A Hundred Miles From Shore

Profile by John Tolmie

The sea was calm as we motored south towards the Canyon. For years, the wonderment of what lay far off the coast of Connecticut had been calling me with increasing fervor. Weather, finances, and timing had, to this point, been a collective of hindrances that prevented me from experiencing the lore of true offshore fishing. However, the time had finally arrived and soon our trio would drop lines into the cobalt blue water of the Gulf Stream that hugged the most outer reaches of New England’s unpredictable seas. Two seasoned fishermen would be my guide. Ryan and John would test my resilience, patience, and fortitude on a two-day trip where we would hunt the creatures that dwelled deep below. Tuna, swordfish, marlin, wahoo, and other pelagic species were waiting for us. Finding them would be a challenge. To draw them close would take every trick in the angler’s bible. Yet, to have them bite and spool our reels would be a fulfilling task that we determined to make happen. A sleek thirty-one-foot Contender would be our chariot and two men, twenty years my junior, would be my mentors. Humble, eager, and willing to learn a new way of fishing fueled my mind as I braced for an epic journey that would not soon be forgotten. The offshore cult was a small and exclusive club that was entered by invitation only. I would briefly become a part of this pinnacle of sport fishing.

The ride out took three hours, which seemed to pass in mere moments as the excitement culminated. A hundred miles from nowhere, we slid into a cacophony of boats that crossed one another in search of prey. The scene likened to a watery city where an organized pandemonium of boats danced around one another. Finback whales breached and snorted plumes of saltwater from their spouts all the while ignoring the frenzy of watercraft above. The mission was simple as whales and men alike gathered here to catch fish. However, my seasoned guides quickly tired of the boat traffic. A new course was laid and we headed further south. We arrived at an orange high-flyer which marked deep water lobster pots. I donned a thin wetsuit and long fins and splashed overboard. Agoraphobia tried to take hold but I talked myself down and did breathing exercises to slow my heart rate. I swam to the structure teaming with life. Spearing three triggerfish and one mahi-mahi in rapid succession, I swam back to the boat and we were off to another secret spot.

We began to troll with a myriad of lines stretching aft. Long-bar spreaders, deepwater ballyhoos, and short-bar surface lures followed obediently behind. The boat slowly trolled along for hours with the lures producing no bite. Lines were reeled in and another course was set to an area where tilefish congregated. Chunks of squid were hooked and dropped down to five hundred feet. Hours went by and still no bite as the sun began to kiss the horizon. However, an excitement exuded from Ryan and John. Apparently fishing at dusk was optimal. John and Ryan were a proficient team as lures for trolling emerged once again and the ballet of rigging lines ensued.

With the lines spread, the boat trolled at a lazy four knots. Suddenly, the buzz of the paying line caused our heads swivel. My hands were wrapped around the rod as Ryan barked orders to keep the line tight. Whatever was on the hook was incredibly powerful. I stepped into a harness as John slid it around my waist and slid the rod onto its recess. The reel continued to scream as I leaned back and did my best to follow orders. The fish relented and I reeled in with all my might, but the beast still had plenty more to offer as the spool whined again. Back and forth we went until the line went slack again. I continued to reel as John encouraged me to keep the line tight. Suddenly the reel spun again and the fish made a final attempt. A translucent glow appeared on the starboard side. It was a white marlin, a big one. Glove on hand, John grabs its pointed bill, I grasp the tail and wrestle it to the deck. Ryan is yelling something to me but I cannot hear what he’s saying. My eyes are seeing something incredible and beautiful for the very first time. He laughs as he witnesses my temporary coma. Finally, my senses return and I’m encouraged to hold my first offshore catch.  The powerful fish flaps in protest against my chest. A quick photo is taken and we release the marlin back into the blue. Heart still pounding, I hug my teammates for helping me check off another goal on the bucket list.

With the web of monofilament back in place, we continue our quest. Reels burst with anger again and again as we take turns pulling various species of tuna into the boat. Skipjack, long-finned albacore and yellowfin tuna fill the coolers as the dark envelopes us. The bite had ceased and the time came to set up a “drift and chunk”. With the motors off, the sea takes us in its lazy current. Lines are dropped over the side as we drift. My job was to toss chunks of butterfish, creating a chum line. The night wore on and nothing seemed interested in efforts. The three of us yawned with exhaustion and found ourselves sinking into giant bean-bags. The sky was clear and the Milky Way galaxy loomed overhead in all its glory. It was utterly amazing. Our eyes soon closed while we drifted along as the ocean gently rocked us to sleep. Tomorrow we would wake on the cobalt sea and do it all again.