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Llifelong fishing dreams become unexpected reality

Apr 27, 2024

It all started when I was 12. My family left me and my cousin alone at our rental vacation house while our parents, older siblings, and grandfather had the adventure of a lifetime aboard a charter fishing boat off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, catching dozens of bluefish in Atlantic waters. They arrived home that night with their plentiful catch. Sunburned, they sipped icy beverages on the cottage porch, recounting stories from their charter.

On the cusp of adolescence, I was sick of being told I was too young for adventure. I envisioned all that I’d missed: Ropes tossed off sun washed docks. Boats rumbling past pelicans atop pylons. Engines roaring to life. Mountainous wakes of teal water forming behind sterns. Parades of cawing gulls following, hopeful for discarded bits of bait. Boats motoring toward the rising sun, deep water and game fish waiting to be caught.

“They’d better take me next time,” I gritted my teeth.

However, my opportunity never came. In my late 20s, I married a Navy Intel guy who not only hated fishing, he didn’t even like the taste of fish. Ironically, he was invited on many charter boat trips. Of course, I was never asked to come along, relegated to live out my fishing adventures from docks and piers, catching only a few lousy blue crabs while on vacation.

As a military spouse, I’ve been accustomed to being a team player, but the older I become, the more determined I am to make my dreams a reality. So last month, I booked my own Cape Hatteras charter fishing trip for myself and five other women.

“We can still do it Monday,” the Captain texted the day before our charter, “but it won’t be very pretty.” I wasn’t sure what “pretty” meant in the context of ocean fishing, but I was too excited to be deterred. We — myself, my elderly mother, my two daughters, my best friend, and my friend’s daughter — left early for the two-hour drive from our beach cottage to Cape Hatteras. We brought a stocked cooler and a playlist of fun songs related to the ocean like “Come Sail Away” by Styx, “Cool Change” by Little River Band, and “Southern Cross” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

Having booked a half-day near-shore fishing trip, I expected a casual cruise along the shoreline, stopping occasionally to put our poles in the water, enjoying music, drinks and sandwiches on the way. But about an hour after leaving the marina on The Albatross III, a 1958 classic fishing boat, we passed through Hatteras Inlet into surprisingly rough waters. I looked to the Captain to reassure us.

“See how the water changes color out there?” he pointed to the horizon, but all I could see was whitecaps. “Out there, we’ll follow fish along the ebb tide,” he said. To me, the Ebb Tide was a dingy motor lodge in Kitty Hawk, but I had no choice but to trust our captain’s expertise.

For another hour, the boat rolled between huge swells, spraying us until were were soaked. My daughter Lilly was the first to succumb, heaving miserably into a fishy-smelling five gallon pail. I was next, hurling out of a starboard window. A rouge wave catapulted my friend Patrice violently onto the deck. Shortly thereafter, her daughter up-chucked over the port side. My daughter Anna clung to the flybridge ladder, afraid to move.

All the while, the Captain was calling “GOT-EEM-AWN” to the first mate, indicating that fish were on the four lines trailing in the humongous waves. This left my 80-year-old mother, the only woman capable of reeling fish in, which she did, over and over again from the ancient Rockaway chair mounted in the center of the deck, wearing a polka-dot shirt, white capri pants, and pink lipstick.

When we finally made it back to the marina, we had a cooler full of Spanish Mackerel, some bumps and burns, and an incredible story to tell. “I have to admit,” the Captain said, “it was blowing a little harder than I’d expected.”

I had to admit, the charter fishing trip wasn’t what I’d expected either, but the adventure was certainly worth the wait.