By Dale Wills
As so-called fishermen, our minds run the gamut when we think back to the first time we tried to catch fish. For many of us, our childhoods exposed us to ponds, ditches, lakes and beaches. We looked at these bodies of water imagining what fish were ready to reel in on whatever we had to cast out.
My first fish was expertly angled at the ripe age of 6 at the Ft. Pierce City Marina. I deployed a frozen shrimp perfectly down the seawall, and a monster six-ounce mangrove snapper ended up in my bucket. It was a bittersweet catch because my younger brother Jamie ended up with a whopper sheepshead. In our competitive household, it was all about the size of the fish, and Jamie certainly took home the bragging rights. I’m certain this was his first fish too. From that point on, fishing has been a way of life for me and my brother.
For you too, perhaps it was a hobby you always wanted to try and got hooked when you did. Or maybe you were invited out by a friend and bitten by the fishing bug. Whatever the reason, the introduction was made, and you still enjoy the sport to this day. To continue, we as fishermen must continue to invite new people into our sport.
A Taste of Bluewater
Fishing inshore, which is fairly accessible, comes with the natural progression of wanting to fish offshore in saltwater. Growing up in Florida, it was hard to miss seeing a Guy Harvey T-shirt portraying all sorts of ocean-swimming fish in action. Eventually, you go on a trip offshore to the bluewater. It’s amazing to see just how blue the offshore water actually is. Add to this seeing a Mahi for the first time when the fish is lit up as bright and colorful as any T-shirt print. I know my first time seeing a colorful Mahi convinced me that all the colors in the world originated from the ocean. There’s something about traveling to deeper water, leaving the sight of land, being one with the elements, completely free, and imagining what the day will bring. It gets in your blood, as my dad would say. This, for most of us, is the beginning of the desire to pursue more and more offshore endeavors.
There’s a point in life when a boat goes from a want to a need. No matter how old you were when you first purchased a boat, you probably fall under a few of the following scenarios:
Some of you were lucky enough to have a boat as a kid. To be young and able to run around in your local waters and fish every chance you could would have made you the envy of fishermen who never had this opportunity. The next scenario is fishing on the family boat. This eventually became your adopted boat when your maturity and responsibility passed your father’s approval. It never hurt to bring a fresh filet home for dinner from time to time to show your appreciation.
Another first boat scenario occurs when your bank account starts to accumulate a bit of savings after paying your dues in the working world. It’s the point when you finally decide to become an owner instead of relying on friends’ invitations. You now have total control of your fishing schedule and, accordingly, the cost of running the boat. This is by far the largest group of fishermen, as the age can range from the early 20s and up.
A subcategory of the employed boat owner is those who were crazy enough to buy a boat and charter fish for a living. Your love of fishing is unrivaled.
To a lesser extent, another scenario is the late bloomer boat owner. You’ve worked the vast majority of your life and think it’s a good idea to get a fishing boat.
Obviously, there are plenty of other scenarios that depict buying the first boat, but regardless, it’s part of the evolution.
When Police Chief Martin Brody tells Capt. Quint in Jaws, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” that quote has a much broader meaning than countless fishermen realize. When you get used to the comforts of owning your own boat, it’s only a matter of time before you want a bigger cockpit, more staterooms, to hold more fuel and finally to go faster. I’ve had one friend tell me that you should always try to keep the size of your boat above your age. That was his goal in life until he topped out at 65’. Longer, farther trips offshore, running in bigger seas, accommodating a larger family and more guests and camping out on overnighters are a few additional reasons for going up in boat size. As your passion for offshore fishing grows, your needs will too. If you fish long enough, you are going to acquire a bigger boat.
Building or buying your dream boat for offshore fishing is one of the final stages of the sportfishing evolution. For the vast majority, it comes at a point when you’ve worked your tail off for decades, your love for fishing has taken you all over the world, and through your boat ownership and knowledge of nearly every builder in the industry, you know just what you want. There are several scenarios of what classifies as a dream boat, and obviously, it’s all relative to each individual. It could be as simple as owning a boat large enough to hire a full-time crew. Or it’s the point where you want to build a new custom boat with all the bells and whistles. Regardless of the reason, the title “Dream Boat” is very much a part of the offshore fisherman’s evolution. In fact, it’s towards the end of the evolution. It’s an indication you’ve reached the point where your love of bluewater fishing is one of your favorite hobbies and you are a true die-hard.
Following the dream boat status, a few scenarios will eventually emerge on the evolution of a sportfishing boat owner. For some, the thrill of offshore fishing will slowly begin to lose its luster. It’s akin to a person who hunts and goes through the hunting evolution. In the beginning, it’s all about firsts and shooting everything you can. Next in line is taking your personal best and then gradually only harvesting a trophy. The final phase for many is not harvesting any game and simply being in nature and seeing the animals.
Offshore fishing can take a similar path. Once you’ve caught enough marlin or tuna or whatever you love to pursue, you may seek out locations known for big numbers, big fish and light tackle records. For marlin fishermen, it’s often the pursuit of a grander or possibly a personal best number of releases. If you fish long enough, you will accomplish most of your life’s fishing goals. Eventually, your body will keep you out of the fighting chair. Or let you know it’s time to slow down on banging through the rough seas. You’ll cut down on the number of offshore fishing trips. Just being out on the water fishing becomes the big attraction, and watching others capture a big game fish becomes the thrill.
Pulling the Plug
We must not forget the end for many in the sportfishing evolution. That is, the ones who get out altogether. I’ve often said that owners come and go, and the crew are the ones who remain in the industry. For some, the time from the introduction to offshore fishing to burnout can occur quickly. The reasons are numerous. Oftentimes, owners become fed up with the crew. Hiring the right crew can be a challenge, and more times than not, turnover leads to the end of the fun. For those who are lucky enough to find the right owner-crew combination, pulling the plug on the operation is likely a health-related issue rather than a lack of enjoyment.
There is a myriad of dynamic factors associated with the sportfishing evolution. Where are you on the growth curve? Enjoy the sport and everything it has to offer. It’s not the ending that matters, it’s the journey of getting there. Most of all, be sure to share it with others by introducing them to the sport of fishing along the way.
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