At 4:30 in the morning, the marina at Oregon Inlet Fishing Center is already bustling. Mates and captains pour out of their trucks and shuffle towards their famous Carolina-flare sportfishing boats.
The professional fishing crews chasing tuna off North Carolina repeat this morning ritual every day, year round. While each day starts the same way, they have no idea what to expect after they leave the dock. With yellowfin, bluefin, big eye and blackfin tuna on the menu, each day is a puzzle with a thousand pieces.
A few minutes before dawn, the parking lot starts to fill with cars and minivans. Friends and family dragging coolers of lunch meat and potato salad load onto the fishing boats.
One by one, boats leave the marina and fall into line, zooming under Oregon Inlet Bridge and speeding towards the fishing grounds. After a two-hour run we’re on the fishing grounds. The captain slows the motors to six knots and in seconds we’re trolling twelve heavy rods.
The motor drones and rumbles until the distinct snap of the short rigger clip gets everyone’s attention. One of the rods in the cockpit bends heavily as line zings off the reel. The captain keeps trolling and, in short order, a half dozen rods go down.
Yellowfin tuna fight hard. The anglers grunt and groan as they gain line then wheeze and whine when the tuna pulls against the drag. The captain and mate choreograph the dance until the first tuna appears silver and gold just below the boat.
One after another, the mate gaffs each tuna and swings it into the fish box. When the action is over, four fat tuna are glistening and undulating in the fish box. Everyone trades high fives and back slaps.
The motors roar into gear and the mate deploys the baits. We get three more whammies and, by the time the sun is high, we have a dozen tuna in the box.
Then the wind lays out, the seas calm and the bite dies. On the bridge, the radio crackles as the captains network to find the fish. In the cabin, everyone is eating sandwiches and sipping cold beverages.
Bright sun turns the ocean into a shimmering mirror. We are visited by a pod of playful two-tone dolphins. Then, the boat trolls past a pair of gently breaching pilot whales. We see a hammerhead shark slowly swimming just below the surface. Sparrow-sized stormy petrels pick at the water.
When the sun starts to drop into the west, the wind freshens and white caps reappear. In minutes, the long rigger clip pops followed by the short rigger and flat line. The crew, now well versed, jumps into action and boats the tuna like a well-oiled machine.
With the tuna limit filled, the anglers take a moment to congratulate the captain and mate. For the anglers, this trip is once in a lifetime. For the crew, it’s one in a million.
To book your next fishing trip please visit BaitYourHook.com.