Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lessons in the Salt

H: October 18, 2012: I finally went on my half-day saltwater charter with Captain John McMurray. I'd won it in a silent auction at a Tag-A-Giant (TAG) reception earlier this summer. I have a soft spot for big fish conservation :). After rescheduling 3 times due to bad weather and a conflict with McMurray's other day job, time was running out for false albacore... I hoped the fourth time would be the charm.

Weather still looked iffy the night before but McMurray called and said it was do-able. He warned that it would be rolling out there. "Bring your boat legs," he said. I replied I was willing to give it a shot and that I was pretty good on boats. As soon as I said that, I thought I might live to regret it... By "good on boats" I meant I have good sea legs and I rarely get seasick.

I worked on a Great White shark research boat in South Africa for several months and we were on the water every day that the weather permitted. The waters off the coast of Gansbaai, South Africa are some of the most beautiful and treacherous anywhere, not just for having one of the densest populations of Carcharodon Carcharias in the world, but also for the unpredictability of its weather.

But fly fishing on rough seas is a tiny bit more challenging then recording data or taking photos of shark fins ;). Plus, I was a lot younger then. At least my fishing partner James was a veteran saltwater angler, so I had no worries about him. Asking Josée to come with me was never even an option. I still remember her turning a bit green last year out in Montauk (see Bring Out the Bikinis!).

We met at 6:30 a.m. at McMurray's house and got on the big boat, the 33' Contender—that was the only way we were gonna get out and stay out there safely. It was windy but more importantly the wind was from the SW. It eventually shifted W and started to change to NW just as we were heading back in. There were some huge swells when we first got out into open water from the channel. First lesson learned, the direction of the wind can matter more than its intensity.

The three of us huddled behind the boat's center console which I thought would offer adequate protection from the elements. Wrong! We got drenched by heavy spray on the way out. Despite having numerous layers on (4 on top!), once you're soaked, its hard to fight the chill. Foolishly, I was cold and wet the whole morning while my waterproof rain gear remained nice and dry at the bottom of my pack. Another lesson learned or rather a refresher.

The albies were out in good force and we had them all to ourselves since no one else was crazy brave enough to be out there. We saw 2 other boats, all morning, but we never had any close run-ins with them (a completely different experience from Montauk). Schools of false albacore were scattered all over and there was no need to be on top of anyone.

I had quite a few good shots at the albies, but ultimately, no luck. My line management skills were laughable as I stepped on my running line at the most inopportune times, created huge tangles which caught on my guides as I tried to shoot line. I've had this Rio Outbound Short intermediate line for months but this was the first time I was actually fishing with it. I should have stretched it to take out some of the coil memory. James brought along his stripping basket—a very smart idea on a rough and windy day. He had absolutely no line issues. Okay, I'm learning...

Veteran saltwater fly fisherman James Jindal with a nice false albacore
James and his albie.
James caught a very nice albie but he's used to catching more than just one ;). He had fished in the same area about a week before and had hooked 20+ and landed about 15 albies! Granted the waters were apparently glass calm that day. It was fun watching James fish. He's been doing it most of his life and it showed as he made some great casts and wasn't fazed by anything.

McMurray turned out to be a fine captain. He kept us out there way past the clock, trying to get us onto fish. His business is aptly named "One More Cast Charters." Several times as we were heading back in, we'd spot some birds. McMurray would turn the boat around and say, "All right, let's try one more cast..."

Despite the cold, the wind, and rough seas, it was great just being out there fishing and James and McMurray were good company. But I must confess, I was happy to get back on land, warm up with some hot soup, and take a nap under my down covers!


  1. Another inspiring adventure, Hyun!

  2. ...more like a woeful tale of unpreparedness. But thanks, Shannon!