Teens & Twenties writer has quite a fish tale

Teens & Twenties writer Thomas Herter shows off his catch during a recent deep-sea fishing trip.

Commentary by Thomas Herter
Times-News correspondent

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Having set out early to be among the first to rent a boat at Cane Creek Reservoir on past Saturday mornings, and having jiggled a black rubber worm or retrieved a jitterbug cast from the shores of Orange County ponds, I have learned how to tempt a largemouth bass to take my bait.

So when our recent vacation plans included a deep sea fishing trip, I figured I’d know much of what I needed to know before we hit the water. As it turns out, I had a lot to learn.


My dad, brothers and I met our captain and fishing guide, Chuck Dessommes, at his 24-foot boat, Grady White, just as the sun was breaking the horizon. In minutes we were off the pier, chatting about Dessommes’ memories of Chapel Hill while a student at UNC many years ago, and heading to our spot 12 miles south of Pensacola. As we skipped across the waves at 30 miles per hour, I began to get myself ready.

Freshwater fishermen often use a 10- or 12-pound test-weight fishing line on a spinning reel, casting a lure or a barbed hook with a worm or a minnow. To this point, all I recognized was the minnows we picked up from a craft emblazoned “Bait Boat” anchored in the middle of the ocean.

Soon we arrived at the captain’s favorite first stop, a place that would only became a primer for what would lie ahead. After the anchor was dropped, the captain went below deck and came up with reels like I’d never seen before: baitcasters. The pole was 6 feet long and much heavier than the pole I have at home. We used 60-pound line that was weighted with a lead sinker.

It wasn’t long before I had a bite and my first reaction was to set the hook like I had done for years while lake fishing, but the captain told me to resist the temptation because it could break my line. As I began to reel, I realized that the fish was putting up a fight, and it was pulling my pole into the water as I tried not to fall out of the boat.

The fish gave an occasional pull by diving back toward the sea floor, but I kept reeling. Finally I could see my first saltwater catch just underneath the boat. Waiting for the captain to assist, I was almost positive that the fish was the largest in the entire sea because of its weight and how much my wrist were hurting. To my surprise, the captain said that it was an average size red snapper — maybe eight pounds. My first thought was, “There are bigger fish? I’m exhausted.”

We landed many species of fish that morning: amberjack, red and black snapper, gag grouper, one bonito or skipjack tuna, and a remora — all fish that you can catch off the coast of North Carolina with the right guide. We were only allowed to keep three or four of our catches. The rest we were careful to unhook without injury and throw back for another day.

After just two hours, our best bait was gone and we had put 25 fish in the boat, and we were all tired — even our captain. That 60-pound test line had given way a few times and he was kept busy tying new hooks and leaders while trying to keep up with baiting our hooks as we pulled fish after fish onboard. Once my dad asked him to make sure that my 12-year-old brother didn’t go overboard as Dad fought his own fish, and the captain held tight as Jon landed that only tuna on our trip.

Although you may have reeled in a five-pound bass and thought that you were king of the ocean, I realized that my freshwater experiences were small in comparison to the fight from a 15-pound amberjack.

Many people go freshwater fishing to chat with a friend and enjoy some relaxation in a natural environment, but if you want part of the action, relaxation should not be your plan when deep sea fishing. It will surely create memories to last a lifetime, and you will probably never tire of telling your “fish stories” to family and friends.

Thomas Herter is a junior at the Hawbridge School
and a Teens & Twenties writer.


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