There are two places in the world where the Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream collide — the Grand Banks just off the coast of Newfoundland, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The result is nothing short of fantastic.
Within a single breath, the weather can go from priceless to Cat 5, sheet-glass waters have been known to erupt into a roiling cauldron of waves, the fog so thick you can chew it, and behind it rain blowing at angles you didn’t know was possible.
There is, however, a silver lining to all the turmoil; with the meeting of the warm water from the equator, and the cold water from the polar region, the result is some of the richest waters in the world — and fishermen and women flock to reap the benefits.
When the bite is on, boats can be seen making their pilgrimage each morning at 0-dark-30 with the hopes of catching their limit and returning home with a stacked fish box. The time of year will dictate what each fish box contains when it’s all said and done, “which really could be a little bit of everything,” says Hank Beasley, a 4th-generation fisherman and captain of the True Grit. This time of year, all eyes are on the same prize: tuna. While our waters are host to many species of tuna — such as the albacore, skipjack, black fin, and big eye — “it’s the yellow fin folks are catching down south and the blue fin further up this way that people are really after,” Beasley says.
For guys like Beasley, fishing this time of year creates a balance for his business.
“Down here in the winter, when there aren’t charters, commercial fishing is a way to supplement your income.”
And with some of the blue fins topping out at over 1,000 pounds, one day of fishing could really be a financial game changer.
The first obstacle before you can even begin fishing is the weather, he says.
“You really have to push the issue to go this time of year. It can change so quickly. There have been days where we’ve left Oregon Inlet with the weather in the 40s, we’re completely suited up and then when we get where we’re going, we hit 80 degree water and have to start shedding clothes.”
Once you’re out there, it’s time to fish. With all the advancements in technology, it really is about preference when it comes down to actually landing the fish.
“Some guys like to use a traditional hand crank reel, while others prefer electric or even the hydraulic version which is probably the best since it holds more line.” That’s crucial because, as of lately, some of the blue fins have been in the 500- to 600-pound range, and that means a big fight.
“That really is the hardest part. These fish fight really hard and you could be out there for hours trying to land one fish.”
Getting it in the boat is the second layer of difficulty.
“Some guys are out there in small boats, so you’re doing good if you can get the fish in the back of the boat. Other guys in the bigger outfits are able to properly dress and ice their catch before they even come in.”
Either way, the name of the game is one and done.
With tuna popularity soaring globally, there are some places in the world, such as the Black Sea, where blue fin have been fished to the point of extinction. The result: heavy regulations and quotas for each and every species of tuna.
“We are only allowed to keep one fish every 24 hours within the season, and even then it’s a gamble.”
Once the fish are in, they are graded according to their fat content: higher fat, higher payout. “There have been times where we’ve gotten fish in that have very little fat, and you might be lucky to get $3 a pound,” Beasley says.
But that’s what fishing is, isn’t it? One big fat risk. The weather, your gear, the fish, the money, the regulations, all of it. Still, there is an allure, and thanks to all the reality TV shows it’s more popular than ever.
When you’re fishing in waters that range from 100-to 1,000 fathoms, “You really never know what you will witness. Plus, it is a great fishery for the local economy. When folks come from all over to fish here, we all benefit.”