As a kid, fishing meant standing at the end of the dock at the local marina and casting until my arms felt like they were about to fall off. My brother would be at one end and I would be at the other—the battle lines clearly drawn. We jerked our snapper poppers with abandon, our eyes looking for the swirl of a predator in chase.
“Sixteen. I have sixteen, you only have seven,” I shouted in a tone that only an older-brother-scorekeeper could muster.
“Stay on your side,” came the reply as I spotted a school of snapper on his side of the bay. All is fair in love and fishing. Crossed lines, curse words and chaos would inevitably ensue. The evening typically ended with me pleading, “Don’t tell mom.”
It’s a funny thing, the competitiveness that fishing can bring out in us. I recall a charter trip a couple years ago off Islamorada. A colleague and I got skunked offshore then decided to redeem ourselves over a piece of inshore structure where snapper congregate. Cheering, swearing and laughing filled the rest of the day. It was a simple afternoon of cold beer and catch and release, but it brought me back to my boyhood days, if only for a little while.
Those who know me know I have a tendency to get competitive. Years spent as an athlete and coach have fostered that, as well as a healthy respect for comradery. Over the years, I’ve learned the greater the competition, the greater the comradery.
That’s probably why I enjoyed being on the docks on the eve of the Custom Boat Shootout in Marsh Harbour a couple months ago. Mates hustled about the docks, their hands clenched tightly around buckets of supplies. Baits were rigged one after another with fluidity, as if they were tying their shoes. The intensity was palpable, heightened only by the weather forecast that was going from hold-on-to-your-hats bad to worse.
The fleet was made up of 60-plus custom sportfishing boats. From Merritt and Weaver to Garlington and Rybovich, the docks were a boat nut’s dream. It was clear that boat building is alive and well in North Carolina. The sportfishermen coming out of that region seem to be getting better every year. It’s a case of iron sharpening iron in that part of the world.
The queen of the fleet was July 2018’s cover star, the -Jarrett Bay 90, Jaruco. For years this project has been veiled in secrecy. For months I tried to secure a test. My colleagues, John Turner and Bill Sisson, and I would get our chance in 8-to 12-foot seas.
Gallery: Inside Jaruco
It was a day I won’t soon forget. Jaruco, its owner and Jarrett Bay President Randy Ramsey introduced me to what I’m going on the record to call the most advanced sportfisherman ever built . From titanium shafts and commercial-grade electronics to carbon fiber toilets and an underwater foil she truly is one of a kind. Go ahead and read that sentence again. As Ramsey put it, “It’s safer than any automobile, it has more systems than a 747 and it drives on the water at over 44 knots.”
All this begs the question: Is it too much? At what point does it become unfair for the fish? I mean, you don’t need a $20 million boat with a foil to catch fish; you can run a mile offshore in a center console and catch marlin in some places. But after spending time on Jaruco, I realized it’s not about catching fish. The fish are a means to an end. It’s about competition.
And I don’t mean competition in a bad way. I think a healthy dose is important. Whether it’s the rivalry between magazines, competing sandwich shops or boat builders, we need competition to reach our full potential. Ali needed Frazier. The Yankees needed the Red Sox. Maverick needed Ice Man.
Winning the rivalry is nice, of course, but that’s not what it’s all about. As Jaruco’s owner and the other crews at the Custom Boat Shootout will tell you, the real fun doesn’t lie in the outcome. It’s that spirit of competition that drives us. Just ask the brothers casting for snappers.