As a kid growing up in Canada, I always fished in fresh water. In 1967 when I came to Philly, I started dating Carol, who turned out to be my wife, and her father was an avid fisherman. He took me out to sea for the first time, just maybe a half mile offshore. I was as sick as a dog. Not a good experience. But something told me I had to get back out there and try it again.
Three weeks later, I went fishing with Dick Weber, who is now the President and Chairman of the South Jersey Marina and The Canyon Club, and now holds the Mid-Atlantic 500 Tournament. But at the time, he had a 31-foot wooden boat, round bottom, rocked like hell, and was called the Bonito. Dick Weber was a teacher at the time, and he would have people charter his boat during the summer. We went with some friends about 21 miles out, and this time it was much more enjoyable, mostly because I didn't get sick, but also because we managed to catch some bluefish and a couple small tuna in this endless body of water. On the way back to shore from that trip is when I knew that I had fallen in love with the ocean.
I had done a lot of fresh water fishing, and there were always river banks or boundaries in a lake. When you think of the universe, it's endless. I realized that the ocean had become my universe, and I was able to ride it as far and wide as I wanted. There is no limit; you can go as far as a boat will take you. It's up to you how far you want to go.
There's an element of mystery in the ocean; it is deep and dark, and the movement talks to me when I get behind the helm. The ocean demands a certain respect, and it most definitely deserves it. It represents everything I believe in and the lifestyle that I choose to live. I don't like limits or restraints. I like that the ocean represents being care-free, open, and free.
Approximately a month after the trip with Weber, I bought a 23-foot boat. I would follow the path that Weber had shown me about 21 miles out, but I still longed for more ocean. I knew a 23-foot boat wouldn't be able to carry me there, so the following year, I bought a 33-foot boat. Longer rides, less speed, but the opportunity to take on canyons. An ocean canyon is the same as a canyon on land. About 60 miles offshore, the ocean ledge drops off to about 1600 feet below the surface. There's some good fishing there, and you never know what you're going to catch.
It is obvious that the ocean is a passion of mine, and most people believe that fishing is what solidifies that for me. But in all honesty, it's about being at the helm and feeling the connection between the ocean and I. As soon as I hit that canyon, and the ocean changes color, it becomes majestic. It really is another world. When you hit the deep, you see whales, porpoises, sharks, sea turtles that could be 200 years old, basically things that you only see in your dreams or on the Discovery Channel. The waves are longer swells, and it is almost as if you're dancing with the ocean. It reminds me that we are all connected; we are not as separate as we may seem. The power that supplies life to the deep ocean also supplies life to me.
One of my favorite trips was when I took Don Tollefson, a former sportscaster in Philadelphia, out fishing on my 40-foot boat. I had the boat docked behind my Wildwood house, and we left around 4 a.m. I promised I'd have him back on land by 7 p.m. because he had a show to do at 11 p.m. on ABC.
On our way back, we were about 40 or 50 miles out, and we caught a glimpse of birds circling over the top of the ocean, which typically means there's a whole lot of fish near the surface. So we stopped and kept on fishing. It was such a great time that we didn't get back until 3 a.m. the next day. ABC sent the coast guard looking for us. But we caught a lot of tuna and Don caught his first white marlin. It was obviously worth it.
One of my most productive trips to date was just a seemingly normal day out on the boat in 1988. There were five friends of mine on board including Tom Kemp. We went to a place called the 500 line in Baltimore Canyon; perfect conditions, flat seas all the way. My goal was just to keep going until noon as far as we could go, and turn around to come back toward shore.
I've never seen water like this before. It wasn't a dark blue like you'd usually see in the deep ocean; it was turquoise. It may have even been a body of water that had come off the Gulf Stream. It was beautiful. We were heading southeast, and once we hit the 500 line, which is about a 2,000 foot drop-off, we got a jump on the line. Tom and I were the only ones left on deck … everyone else was seasick.
Rule of thumb for bringing in a huge fish is if you let the fish go deep, you'll lose it. There's too much weight to bring it back up. I told Tom, who was sitting in the fighting chair, to let me know if the fish was going deep and I would jerk the boat forward abruptly and the angle of the line would bring the fish closer to the surface. We brought the ruts in and fought this fish for 3 hours.
Next week is the start of the Mid-Atlantic 500 at South Jersey Marina with the grand prize going to the biggest white marlin. It's an expensive tournament with an average of 100 boats running anywhere from 30 feet to 80 feet. Some of them cost roughly $10,000,000 and it's just a beautiful tournament.
Having said that, I take my boat to The Canyon Club and at night, all of the boats are set up with their flood lights on and there are 1,000 people enjoying the food, live music, prizes, and the company of fellow avid fishermen.
The next morning, all of the boats are lined up and engines start at 4:30 a.m. You're not allowed to clear the inlet until 5:00 a.m. Once the horn sounds, you see 100 boats scatter into the ocean with the hopes of brining home that grand prize. It's tremendous competition. You fish three days out of the five, and you're fishing for one reason only. Some people even bring captains in from the Bahamas. But ultimately, it's all about being in the right place at the right time.
The ocean will forever be a part of who I am. I will never lose this passion. I may get to a point in life where I can't be out as far, but that is a long way off. There will never be a day where I get bored with the ocean. It is forever changing.
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