How to survive your first deep sea fishing charter

Deep sea fishing charter
Turns out there is more to deep sea fishing than just casting a line and waiting. Photo: Master Plan Communications
A few weeks back, I joined around 20 other individuals from the action-sports industry on an overnight deep sea fishing charter out of San Diego. We were gathered as part of the annual Master Plan Communications Fishin’ Mission and set to ship out on the Pride sport-fishing boat with one goal: catching tuna.

Now, going into this venture I had been deep sea fishing maybe five times in my life — far from what you would consider an experienced angler. But a hot summer in Southern California had combined with warm sea patterns to produce immaculate tuna-fishing conditions, and the fishing boats returning to San Diego prior to our departure had been unloading tuna by the dozen, so I figured I’d be alright.

I was wrong.

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What followed was a little more than 12 hours of me failing at a multitude of fishing tasks ranging from simple to complex, while somehow managing to successfully land a fish. With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know to survive (and enjoy) your first time deep sea fishing.

Take all the Dramamine you can get your hands on

Deep sea fishing charter
If you get seasick on the open ocean, there’s nothing but water to help you. Salty, rocking water. Photo: Master Plan Communications
This tip actually doesn’t come from my own mistake, but from somebody else on the boat.

One of the guys on the trip, named Joel, apparently underestimated how sensitive his body was to seasickness, and before people had even retired to sleep on the first night of the trip, he was puking over the side of the boat. While that makes for a funny story, it can also make for a miserable trip because, as luck would have it, seasickness is nearly impossible to shake while still on a boat.

While he was still able to land some big fish, Joel ended up spending a solid part of his trip either puking or napping, so if you’re unsure how you’ll handle the open seas, err on the side of caution.

Get to bed early

Deep sea fishing charter
The man behind the Master Plan, Ashton. That’s the face of a man who caught two tuna before 7 a.m. Photo: Master Plan Communications
Fish like to rise early for breakfast, which means you should as well. The experienced anglers on our trips were up at 4:30 a.m. casting lines and pulling in tuna before the sun had even risen. In order to get up that early, they were all asleep in the boat by around 10 p.m.

I, on the other hand, stayed up drinking PBRs and got to sleep around midnight. Consequently, I couldn’t drag myself out of my bed until about 7 a.m. and missed the early-morning rush of fish.

Before I had even woken up, the guy who organized the trip, Ashton, had already landed two massive tuna. So don’t be like me, be like Ashton.

Learn to love free time

Deep sea fishing charter
When you are floating on a boat in the middle of the ocean, happy hour becomes a bit of a relative term. Photo: Master Plan Communications
Over the course of our trip, our boat landed 81 fish. That’s a lot of fish.

But those 81 fish were caught in three waves, the first being the aforementioned early-morning rush, the second being in the early afternoon and the third being just before happy hour. Each instance lasted at most an hour and a half, and in between those three flurries of fishing action, there was absolutely no action.

So, find a way to amuse yourself. Drink some beer and practice your conversation skills, because otherwise you may go insane. Part of the beauty of being out on the water is that no matter what time you crack your first cold one, nobody is going to judge you.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Deep sea fishing charter
Turns out hooking baitfish can be a bit more difficult than it looks. Photo: Master Plan Communications
As mentioned, I had been deep sea fishing probably five times prior to the trip, so I figured I would be OK. I wasn’t.

Our boat was using sardines and mackerel as live bait to lure the tuna up from the depths. In order to hook your bait, you had to grab a live fish, hook it while it was still flipping around in your hand and hopefully get it into the ocean before it had spent all of its energy. Now, when performed by a seasoned fisherman, that process is a quick, effortless collection of steps that takes no more than 10 seconds.

When performed by someone like me, it can look like someone attempting to juggle a wet bar of soap while trying to thread a needle. It was far from graceful.

I would say that I probably baited and cast my line more than two dozen times throughout the day, and not once did I get even a nibble. The one time I asked a crewmember to bait and cast my line, I hooked my only fish of the day in seconds.

Deep sea fishing charter
The one fish I was actually able to land. Photo: Rob Pursell
Moral of the story? As much as it may seem like fishing is a sport of waiting and luck, it isn’t. Ask someone who knows what they’re doing to help you. Chances are they’ll be glad to give you some assistance, and it will make your time on the boat way more fun.

Eat whatever you catch raw on the boat

Deep sea fishing charter
Eating raw, fresh-caught tuna is a life-changing experience. Photo: Master Plan Communications
Bring some wasabi and soy sauce with you and ask the crew of the boat to cut up some of whatever you’ve just caught. It will be the best damn sashimi you’ll ever have.

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