Rais­ing Flags

GET­TING ONE’S FEET WET.

Power & Motor Yacht - - SPORTFISHING - Isn’t work when you love it.

ork­ing as a mate on a fish­ing boat, where you crease the in­let in the morn­ing, watch the sun rise, breathe fresh salty air and get paid to do it, is one of the best forms of em­ploy­ment on the planet. My first pay­ing job was wash­ing a half-day fluke boat. The mate paid me a dol­lar to scrub the bait buck­ets and toss a few pails of salt wa­ter to wash the decks, while he sat on the dock watch­ing me and talk­ing to teenage girls. It was not much but I could ride my bike to work and those girls were cute. I am sure the man who in­vented epoxy must have un­der­stood the tenac­ity of dried squid ten­ta­cles, but I was think­ing ahead, won­der­ing how to get a mate’s job the fol­low­ing sum­mer.

Un­for­tu­nately, when I got the op­por­tu­nity to go fish­ing one af­ter­noon on the boat, I was dou­ble­played by the stench of the 6-71 Detroit Diesel and a rolling south­east swell, which made me a bet­ter can­di­date for chum­ming blue­fish than net­ting fluke. It took a while but I fi­nally over­came the drama of mal de mer and even­tu­ally got a spot as a sec­ond mate on a party boat fish­ing for por­gies, sea bass, and black­fish. My stom­ach liked the idea of an­chor­ing as op­posed to drift­ing, and as my sea legs de­vel­oped I was sure I had found my call­ing for fu­ture sum­mers.

One of my friends worked with his dad on a char­ter boat, and in short or­der I dis­cov­ered a whole new world of fish­ing out where the hori­zon met the sky. I worked for the ex­pe­ri­ence but made a few bucks ev­ery now and then by sell­ing ex­tra fish left be­hind like false al­ba­core that I hawked as “sil­ver tuna.” By sum­mer’s end I knew what I wanted to do the next June. Sure enough, I talked my­self into a job on a char­ter boat but I only lasted a month. I had been told the skip­per was tough to work for but hadn’t re­al­ized dock se­man­tics meant the boat spent more time in the slip than out fish­ing. So while I was sand­ing and paint­ing the boat and pol­ish­ing Squid Spoons, I watched my bud­dies come back with fish and get paid and tipped ev­ery af­ter­noon. An­other skip­per two slips over grabbed me one morn­ing for a walk-on party. By the time we got back that af­ter­noon my old boss was on the dock scowl­ing; I was through. A mess of fish and the wad of dough in my pocket told me a dif­fer­ent story, made fat­ter and sweeter when

WI re­fused his of­fer to come back and work with him. I wanted to fish, not sit at the dock. By the time I was in col­lege, I had made it to the top char­ter­boat dock in the sleepy lit­tle town of Brielle on the Jer­sey Shore. I fished al­most ev­ery day from the time classes ended un­til I went back to the books. Un­like my class­mates who needed part-time jobs dur­ing the school year, I didn’t have that prob­lem. Trolling blue­fish May and June, chum­ming for them in July, switch­ing over to tuna, bonito, and skip­jack in Au­gust, and spend­ing Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber week­ends catching ev­ery­thing that was left was a won­der­ful life. I made school money but also picked up a few tricks along the way. I learned how to talk to peo­ple and how the right at­ti­tude and be­ing friendly could help get bet­ter tips. Hav­ing good sto­ries helped, too. When the fish were not bit­ing, other mates would tell their cus­tomers they should have been there yes­ter­day, but I would joke that they should be on the boat tomorrow. I wore ripped up can­vas TopSiders and some­times ex­plained that busi­ness was slow and of­ten tips would im­prove. This was when the pay was $15 a trip and con­sid­er­ing it was a 12-hour day you could make more at other sum­mer jobs, but get­ting paid to go fish­ing was price­less.

Spend­ing all th­ese hours on the wa­ter also meant I was col­lect­ing sea time that would come in handy when I wanted to get an ocean op­er­a­tor li­cense and move from the cock­pit to the bridge, which I did even­tu­ally. But run­ning boats is not the same as work­ing in the cock­pit. The skip­per holds his hands on the wheel and the ra­dio but­ton. The mate gets his hands around ev­ery fish. Truth be told, it is one thing to spin the shiny steer­ing wheel of a big sport­fish­ing con­vert­ible, or show off back­ing into a tight slip at 8 knots, but the mo­ment you put your gloved hands around a taut monofil­a­ment leader at­tached to a mas­sive bluefin tuna at the other end, your life changes for­ever. Pulling on some­thing that big, or re­leas­ing a frisky white mar­lin, or just wait­ing for the an­gler to bring his fish to the boat where you can net it never grows old. For my money, a mate’s job is like win­ning a lottery. And then you get to raise the flags on the outrig­ger!

Catch­ing tuna

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