Posted on March 24th, 2021
Sunshine & Umbrella Drinks
by Captain Franky Pettolina
Fish in OC Magazine 2016
Sunshine, a warm ocean breeze, calm seas, and the fish practically jumping right into the cooler. Happy clients, a fast boat, and umbrella drinks. Yup, that’s every day in the life of a charter boat captain…..
Wait a minute. Maybe that’s not quite right. While there are quite a few sunny days, and more than quite a few happy clients, the normal day in the life of the charter boat captain isn’t all trophy fish and umbrella drinks. As a matter of fact, the normal day in the life of a charter boat captain doesn’t really begin in the morning. It begins the night before the trip.
Prior to any good fishing trip there are several things that need to be done. This all begins hours ahead of time. Most days offshore require early departures and lots of preparation, so the evening before the trip is when it all actually begins. A prudent captain checks his machinery space every evening when he gets back to the dock. Are all of the fluids topped off in the engines? How do the belts and hoses look? Any broken clamps? No unusual water accumulation in the bilge? And when that is done the cappy has to make sure there is plenty of fuel in the tank for the next day’s trip. It is also the captain’s responsibility to make sure that the mate, or mates, have properly provisioned for the next morning. Is there enough ice? Bait? Food and drinks? Are all of the rods and reels ready to go? All of these questions need to be answered before getting off of the boat the evening before a chartered trip.
When the captain returns home for the evening his preparations for the next day’s trip are still far from over. Even though he knows where the fish were biting for him that day (or maybe where they weren’t biting…unfortunately, sometimes that happens), he needs to check the weather and predicted sea conditions for the following day. There is consulting of sea surface temperature services to see which areas have favorable water, and which direction the favorable water is moving. And there are also chlorophyll charts and altimetry charts which are pieces of the fish catching puzzle as well. On top of this add in phone calls to fishing buddies to get their reports and checking out the internet fishing chat rooms to read all of the fish stories from the day. By the time all of this is accomplished there may even be time for some luxuries like dinner and a shower!
The actual day of the fishing trip begins early. Depending on what time the trip is scheduled to depart, the captain is usually up and out of bed an hour and a half or so ahead of time to check the weather and aforementioned temperature charts one last time before heading to the boat an hour before the party gets there. Once the captain gets to the boat he needs to double check that everything was properly provisioned according to his instructions the night before. After the group of fishing folks get there for the day it is the captain’s job to explain about the safety features of the vessel and what to expect for the day on the water. There are many different ways to do this, but the truly talented captains keep it fun and interesting while also being informative. It’s early, but you still have to capture the attention of the audience!
After the party is loaded up and morning pep talks have been given it is time to head on out to the fishing grounds. The captain can’t just put things on auto pilot and kick back for the ride. Far from it. On the ride out to the hot spot the captain has to be on the look out for signs of other potential hot spots. Sometimes the fish forget to check the internet the night before and they don’t know where they are supposed to be! Many a catch is made on the way out because the captain was paying attention and saw a school of fish or a flock of birds inshore of the planned destination. The captain also has to be on the look out for floating debris or unpredicted weather conditions, while keeping an eye on the engine gauges and navigation aids. No time for snoozing.
When the fishing grounds are reached the captain now takes on a different role. The good captain interacts with the charter while helping his mates and keeping an eye out for even better fishing spots. Some days this means trolling around and looking for fish or bait. Other days it means helping the mate untangle rigs and tie new hooks on while dropping fish in the kill box at the same time. The best days on the water are the ones where people laugh, learn, and land lots of fish! But even if the fish aren’t biting, and sometimes they just don’t, the captain can still keep it exciting. Look at that turtle! There’s a whale on the surface over there…. Do you know why porpoises jump like that? No? Me neither I was hoping you could tell me……
During the ride home from the fishing grounds the captain now gets to socialize with the party in a different way. Discussion about fish cleaning, preparation for freezing or grilling, or maybe making arrangements to have a trophy catch mounted for the living room wall. And still keeping an eye on the weather and gauges while listening to the radio for potential fishing hotspots for the next day. Throw in a few more jokes, and there might even be time for a sandwich and a soda.
Getting back to the dock starts yet another phase of the day. It still isn’t over. The catch has to be unloaded and photos need to be taken for the album or the boat’s website. Then there are the vessel log books and fisheries reports that need to be filed. Sometimes there is more work after the fish is caught than before! When all that is finished up it is time to start back into the machinery space and at the fuel pump for the next day…
But somewhere in the middle of all of the preparation, all of the work, and all of the joke telling there was something else. Sunshine, warm ocean breezes, happy clients and maybe even a fish or two….. The captain will have to save the umbrella drinks for the rare day off here and there, but the fish and happy clients more than make up for it!!!