I was thinking it was bigger than the last one. After the first time the fish tried to swim away is when I started feeling beat up. I was afraid it was going to try to swim around the anchor line so every time the fish went toward the front of the boat, I pulled really hard to the left in hopes it would turn around. It always did. I asked the captain what I was supposed to do if…
I really wanted to spoil Saxton for his birthday, so I decided that I was going to book a charter for us to change up our fishing routine. There are so many choices here that it was quite a process to get our trip booked. You can book trips for fly fishing, offshore fishing, Flounder gigging, bowfishing, Cobia fishing, and this isn’t an exhaustive list. At first, I was looking at headboats because they are very affordable compared to offshore fishing. However, when I started reading reviews about the headboats here, I quickly realized that it was not the experience that I wanted for us. Then I started looking at offshore trips. Most of the offshore charter boats cost the same amount whether you have one person or six people, and that amount is close to $2000 before you include tip. I thought about assembling a group of six people and getting the other people to pay for themselves. That was not working out. Only Saxton’s friend, Kevin, agreed to join us. Eventually I stumbled across a Tarpon charter that was in my price range, and after reading some reviews I booked the trip with Captain Joey VanDyke of Outer Banks Fishing Charters.
Just because Saxton prepared everyday for two months does not mean that everyone or even most people would…and it’s really not necessary unless you are a fin-addict (this joke might work better out loud, but I like it too much not to write it). To be honest I did quite a bit to prepare, but my preparation looked much different from Saxton’s. He outfitted himself with a new fly rod, reel, and line for the trip. He also bought hooks that he found out work best for tarpon by reading about them online. He learned at least three different knots and practiced them until our floor was covered with scrap fishing line and YouTube was suggesting knot tying videos almost exclusively in the “recommended for you” section.
Pretty much all of my preparation revolved around getting strong enough and having the stamina to fight a big fish. I insisted on helping put the canoe on top of the truck even when other people offered to help. I pulled the cart on the beach more than usual, and I made a point to cast lures instead of fishing with bait and a sliding sinker to practice casting. I also bought a cotton fishing shirt to help protect my skin from getting an Irish tan.
I’m pretty sure Kevin prepared by watching tarpon videos so that he would know what kind of fish we were going to be trying to catch.
So, we didn’t actually catch any Tarpon…buuuut that’s alright because we had a GREAT time. We did catch plenty of awesome fish. I say fish instead of fishes because they were all the same species: Red Drum. We zoomed out from Hatteras Marina with Captain Joey VanDyke navigating the sound. I can’t tell you where we went, because that’s another thing I know about fishing now. If you find a good spot, you have to be very selective about the details you share with other people regarding that good spot. That way you can go back to it and you don’t have to worry about having to fight through people instead of fish.
Once we anchored up, our captain started preparations to get some fish onto some hooks. Bait was prepared and cast out into the water, we talked a little about why were were in the spot we were in, and our captain started calling in the fish….and I mean that literally.
“Come on fish!” was repeated as needed for as long as were weren’t catching anything. The bait thieves came first, but that can happen when you’re not specific about what fish you’re calling.
I caught the first fish: A 29 inch Red Drum. I was extremely proud. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure that it was the biggest fish I’d ever caught.
We stayed at the first spot for a little bit longer and then our captain decided to move due to the lack of action. The new spot was really wavy so the boat was rocking quite a bit. We all were getting a little queasy when we were looking down in the boat instead of at what was going on outside of the boat, but for the most part we were fine…especially once the fish started biting…which was pretty much immediately.
After one of the first casts, a fish bit and Kevin took over. This was Kevin’s first time doing anything like this, but he took to it pretty quickly with some tips from our captain. I was so exciting to watch him fight that first fish. After a while he had a 48” Red Fish on board. Now we were getting riled up.
Kevin had never picked up a fish this big, and our captain and Saxton told him how to do it without the orange grip. What you don’t really think about when looking at fish pictures is how hard it is to pick up a huge fish after having used so much energy and strength trying to get it into the boat. Also, if you’ve never done it before, it’s scary to stick your hand into a fish’s anatomy while being told that if you put your hand in the wrong spot you could get all cut up. I still haven’t done it, so I have tons of respect for Kevin having just gone for it.
Next it was Saxton’s turn. I loved watching him reel in his first big one. It was so fun to see the fish getting pulled closer and closer to the boat. The fish would get close, swim away, shake its head to lose the hook, and swim under the boat to try and snap the line. This guy was 44 1/2 ” and when you look through the pictures, you can see Saxton getting progressively less happy about trying to hold him up. Next it was my turn…I had to catch up!
The next fish I got was 37” and I was feeling pretty good about it. It was my new record for biggest fish I ever caught.
Things started to pick up and we were catching fish pretty quickly after that. Kevin and Saxton each caught a fish,
and I told everyone that my next fish was going to be a monster; At least 50”. Well, I was right!
I was thinking it was bigger than the last one. After the first time the fish tried to swim away is when I started feeling beat up. I was afraid it was going to try to swim around the anchor line so every time the fish went toward the front of the boat, I pulled really hard to the left in hopes it would turn around. It always did. I asked the captain what I was supposed to do if that sea creature went toward that anchor. He told me not to worry about it and just let the fish do the work. I just had to follow it. Easy-Peezy. Well, he didn’t say that last part, but that’s what his tone said. I fought that thing for half an hour. I got really excited when I saw its scrappy looking tail poking up out of the water, and I got really mad when it would turn around and stream line back out of sight. It was a good kind of mad, though. It was the kind of mad that re-inspires you and beats you down all at the same time. Finally we got it into the boat and Captain Joey VanDyke flattered me by asking me to hold one end of the tape measure while he measured that beast. 52 inch beast.
By the end of the day I lost count of all the fish we we caught. We each caught at least one citation fish. Kevin ended up with three citation fish, Saxton with two, and I just had the one. To top off our great day we each had a keeper in the cooler.
A Reflection on a Tarponless Day:
What really makes a day out on the water awesome?
I know what you’re thinking: Our trip was awesome because I caught a huge fish. Well, of course that was part of it, but there were two main factors that made it great. First, our captain was very knowledgeable, skilled, and flexible. Second, we worked well together and had the right attitude about our day on the water.
Choosing a captain that is right for you is almost as big of a deal as choosing the right doctor. You’re going to spend a whole day with this guy. You’re going to want to know that you’ll be safe and that he or she knows what he or she is doing. You’re probably also paying him or her more out of pocket than you would be paying a doctor. I felt like our captain was a good fit after reading through his website and reading a few reviews I found online. There is no real way to know until you are out there, but if you are looking in the right places while you’re booking your trip, you should be able to find what you need to get a good idea. Our captain showed his ability to be flexible right from the start and he definitely knew what he was doing. He was great about explaining how he chose the spots for us to fish. He also answered all of our questions in a way that was informative, without being condescending. Of course I was happy that we caught fish, and I know that his knowledge and skill is what helped us get those fish into the boat, but at the end of the day it’s up to the fish whether or not you catch them. A captain’s job is to do everything he or she can to get you to to the fish, but it doesn’t always work out the way everyone hopes. I know we had a great captain, not because we caught fish, but because I would have had a great time even if we didn’t catch fish. Which is the next part of what made our trip great.
Captain Joey VanDyke
We all went out with the right attitude. We might catch fish. We might not catch fish, but either way we are going to have fun. It’s easy for people to get caught up in the “catching” part of fishing, but there is really so much more to it. Getting a fish in your hands is only a small part of the experience. We really enjoyed being out in a boat and learning about the techniques our captain was using just as much as we enjoyed wrestling those fish to the boat. We made it a point to listen to his coaching and take in as much as possible. We loved listening to the radio and hearing stories about our captain’s history in fishing. We had fun exploring the boat and hearing about the boat’s timeline from being built in 1977, through the impressive renovations our captain has done, to the future plans for the Fingeance. I personally really loved when we motored in and out of the spots as we bounced over the waves. We agreed that it was kind of like horseback riding…maybe not so much when you get hit in the face with a spray of salty water, but you get the picture. When we did get around to catching fish, we were all ready to help each other in any way possible and we all cheered each other on. Every fish that each of us caught was exciting for everyone on the boat, and even though we didn’t get to the fish we set out for, I can’t even imagine a better first charter experience.
…and of course Saxton is already planning our trip to the Florida Keys to fly fish for tarpon.
Photography by Captain Joey Vandyke , Saxton and Taylor
All photography in this article is property of saxtonoutdoors.com and Captain Joey Vandyke and may not be used without permission