The Training Wheels are Off!
Most of us had to learn to crawl before we could walk. We had tricycles before we had bicycles, and our bicycles had training wheels. What is the purpose of them? Well, they help stabilize us, temporary assistants until we learn to balance a two-wheeler on our own. Before long they outgrew their usefulness and they eventually have to come off. Sure we take the risk knowing we could fall and get hurt, risk embarrassment and pain, but we did it anyway. Our reward was independence and freedom.
I have been working as a mate and running boats for some time now. I’ve held my captains license for about a year. I’ve completed several USCG approved courses including my STCW* and Able Seafarer*. I’m CPR certified, passed a physically challenging fire-fighting course (God bless those who do this for a living) and I’ve taken several classes in survival techniques and safety skills aboard a vessel. In other words, I’ve prepared myself to eventually start running charters on my own.
The plan was to go solo as a captain at Two Conchs in November when the tourism industry picked up here in the Keys.
When Captain Jack and the Two Conchs crew went on their end-of-year trip to Costa Rica, my sister, Captain Emily, and I stayed behind to work the charters that were previously booked. We were to be the mates between two of the boats; that is until a third boat was booked which meant one of us needed to fill in as the captain.
I wasn't expecting to run my first trip that week but knew it was a good opportunity, I said YES and started to make a mental checklist of what I would need for the day. Does the boat have enough fuel? Where have the dolphin been lately? How has the tuna bite been? What’s the weather outlook? The wind? The seas? All these questions were my responsibility to answer so I would know where to take my anglers and what to fish for. I was looking forward to this day but was also nervous. The captain is responsible for everyone's safety, finding the fish and working with the mate to give our clients the best fishing experience possible.
The night before, I checked the weather and went through my mental check list again. Dylan Hood, from Bonita FL, is a full time firefighter paramedic and was in town helping Two Conchs, he was to be my mate for the charter. As a kid Dylan bought a Carolina Skiff and started fishing every day after school. Now he wants to take fishing to the next level and start sharing the sport with new people and clients. Dylan recently passed his captains exam (CONGRATS Captain Dylan!!) and hopes to run fishing charters in Sanibel Island this fishing season! I felt very fortunate to share my first solo charter with Captain Dylan. The game plan was to target the blackfins all day while keeping an eye out for mahi-mahi. The boat had plenty of fuel and all the tackle I thought we might need.
It’s here! Our clients got to the dock and after the introductions it was time to go. I wasn't worried about putting fish in the boat or the thunderstorms I saw on the horizon, my biggest concern was getting our live bait from the pinfish traps. It was lobster season and our traps were scattered amongst the commercial traps which look like a connect-the-dot puzzle. Traps are sometimes pilfered, empty, hit by a prop and never to be found again. We headed out to the Gulf to look for the traps and the first one was completely empty. "Hmm that's not good. I thought to myself" a little nervously and decided we should check one more trap a little closer to the flats. We pulled up to it and it was loaded with live bait. What a relief! We were ready to head offshore.
In 600 feet of water I found a nice school of tuna. Dylan put the trollers out and we hooked up almost instantly! Just as quickly as the bite came, we were sharked and lost one of our rigs. I sent the trollers out again, hooked up, and bitten off by a shark - again. I looked at how many extra rigs I had and did some mental math. At this rate we'd loose all of our rigs before the day was over. But I knew the tunas were here and I wasn't ready to give up. I had Dylan put the trollers out again, but this time not as far. Once we hooked up I told our clients to reel their fish in as fast as possible and get them in the boat. "No babying your fish here, fight them hard and fast!" It was a success, we beat the sharks!
We then continued out to the humps in search of more tuna and possibly dolphin. The clients reeled in tuna after tuna while I dodged the thunderstorms that loomed all day. Everyone was enjoying the day and had a blast fighting these muscular fish. On our way back in to the dock we saw a weed patch with mahi-mahi on it. Dylan quickly put the trollers out and pitched a live bait to the fish. It was fish on! We doubled up and were able to pull the dolphin in the boat. Unfortunately they weren't keepers being an inch too small but that didn’t take away the thrill of catching them. To my surprise it was our clients first mahi-mahi, I'll never forgot how beautiful they thought the fish looked. It’s easy to forget that much of the world has never fished for or even seen mahi and that the memories will last a lifetime.
At the end of the trip we raced in to avoid a lightening storm coming in our direction. Making it safely to the dock, Dylan and I filleted the tunas and sent our guests on their way. My first trip as a charter boat captain was a success and it went as smoothly as I hoped. We found tuna, dolphin, and I had an awesome first mate. The clients said they had a blast, I got to share the day with good people and perhaps most surprising of all is how much fun I had as well. And like the first time the training wheels come off, I felt the fear and the freedom of balancing on my own. I count myself fortunate to be able to do what I do!
Captain Amanda Gale
*STCW - Standards for Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (est. 1978; US Coast Guard) *Able Seafarer Course - Maritime Professional Training (USCG Approved), Ft. Lauderdale, FL