Six thirty in the morning, and we are out of our slip and already rigging fishing lines. Sandy is a retired painting contractor who hung up his paintbrush 20 years ago and now makes his life on the boat. The Captain, Chad, is his son and with the exception of short stints in college and with the National Park Service, he has known no other life but that of a fisherman.
As Sandy sets each one of five huge streamer lures on a 500# test leader, I ask him how it is we can be setting lines already and not fowling on structure below. To my astonishment he answers, “There is no structure, we’re in 5 thousand feet of water. It just slopes off right away.”
To this Lake Erie fisherman, that is something completely new. There is no shelf here, we fish only the ocean currents. There are no resident fish as well. Every Marlin, Sailfish, and Mahi-Mahi is just passing by the fertile feeding grounds that run past the Big Island, so there is no chance of over-fishing an area too. Should we hook a marlin, the crew will make a quick call to the fish market to see if we should bring it in or tag it and release it to migrate on to other waters of the wide Pacific Ocean.
This isn’t the Great Fishing Expedition, we’re only out for four hours this morning. It’s more like “Once around the park”, or as Captain Chad puts it, an introduction to big water fishing. I sit on the bridge talking to Chad about fighting various fish and what to expect out of a billfish, his own work fighting invasive species for the park service and just generally shooting the bull. After you learn how to rig the lines and what to do SHOULD we get a bite there’s not much else to do and, for the most part, it’s a pleasure trip, motoring around. We watch the sun rise behind the volcanic peak of Mauna Loa, we watch the little island villages wake up, and I come to realize that in the expression “Deep Blue Ocean” the word “deep” refers to the color blue, and not the depth of water. Still, I can’t stop thinking about it; FIVE THOUSAND FEET OF WATER!
Below, my new friend, Joe Schofield, and I sit on the coolers throwing question after question at Sandy, picking at a lifetime of major league Pacific fishing experience. Joe’s a saltwater man from Florida, and what we’re doing today on a marlin boat is as new to him as it is to me. But Sandy’s a pro, and he takes each naïve, ignorant query of ours with the best of humor. Honestly, he faces much worse questions on any given day than what Joe and I can do. How much line is on a reel? Did you ever run the spool? What’s it like hooking into a thousand-pounder? Yeah, we’re like a couple of kids here, but it’s like getting to interview Joe Dimagio for me. When we run out of topics, Sandy hits us with a blindsider. “Are there any cancer people on board today?” We look at each other trying to figure what, exactly, he means. I’m thinking I could say that I’m a Leo, but that can’t be where he’s going with this.
He begins his goodwill pitch: “I want to tell you guys about a website called CancerCompass.com Six years ago I got a terminal diagnosis. I’ve been through surgery and pills and every kind of treatment they can throw at me. The information, and support of other people I’ve gotten from that web site has done more for me than all the doctors and clinics put together.” Our little fishing talk has taken a very strange and serious turn. “So, every trip out on the boat I make it a point to tell people about CancerCompass.com and what it’s done for me.” After that Sandy and I sat on the fantail and had quite a talk; him sharing his personal fight and me my family’s battles with cancer and how it affects us. It was surreal to be in paradise, so close to the lifestyle I idolize, and to be talking about such a painful thing. One fishing trip at a time, Sandy spreads the word about this website that’s helped him, doing what little he can do.
So, if you’re reading this Sandy, here’s a little boost of Outdoors Page readers to your mission. Buddy, for what it’s worth, you’re living my personal bucket list every day on that boat. Live Strong.
Instantly there’s a high whining noise, “WHIIIIIIZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!” Captain Chad jumps out of his seat so fast I think he’s going to fall off the bridge. “HOH, BIG FISH!” he screams.