The four of us started out from Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, before the mid-May dawn, the rest of the world still asleep. Our boat, Slow Your Roll, was sturdy in the chop; Capt. Jeremy Edwards hoped to find pockets of fish in an eddy building from the south. We ran along Frying Pan Shoals, a subsurface formation which forms the beard off North Carolina’s Cape Fear chin, joining Onslow Bay in southernmost North Carolina and Long Bay in northern South Carolina. The shoals are known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic for the large number of shipwrecks dating back to early European travel to the New World. Today, we cheated the graveyard as we ran far south of the famed Lookout Tower toward the blue waters of the Gulf Stream. Edwards had heard of a few marlin caught off Georgetown, South Carolina, the day before and we hoped the fish had pushed north overnight.
We were two fathers recently released: Jeremy from the grinding battle of his wife’s long fight with cancer and me from the heavy responsibilities of an entrepreneurial startup. We each were joined by our sons, both standing at the precipice of all the things that make a man, as full of dreams as doubts. We were all pursuing Old Blue. Edward’s journey has been a life of accomplishments, many on the sea. He met his future bride on a boat in Wrightsville Beach. They raised a family together. When cancer came for her, Jeremy fulfilled his vows, stepping away from sport fishing to care for her. After a decade-long fight, she passed away. Jeremy returned to the sea.
Edwards’ son Walker, our mate, was transitioning from nearshore charters to offshore billfishing. Jeremy, now with a lifetime pursuing Old Blue behind him, patiently passed lessons to his son, chief amongst them a simple one like, the boat in your care reflects upon you. It’s your choice whether you want to look good or bad. Hemingway tells us, “Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.” Walker had worked hard and his preparation was exact, but he dreamed of Old Blue and knew Hemingway’s luck would matter for us that day.
My son, Smith, is a gifted athlete and natural leader. He tried the industry I grew up in but concluded after some success that it wasn’t for him. He couldn’t deny his family’s entrepreneurial traditions and decided to pursue his own by starting a butcher shop. He’d found his path. More importantly, I believe he’s found his bride; a life companion he’s dated since the eighth grade. But his sense of responsibility requires him to be confident in his path before asking her to commit to him. Smith learns by doing and was eager to learn from Jeremy and Walker. He urged them to let him learn by doing and failing and succeeding, just as they had. I’m proud of Smith for being his own man. I take pride in him taking his shot, in life and on the water.
I grew up in a small mountain town in North Carolina. Ours was a family of modest means. No matter, I never wanted much other than to pursue my own path. I grew up trout fishing and inshore angling. I never dreamed that I would ever own a sport-fisher one day; frankly, I am more comfortable with the fly and bass anglers of the world. I had the chance of a lifetime to start a company with a great team as we pursued the dream of entrepreneurship. We agreed to follow the three Fs: fun, fulfillment, and—if we were lucky—fortune. It was a journey filled with incredible highs and a few lows. The most important lesson I learned is the journey shared with the team is the true reward. We also got lucky and found success along the way as well.
Still, the business demanded of me more than I should have given at times. There were times when I feared failure and so I gave more to the business than my family. I tried to be there for my family when I could but there were times when I failed there. I’m grateful that my son seems to have forgiven me as we try to make up for lost time and enjoy the moments we have together. Today Smith and I were making up some lost ground by getting to experience some great times together. A wise friend once told me that it takes one month for each year of the journey to completely let the stress of the journey dissipate. Today was roughly the anniversary closing the dissipation period.
Now, as we struck out with miles to put between us and the shoreline, fathers and sons holding hopes and dreams for themselves and each other, we were unified in hoping to see our preparation and patience pay off that day. If I am honest, we hoped for a little bit of Hemingway’s luck. Captains must master many skills, not least understanding the host of conditions required to maximize our chances of success. Jeremy spent the previous evening poring over the weather charts, satellite imagery, and reports from his network. He contemplated the current skills and capabilities of his team. He made his best-informed choice on our direction early that morning. As we rode out, the sun put on a light show of incredible colors and warmth and we each began to enjoy the journey hoping to catch our first marlin for the boat.
I’ve learned from my short experiences with sport fishing that Old Blue is the ultimate trophy. Our anticipation built over the course of a year as we progressively caught sailfish, white marlin, wahoo, and mahi, slowly increasing our skill and understanding of what it takes to catch a blue marlin. Walker set the table, a spread of carefully crafted temptation: lures, teasers, and dredges which we hoped would evoke a reaction bite and give us our shot.
Our first fish came into our spread around 9:30 a.m. It struck violently like a purse snatcher, then left before we could entice her with a bait. Although disappointed, we were encouraged to know we had picked our spot well and as the morning progressed, we delighted catching small dolphin and were blessed with a fishbox full of mahi.
It all came together mid-morning. The choppy conditions which are normal for the spring smoothed out and became one of those amazing flat days you see sometimes in late summer, adding to our anticipation. Suddenly, the second blue marlin flashed across our spread and struck violently at the left long. We realized quickly this one had hung itself on our plunger. The blue put on a play in three acts: a display of dancing and head-shaking that was followed by a deep dive and long fight that took my line into its backing; finally, capitulation as it came alongside the boat. We backed and pulled the 300-pounder to our port side. This release was the first for the boat, Walker, and me. We all hugged and shouted into the seas, weak with adrenaline and the fight. I was so tired it took Smith reminding me that, having caught a sail and a white last year, I could celebrate this catch as the completion of my lifetime slam, all caught in my home state waters. It was a high that I’ll never forget.
Sport fishing is a team endeavor. Jeremy trained each of us to play our roles including manning the dredge, setting the spread, watching and tending the lines, and taking our turns at our chances. Although the first catch had been my turn at the reel, each of us celebrated the team’s success once we released the marlin. And we were not done just yet.
The second blue marlin came in faster than the first and hit Smith’s lure, again on the left long. She tore off line, violently exploding when she hung herself. She took even more line while we cleaned up the spread. The back down and retrieve was much faster this time and Smith fought the 400-pounder alongside the boat in just 15 minutes.
There is a delicate and precise dance for a crew encountering a marlin, one requiring skilled teamwork, leadership, and good communication. Jeremy expertly orchestrated the backdown while coordinating the fight with Smith, and the final catch and release. Watching Smith battle his first blue marlin, and the completion of his own lifetime slam entirely in my home waters, was both an answer to my prayers and an emotional moment for two proud North Carolinians. I watched Jeremy smile as Walker graduated to marlin fishing. I imagined the pride his father felt as Walker showed his dad he had listened and learned well, ready to one day follow his footsteps to the helm.
We landed two of the three blue marlin we hooked that day, and we saw three more. It was the reward we each hoped for, the result of hard work, preparation, and some of Hemingway’s luck. It was also an answer to my prayer. It’s the magic that will fuel our future quests and add spice and intrigue to our stories ashore. If we caught what we were looking for, the victory provided the release we each needed. If only for a moment, we were content. Jeremy rested in his sense of pride for Walker and fulfillment of his own promises as he returned to the sea, Walker in his own advancement. Smith claimed another accomplishment as a man as he anticipated his next steps in life. I simply felt released when life’s blessings allowed me one more: to focus on the day as a father and friend.
All smiles, we returned to Wrightsville Beach with flags flown high, each of us filled with satisfaction at accomplishing a few of our life’s dreams. Trying to share the events of the day with my wife, I was choked with emotion. Words were inadequate. The fathers on the boat shared an incredible pride in our sons. Our fears of inadequately preparing them for their own journeys were suspended that day as we just enjoyed the moment together. I imagine their fears of failing to live up to their fathers’ expectations were also suspended as they exceeded them. I smiled at how incredible the moment was and how lucky we were to experience it together.