by Brendan Gaughan
Last week, I told you about my off-week plans and the whirlwind trip I was on, so this week, I thought I would share with you the St. Thomas fishing trip. After a couple of days with friends, and of course my nieces and nephews, in Las Vegas, I left for St. Thomas. I thought I would be on an island just off of Florida. However, thanks to a closer look at the map in the airplane, I discovered St. Thomas was much further away, almost to South America.
During the taxi ride to the hotel, I quickly knew I would like St. Thomas, as it reminded me of many places in Mexico that I love so much. I had to remind myself this was a business trip. Yes, a business trip, as footage would be incorporated into an episode of "NASCAR Outdoors" on the Outdoor Life Network. It also will appear as a side note on ESPN regarding the Extreme Billfishing Release League.
The trip was organized by Mr. Bob Van Norman of SafetyKleen, or so he is known at the race track. The rest of the crew on this excursion included two former Miami Dolphins football players – Dick Anderson of the undefeated 1972 team and Eric Laasko of the 1984 AFC championship team. The crew would not be complete without a cameraman, so we had Kevin Mooney, who had the tough job of filming in 6-foot swells. We were hosted by Vic Starling, the head angler and manager of Team Galati, an EBRL competitor, and boat Capt. Roberts.
Our boat was the same boat that Vic and Capt. Roberts use during their tournaments and it was beautiful, not to mention, designed specifically for sport fishing. After an intro to the "official" rules, we set off on a three-hour tour. (Not really, but I wanted so badly to say that.) With three anglers primed and ready, the only thing to do was toss a coin to see who went into the "Chair" first. Guess who won?
At this point, the seas weren’t too bad, at 3 to 5 feet, so we began the best part of fishing – the waiting. Honestly, the waiting is my favorite aspect of the sport. In a life that is almost always full throttle, I revel in the opportunity to just enjoy the moment, especially when my cell phones don’t work.
Then it happens – FISH ON! According to the rules, I am the only one allowed to touch the rod so I made my way over to the chair and carefully moved into it with my coaches barking out orders. They locked me into the harness and it was time to rock ’n’roll.
Mooney got the camera rolling as the fight ensued. Unfortunately, after almost 10 or 15 minutes of fighting, our catch – about a 350-pound fish – made an abrupt turn beneath the boat and the line became tangled in the props. We had to scrap the first catch of the day, but man, it was fun. Fishing is a sport, much like auto racing, that you don’t realize is a team sport until you are there.
Next in the chair was Anderson and it didn’t take him long to hook up to our second and, as it turned out, our last fish of the day. With a whopper on the line – about a 450-pound Blue Marlin.
Anderson had his hands full, since the seas had kicked up to about 6-foot swells. When this fish jumped, it looked gigantic. Since I wasn’t in the chair anymore, Laasko and I began helping Mooney, and I dare say it was probably the only time he would allow a man to hug him for any length of time. Mooney was almost tossed out of the boat while looking through a camera lens.
After about 45 minutes of a great battle, Anderson was victorious and the fish emerged, tired from the fight. Starling soon let the fish return to the sea, none the worse for wear, and Mooney’s footage was awesome. The only thing is, I don’t remember it being that rough out there, even when the storm ended our day.