By Mike Lydick
It’s 5:45 in the morning. The sky is gunmetal grey with ribbons of pink and orange and blue to the east of us beyond British Cemetery Road.
I’m carrying the 30-liter cooler, filled to the brim with ice and Gatorades and sandwiches to the dock beyond.
Captain Ernie Doshier welcomes my half-awakened family and helps us over the transom and into the cabin of the Gecko. We are going to the Gulf Stream.
It has been a year nearly to the day since our first offshore charter. For about10 years before that, we would sit in the afternoon at SmacNally’s and watch the boats come in with their catch — wide eyed as one species of fish after another was laid out onto the dock for the traditional “bragging rights” photo: Mahi, Wahoo, Snapper, Trigger, Tuna. The kind of haul you see on a Sunday morning ESPN fishing show.
A fleet of boats simultaneously slips out of Silver Lake and works its way past Springer’s Point, past Teach’s Hole towards South Point where we all “cross the bar.”
Gulls follow behind us, alongside the smaller tourist boats. Some of them are following the Gecko’s track across the bar for safety. Some are tracking the Gecko to see where its captain will fish today. We slow to let them pass impatiently to seek their bounty on their own.
Ocracoke slips past the horizon, sliding over the curve of Earth. It is exciting and unsettling to be out of sight of land.
We discover dozens of container ships and sailing and fishing boats the farther we go out. Many have been out since dawn, chasing black marlin for a local tournament. Ernie tells us that the third-place fish is 530 pounds, and today is the last day to find one that weighs 531. The VHF radio is alive with voices of men who have traveled thousands of miles to try their hands at coaxing one from the deep. First prize is over $1 million.
The water here is an indescribable blue. A liquid, clear, cobalt gem that sparkles like a set stone. I stare at it, mesmerized, as we slow down.
The gulf stream is warm and carries yellow-orange grass patties up from the Caribbean. The patties follow one another in a string, ranging in size from a bed pillow to a car-sized oval of tubular grass. Below the grass are smaller migrating bait fish. Below them are the mahi. Below the mahi – the marlins.
“Bailing rods in the water!” shouts the captain from up in the tower.
We all move to the rear of the boat and drop our baited lines down into the azure water as we troll alongside the grass.
“Fish on!” I shout as a 24-karat gold fish swims up and bites my bait. It flashes blue and gold and green as it leaps one to two feet out of the water. A mahi!
More fish surface. What was a quiet serene scene is now a chaotic cacophonous dance, with First Mate Daniel O’Neal moving at triple speed to pull the fish in and rebait the hooks with the dexterity and precision of an orchestra conductor.
The once empty fish box is filling fast. I tell my family how proud of them I am. We’ve done well. I cherish this living memory.
We eventually make our way back home, back across the bar, exhausted and exhilarated, sun falling on the opposite side of the sky.
The fish are laid on the dock. The photos are taken. Our trophies total nearly 80 pounds of pristine, fresh fillets to be vacuum sealed and flash frozen at Native Seafood.
I am already dreaming of next year’s trip. Wondering what will come up from the deep to meet us. Grateful for the memories of us all together at the same time once again.