Gary Hurley

Tidelines – May 11, 2017

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Hatteras offers less boat ride and more fishing time than anywhere on the North Carolina coast (the Gulf Stream’s a mere 20 miles out) and since the fleet’s recently been finding quality 20+ lb. class blackfins—amidst other catches such as yellowfins, mahi, and billfish—Fisherman’s Post put together a staff trip to go tuna fishing on the charter boat “Predator” out of Hatteras Harbor Marina.

Though this could easily be another Tidelines column where I talk about an inlet in need of dredging and upkeep, instead I want to talk about what happens when you make the big commitment (time and money) to book a 57’ custom Carolina boat for a day of trolling the Gulf Stream, only to find that the entire fleet has run into a slow day.

Hopefully you’re on the “Predator,” where Capt. Chris Barnett and his mate Alex Stanley have the fishing experience and background you want when headed offshore, but it’s their motivation and drive to find and catch fish any way they can (trolling, jigging, bottom fishing, casting) that most impressed the Fish Post crew.

Joshua Alexander, past salesman for Fisherman’s Post, holds a snowy grouper brought up from 700+’ deep off a wreck using a big piece of false albacore. The Fisherman’s Post crew took a break from trolling to do some bottom fishing. They were fishing with Capt. Chris Barnett on the charter boat Predator out of Hatteras Harbor Marina.

They like having options on the water, and this dynamic mindset of always having a Plan A, B, C, D, etc. is exactly the mentality that any paying customer would want.

After our short run out, Alex quickly deployed our trolling spread, a mix of rigged ballyhoo, dredges, teasers, and artificials, and his presentation was almost immediately rewarded with the pop of the left short rigger clip, and then the sound of screaming line peeling off of the Shimano Tiagra.

This was our new salesperson’s maiden offshore trip, so Billy was called to the fighting chair where Alex handed him the rod locked to a fish still showing no signs of slowing down.

“That’s a big fish,” Alex advised with a smile, as he handed off the rod to a wide-eyed Billy. Billy’s adrenaline had kicked in and had complicated his ability to talk (or at least removed his ability to put coherent thoughts together), so while Alex cleared lines, the crew began offering Billy the typical advice—keep the rod tip at 45 degrees, keep the line tight, keep pressuring the fish because when you rest so does the fish, and so on.

Luckily for Billy, Alex only needed a couple of seconds before the cockpit was ready and he was back attending to Billy, and Alex’s advice was the most helpful—don’t listen to all of those other voices, just listen to me.

The big run finally slowed, and Billy began his struggle with the fish. It was a typical big fish battle: gain some line, lose some line, and then gain some line. Eventually we all saw color in the water and then leader appear. The captain kept the boat in position as our fish tried a couple of circles under the boat, but soon enough Alex stuck the gaff in Billy’s first offshore fish—a 50 lb. yellowfin tuna.

Billy Thorpe (left), future salesman of Fisherman’s Post, and mate Alex Stanley with a 50 lb. yellowfin caught on a sea witch and ballyhoo about 25 miles south of Hatteras Inlet. They were fishing on the charter boat Predator.

Tired, exhausted, and self admittedly a bit nauseous from the fight, Billy excused himself to the cabin to recover. Meanwhile, the spread went back out and trolling resumed, but as it goes with fishing, that first fish wasn’t followed by a just-as-quick second fish. The morning bite turned into a slow bite, and after verifying on the radio that the entire Hatteras fleet was also having a slow morning of trolling, it was Chris that offered instant excitement in the form of a Plan B. “You guys want to catch a snowy grouper? Want to catch some tilefish?”

Yes, it’s good to have options, and who doesn’t like a Plan B that includes snowy grouper and tilefish.

We were coming up on one of Chris’ favorite snowy wrecks, sitting in just over 700’ of water, so the lines came in and a handful of rods already rigged for bottom fishing came out. We had a Daiwa electric (power assist) reel rigged with an 8 lb. sinker and a single hook circle rig with a tear drop cut of false albacore for the snowy, and then a Shimano Torium on a Cedros rod weighted with a 5 lb. weight and a three-hook rig, each chunked with false albacore for the tilefish.

The strategy was simple. A couple of meaty tugs on the line. Lift the rod up and feel the weight and resistance of a fish. Lower the rod tip a little, just to lift up the rod a second time and confirm the weight and resistance of a fish before committing to bringing the rig all the way back up. Press the retrieve button, and then listen as the motor makes steady progress but slows and struggles as the fish fights to keep from coming up.

If there’s a question in your mind about using or not using an electric reel, like I had when Chris and Alex first pulled out the Daiwa Tanacum/Saltiga setup, the question fades a bit when you see just how long it takes for even the motor to bring up a fish from that far down.

While the Fish Post crew enjoyed every pause and every struggle the electric reel made, I was also watching Alex (now that we were a little off the wreck and more in tilefish territory) as he was doing more than trying to hook a tilefish—he was confidently trying to hook three tilefish on his first drop.

The strategy was similar with tilefish. A couple of heavy tugs on the line and lift up the rod to feel if the weight and resistance of a fish is there. Then lower the rig to the bottom again. After feeling a couple more tugs on the line, lift up the rod again.

Alex smiled and noted that there was now more weight and resistance on the rod than after the first set of tugs. After a third drop didn’t quickly produce more tugs, he called it two tilefish and handed the rod off to me. Several minutes of reeling followed by several more minutes of reeling, our first two tilefish of the day came up from the 700’ depths.

Our snowy and two gray tilefish went in the fishbox, where they were joined by one or two tilefish coming up on just about every drop (add a mahi we landed by pitching a dink bait when it swam up to the boat), and then we decided to pick up the troll again.

Though the mid-day blackfin tuna we picked up was appreciated and added to our species tally, it wasn’t enough action to keep captain and mate happy, so we picked up and headed in for Plan C (jigging amberjack) and Plan D (sight casting to cobia).

My time as a small business owner has taught me time again the value of finding people that not only have the desired skill sets, but people that are passionate, hardworking, and determined to succeed. Fishing with the “Predator” crew was simply another confirmation of that belief.

If Plan A—tuna, mahi, wahoo, and billfish—is working, then most boats in the Hatteras Harbor Marina are rigged for success, but what’s impressive about Chris and Alex is how prepared and motivated they were to explore any and all fishing possibilities.

The “Predator” will be targeting tuna for only a little while longer, and then they will focus during the summer months and into the fall on mahi, wahoo, and billfish. Book your trip with them now (301.904.0599 or for any of those Plan A fish, but find confidence in knowing that Chris and Alex have any number of ways they can generate fishing action and create a lasting fishing memory.