scenes to remember for a lifetime There is a good chance that either you or some other landlocked citizen you know yearns to live at the beach. It’s a place where you imagine the sun to be always shining in a cloudless sky, the sand littered with unique shells and the blue waves splashing.
If you do desire to be in such a place, go for it. But I’ll take offshore fishing instead.
A day of offshore fishing begins three days before you hit the water. You cross your fingers and cross your toes, stroke a rabbit’s foot and hope for no wind and many fish. I tend to listen intently to the forecasts for offshore weather. Half the time, they’re correct.
Once you remove the weather factor, it is only the battle of sleep that stands in your way. I simply cannot sleep the night before a fishing trip as a thousand variables cross my mind from the moment my head meets the pillow.
Some of those variables actually have little to do with fishing and more to do with actually making it to the boat. With three alarm clocks — electric, battery and computer-driven — I’m scared that one might be set wrong and the other two may fail during the night. And then, even if the alarm clocks do activate, I fear the truck won’t start or my battery will be dead or I’ll catch myself waking from a brief sleep and questioning where my keys are.
Sleep usually arrives about 20 minutes before the time I have to get up, and I find myself almost always waking up 19 minutes later — usually without the alarm.
The drive to the docks can be challenging. I’ll fear that the rail crossing will be down, a cop will be posted somewhere with a radar gun in hand or a tire will blow out.
When I arrive at the docks following whatever drive I made, my knuckles will be white, my toes cramped from being crossed and that rabbit’s foot without any hair left on one side.
Once you get to the boat in the predawn light, it feels as though you have run a marathon. All of the pressure suddenly is off you, and now the day ahead begins to take form. With the steady rumble of diesel engines, the whine of a generator and the sound of wheels propelling the boat from the slip, life at sea begins.
I’ve written many, many times before about what I and others see when we leave the confines of a marina and head towards the inlet. However, each trip I take, I seem to find a different word or another view that captures the morning.
The best way to describe the experience is that there is an anxious calm. All is still, all is dark, and aside from your gentle wake, the water resembles black velvet cradling each dock and shoreline that you pass.
With the boat beyond the wake zone and the mouth of the inlet ahead, adrenaline and smiles escalate with the steady climb of RPMs. The boat is at full tilt, gliding calmly up the swell and then down again, with the splash of water giving way to a rhythmic cadence at every rise and fall.
The course is plotted, and your eyes focus on the land you are now forsaking. The beach, the fort, the docks and the many homes shrink with each swell.
The cape lighthouse now becomes the center of your attention, and with the methodical flicker of light, your beacon of safety points the way home and the way to sea.
When the amber light from the sun breaks the horizon, the best place to view it is from a boat headed east. If you take all of the sunrises ever witnessed from land, none would be the same as seeing your first sunrise from the sea. There are no obstacles to hide each ray of newness, and the ceiling has no limit as life rises from the dark.
The sun paints a portrait full of red and yellow hues against the sea and sky. While some may argue that an artist can best capture the sun on canvas, I’d like to think that an angler has caught many of these daily births from a vessel headed to sea.
With the lighthouse now sunken beneath the calm swells and the sun climbing its ladder, only the sea is left to study. When I first began fishing off the coast, I looked forward to the ride to and from fishing spots as an opportunity to sleep. However, it wasn’t long until I noticed there was too much life at sea to study and not miss because of sleep. As the boat marches towards the fishing grounds, I now carefully study the world around me, marveling at sights most never see.
From the moment you leave the inlet, anything could enter your passing field of vision: A loggerhead paddling alone at sea is a rare treat, or a race between the boat and a porpoise or the sight of a sailfish “hot-dogging it” out of the water in chase of bait fish; even the sight of tuna balling up bait fish on the surface, causing the water to “boil.”
These scenes last only a few seconds. You remember them for a lifetime.
And just as you are locked in your observation mode, scanning every floating object, you feel the boat slow to a crawl. The once humming engines now fade to a gentle purr as the wake moves the boat forward.
The boat becomes full of life as baits and patterns are tossed into the water, and the day of fishing begins. It is perhaps 8:30 in the morning. Maybe it is Thursday or Saturday or a holiday.
You have just completed the most difficult and most rewarding hurdle in fishing, and you are only half-way home. For the next eight hours, you troll the waters in search of a fish, a tug, a fight, a dream.
Then, on the boat ride home, you spend two hours reflecting on the trip, the missed fish, the fish that walked across the water with his bill pointing to the heavens and the green fish that turned blue and yellow before being placed on ice.
The land which you left as a small speck on the horizon is now growing taller. The sun has switched positions, and it welcomes you back to long, shadow-filled docks hustling with people, boats and noise.
With a photograph of the day culminating the trip on the water, the day is complete.
Yet, through it all, you realize that the day was more than just the fish in the cooler. It was the sights of strange fish, the humor in surfing porpoises, the steady beam of a lighthouse, the glow of a new sun and the dreams that kept you awake.
You can have your beaches, your sand and those sunsets from postcards, but I’ll take life at sea — even if it keeps me awake at night.
Jason Hawkins’ column appears each Sunday in The Herald-Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.