By Richard Simms
GRAND ISLE, Louisiana
I thought I knew, but now, after 64 years of life, I’ve gained a new perspective on what it really means to, “Run far and fish hard!”
The realization hit me as the sun fell below the horizon of the Gulf of Mexico.
I had not seen dry land for hours.
Out of the darkness, an eight-foot wave loomed, breaking over the bow of our 32-foot catamaran. Capt. Lance Walker calmly said, “We’re about 120 miles offshore right now.”
Twelve of us – in two boats – were on a 24-hour tuna fishing trip with Fish Commander Guide Service out of Grand Isle, Louisiana.
“These overnight trips are for the hardcore fisherman,” said Capt. Walker. “They’re for somebody who is really dedicated to spending the time for the yellowfin tuna. It’s a Bucket List fish for everybody. The quality of the meat is incredible and the fish fight hard.”
“Fight hard” is a gross understatement. Long before being invited on this excursion, I had heard the tales of epic battles that had literally brought the strongest of men to their knees.
And among this particular group of “manly men,” to hand off your rod to someone else midway a fish fight is taboo.
The hander-offer can expect some good-natured ribbing (or worse). I was worried.
I was even more worried when I watched Chattanooga businessman Rob Jenkins hook up to a freight train that seemed bound for the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico—5,000 feet down.
Time and time again the big tuna ripped line from Jenkins’ reel. Thirty minutes into the battle, Jenkins was spent.
It was clear there was no strength left in his muscles or his soul.
Mentally, he had gone someplace most men have never seen.
But reminiscent of “The Old Man and the Sea,” Jenkins refused to give into his weakened body or the fish.
I could hear the words written by Hemmingway, “Fish, I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”
The battle raged on as fellow anglers gave Jenkins water and provided what feeble encouragement they could.
After the most grueling fish fight I’ve ever witnessed, Jenkins’ tuna hit the bottom of the boat… with no handoff.
“It’s a unique thing,” said Capt. Walker later. “A lot of people do give up. The other day I had six guys who all swapped out the rod on one fish, twice. And it still took two hours to get that fish in the boat.”
As Erik Almy, a key organizer of previous outings with Fish Commander aptly puts it, “This was our fifth trip in the past 30 months with Fish Commander. These guys are hardcore fish catching machines. This is not a sightseeing sunset cruise with a few fish mixed in. If that’s what you’re after go to Destin with all the tourists.”
Whether it is the long, rough ocean ride, foul weather, or epic fish fights – this is not fishing for the faint of heart.
And just like any fishing, there are no guarantees. Out of our group of twelve, nine anglers caught ten yellowfin.
Ten tuna may not sound like much, but the biggest fish was pushing 80 pounds—they average between 40 and 50 pounds.
But if you buy yellowfin tuna retail, you will pay a minimum of $10 a pound, sometimes up to $30, depending upon the quality and the cut. So, you do the math.
In addition to the yellowfin tuna, the two groups carried 21 large cobia to the dock along with assorted blackfin tuna and mahi mahi.
Truth be known, we could have caught more cobia if we had wanted.
But at the end of 24-hours of hard fishing, pounding seas, and hot sun, most of us were figuratively and literally, “done.”
FISHING THE RIGS
Most of the fishing off the shore of Louisiana is around oil rigs – drillers and wells reaping the benefits of precious black gold resting underneath the sea bed. The Louisiana coastal economy revolves around oil and fishing.
“I’ve taken a lot of biologists out here,” said Capt. Walker.
“They’re amazed by it. They describe these oil rigs as ‘vertical reefs.’ Without these oil platforms and these structures, Louisiana wouldn’t be the fishery that it is. We hope they keep it clean, keep it safe and do what they need to do. But these structures provide places for the bait to hide out and the game fish to ambush it. It’s just an ecosystem that we really utilize and really need. It’s like nowhere else in the world.”
Shawn Butt has also traveled the world on exotic fishing trips.
“The Gulf of Mexico is an incredible fishery for yellowfin tuna,” he said. “It is rivaled by very few places across the globe.”
“I’ve fished with dozens of saltwater guides in six states,” said Allen Neuschwander.
“I have had trips where I didn’t catch a thing. These guys bust their tails, and do their best to put you on fish; target species, non-target species, and everything in between. They will put you on fish and at the end of the day will send you home with meat in the box.”