Gulf Exploration Mission 2005 This trip was a long time coming. Remember, we planned for this trip to happen in October 2004. But, Ivanâ€™s rampage through the Orange Beach/Pensacola area left us no choice but to reschedule. This trip was my first since I moved from Texas a year ago! I was pumped and ready for the experience, but more than that to get to fish with some great friends Iâ€™ve made through Allcoast. Tony (Tpope) and I were sharing stories about the puzzled reactions of others when we would tell them weâ€™re going fishing for 4 days on a boat with people we met through the Internet. They look at us like we have 3 heads! Too bad they donâ€™t get it! Since I moved to Fort Lee, NJ, I now have to transport my gear via shipping and plane, rather than just load everything into McGolferâ€™s Excursion. I shipped my tackle bag to my family's place in Pensacola, and then flew American Airlines with my gear and rods. AA could not have been easier! They didnâ€™t even count my rod case, w/5 rods, as a piece of luggage. I connected through D/FW and had time to meet with my dad, have lunch, and then catch my connection straight into PNS. Long day of travel, but hey, Iâ€™m going fishing! My mom picks me up; we load all of my gear and head to her house for dinner and a great nightâ€™s sleep. Most of you whoâ€™ve been on these types of trips know how much I slept! DAY ONE: Up at 3 a.m., drink a pot of coffee, load my gear and Iâ€™m off to find the boat in Orange Beach, Alabama. Itâ€™s only a 30-minute drive, but Iâ€™ve never been there so I leave early. Well, I cannot find the marina and against my male nature, I pull into the first convenience store I can find. Itâ€™s about 4:30 a.m. and I walk into this store and say hi to the clerk. The first thing she says is, â€œWhatâ€™cha lookinâ€™ for?â€. While Iâ€™m explaining to her that Iâ€™m going on a fishing trip, big boat, lotsa fun, etc., when another customer walks into the store. This guy overhears me and says, â€œAny chance you going on a 4-day trip on The Necessity?â€. This guy happens to be Tommy, one of the deck hands, and he happened to stop at this place for a carton of cigarettes! I knew then that this was going to be a great trip. I followed Tommy about 2 miles to the boat, park the truck and start unloading all of my gear. I see Rick (McGolfer), TJ (Minnows) and Bret, say hellos, and start helping load all of the gear. Vic (drfishalot), Neil, and their Dad (Kenny) show up and finally I (Ragman) get to meet Tony (Tpope). Itâ€™s great to put faces with board names and laugh at how different they look compared to the image your mind develops through just reading posts and threads. We finish loading all of our gear, so the 1st mate, Tom, 2nd mate Jared, and deckhand Tommy unload much of the their boat gear because we have a mini Charkbait store on this boat! Though Rick says there is no limit on tackle, he did limit himself to a 150 quart cooler just for terminal gear! I love it! We have every rod holder filled, about 50 rigs, ranging from Penn 8500 spinners to Tiburons, Avets, Shimanos, Penns, Accurates, Seekers, GUSAs, Calstars, Cape Fear, etc. I need to thank Frenzy tackle, because they sent us a big box of gear to test that included top shots, sabiki rigs, ballistic flying fish topwaters (more about this bait later), angry poppers, circle hooks etc. that we greatly appreciated! The Necessity is a 62-foot sport fisher with 3 cabins, 1 head w/shower, then 2 other heads. She has satellite t.v., excellent inside/outside satellite stereo, microwave, fridge, and a roomy salon until we stuffed it with enough food to feed all of us for about 2 weeks. Next time we will better plan the supply procurement! LOL! The Captain shows about 15 minutes late, but everythingâ€™s loaded and weâ€™re off! The crew conducts a very brief safety seminar that includes a video on donning a life jacket and tells us we have about a 10 hour ride to our first stop, but weâ€™ll make bait at any place that the Captain finds on the way. We have the sat. stereo on Ch. 46 that plays 70s and 80s classic rock 24 hours a day. This was great for everyone on board except for Kenny, but I gave him a set of earplugs and he was good. Though we had a lot of different personalities and fishing styles on this trip (including the crew), IMO, we were a great team that complimented each other. This variety enabled us to have a very successful trip by all accounts. Once we finished making bait, we put out a trolling spread of 4-5 rigs. The Captain was making 14-15 knots, so we were mostly after Wahoo. Not a lot of action, but weâ€™re just trying to get to the first spot in time to hit the evening tuna bite. We get to the first rig, Medusa I think, and continue the troll around it for about an hour. This part of the trip is sort of fuzzy in my mind, but basically I begin to realize that weâ€™re not really fishing the techniques that I expected at this point. The crew began putting out the kite, while we were chunking somewhat during the drift. I wanted to go to the bow to throw topwater and iron, but the Captain stated itâ€™s not time for that now. Iâ€™m beginning to wonder about the communication to the Captain about our plan for this trip. We didnâ€™t spend much time here and the Captain stated the crew on the rig hasnâ€™t seen much sign of tuna all day so weâ€™ll pull up and move on to the next spot. The Captain does ask us if we want to move to another rig or move to be ready to fish a huge rip/weedline that heâ€™s found out about. We agree to move to fish the rip in the morning not really understanding that this decision would put the Captain and the crew in a spot that would not allow us to do the night fishing for tuna that we all wanted to do. But more about that later because, fishing that rip, though it was trolling, was a very exciting day for just about everyone. I say just about, because Vic was sleeping during the day in order to fish all night for tuna. We find this rip and not only is it beautiful, about a 6-7 mile long weedline with cobalt blue on one side and greenish water on the other, but because we had a lot of action from the fish it was holding! We put out a 5 rig spread of Islanders with ballyhoo, jets, Marauder, etc. and right away began hitting wahoo! That is truly a beautiful fish, all lit up when they come aboard! After 3 others hook-up, my reading from this board finally starts to kick in, and I tell TJ, â€œHey, why canâ€™t we fish the slide?!â€ I tie on an iron man jig on a GUSA 79 with a Trini 12 and TJ ties on one of my wahoo bombs to his Trini 40. The next hook up, TJ drops the bomb on the rip side and I cast out my iron man. I forget who is bringing in a nice wahoo, but then TJ hooks up! He yells out â€œWahoo on the slide!â€, Iâ€™m laughing my butt off, because I think TJ is the only guy I know who loves fishing (not necessarily catching by the way) more than I do. Just as he yells fish on and moves to the center stern, a chicken dolphin just hammers my iron man! I yell fish on and the chicken jumps! This is my first dolphin, everyoneâ€™s on deck, the music is playing loud (I think AC/DCâ€™s Back in Black was playing) and weâ€™ve got 3 fish on at the same time. Thatâ€™s what this trip was all about to me! We land these fish, and then the other guys say, Iâ€™m trying that slide thing! We continue hammering the wahoo and dolphin, both trolling and sliding, for a while. This is when Neill hooks up with a beautiful Sailfish! We estimated she was about 5 Â½ feet and about 50 lbs. Bret took some beautiful pics of her while being tagged; one that shows a clear eye looking through the wash while Tom was billing it for the tag. Things slow down, but the Captain keeps trolling this rip. Itâ€™s just too beautiful to leave. Most of the guys decide to nap or take a break. I lay down for what seemed like 10 minutes, probably was 2 hours, when all of a sudden, the motors stop, and someoneâ€™s yelling, â€œRick has a Marlin!â€. In the next 60 seconds, everyone is on deck watching Rick fight this marlin. She hit a dark purple Kona Islander with a ballyhoo that was attached to Bretâ€™s Fenwick rod and I think a Penn 50. According to the first mate, Tom, this fish checked out 4 of the baits before deciding to eat the long drop and enabling Rick to get a solid hook set. She took drag on two of the previous baits, but came unbuttoned. Rick fought her stand-up and brought her to leader in 24 minutes. She made one last run of about 80 yards and he brought her back within 4 minutes. Just as they were about to tag, she came unbuttoned right at the boat! It was a great experience for me to see everyone working to get that fish. The Captain managing boat position, and the mates working and Rick never giving that fish a rest. He short-stroked that fish constantly! Everyone took turns as the trolling rigs went off and we all had multiple hook ups. More wahoo, some beautiful bull dolphin, and I even caught the lone jack cravelle. We finished in time to make a move to fish the evening tuna bite at a nearby rig. Remember, that this crew is used to catching tuna on the chunk, trolling or using the kite, not topwater. The current was ripping at almost 3 knots that made holding the boat position tough for the captain. The kite wasnâ€™t really producing (it only caught one tuna on the trip), but we managed a few on the chunk. But the sharks were all around and we did hook most of them. The topwater tuna bite was awesome on this trip. Tom later told me he thought I was nuts to be throwing bull GTs (Yozuri and Lively brands, thanks DemonJigs!), but when we started hammering them, he was amazed. The Frenzy Ballistic flying fish is an awesome bait! Frenzy tackle sent us some to field test and they proved their worth. Some of the guys will report some modifications that need to be made to make it perfect! Now this is where the trip starts to really ebb and flow to both positive and negative. But remember, to me, the unexpected is what makes a trip memorable. Maybe Iâ€™m nuts, but when things start to go bad, and then become even better than expected, the good becomes great! Itâ€™s about 8 p.m. and the Captain and crew have been up about 15 or 16 hours. Tom tells us weâ€™re going to slow troll out to a spot for the next 4 hours, drift all night in the middle of nowhere (so the crew can sleep and weâ€™ll be closer to our next spot the next morning, plus these are all floaters out here and no place to tie up, not even any buoys) and wake him if we need anything. I asked Tom to tell the Captain weâ€™d like to go back to the rig and do some drifts the rest of the night instead getting ready to troll again the next day. Tom tells the Captain this, then I see Tom go inside and wake up Tony (stand in Chartermaster since Scott (Tex) decided not to go) and they both go up to the wheelhouse. Tony comes out about 10 minutes later and says, â€œ Who the hell pissed off the Captain?â€. We told Tony we didnâ€™t want to just troll the next 4 hours of night, then drift in the open until morning, but wanted to do some drifts by the rig. Tony says, well the Captain says we either do this or just call the trip after 2 days and head back to OB. Wow, I was floored! We convince Tom to ask the Captain to come down and speak with us. Weâ€™re all having a good time, but donâ€™t understand this reaction. The exhausted Captain Ben comes down and explains to us that he and his crew are tired, need some sleep and in order to be at the spot in the morning, this is what we have to do. Remember, we made the choice to fish that rip or move to fish the rig at night. We couldnâ€™t do both, but we didnâ€™t understand it was an either or choice. Long story short is that Captain Ben decided to take us for one drift by that rig after we convinced him we could manage our gaffing, tangles etc because the crew needed sleep. Weâ€™re all sort of on edge with the experience, but we get ready for the drift. Almost everyone ties on big topwater plugs as we reach this rig and the Captain finishes positioning the boat. The current is still ripping at 3 knots, but we have multiple hook-ups on the first drift and landed 4 nice YFTs ranging from 40-60 lbs. All of this time, Captain Ben, a true fisherman at heart, is watching all of the action from the bridge. Also, Tom decides to stick around for the first drift to see what happens. I think the Captain didnâ€™t have high expectations for these drifts, but when they started to produce, I think he was just as excited as each of us were when we hooked up! I like to think so anyway. I like to downsize my equipment, so Iâ€™m throwing a Yozuri plug (not the bull GT, but one plug smaller, I forget the name because Iâ€™m tired!) on a GUSA MonMag with a Shimano 700TE and 40lb. topshot by Basil. TJ and I are throwing from the bow, and then when we hook up, we walk down the side to the stern to fight the fish. I learned quickly how to hold on to a sounding tuna thatâ€™s taking drag, while holding a rail in a pitching boat without falling overboard. This tuna was only about 45#s, but because of the current my equipment just didnâ€™t allow me to quickly turn this tuna. Iâ€™m whining about not enough drag on my reel, sharks are licking their tuna-eating lips 5 feet from my line and I decide to just button down this drag, USE THE RAIL, and get this tunaâ€™s butt in the boat. With the excellent gaff job by TJ and Tom harpooning my tuna, we got that tuna on the boat just as one of the sharks moved for it. We found sharkâ€™s teeth imprints on the tail of the tuna, but it was whole! Man, that was fun! When we finished that drift, the Captain started the engines and we figured, cool, though that was only one drift, but it sure was fun. We noticed Captain Ben was positioning us for another drift! Hey, I said he was a true fisherman and you donâ€™t leave a hot bite unless you have met your limit, right? Tom didnâ€™t go inside either! This next drift, many others caught tuna, but TJ hooked one on top from the bow that led us to minor surgery! The sharks found us quickly and TJ was working this tuna up. Tom was right by his side while this tuna took TJ around the boat a couple of times. We always upgrade the hooks and rings on our topwaters so that we donâ€™t lose fish to terminal failure. We use 4x stinger trebles or singles too. TJ gets this fish close to gaff, but itâ€™s not the best angle for Tom to gaff safely. But the sharks are moving in and Tom decides to gaff anyway. Tom gaffs the tuna and heaves immediately while TJ tries to stay with him. The fish comes over and hits the deck hard! When the fish hits the deck, the plug comes loose and the tuna tail hits it right into Tomâ€™s ankle! Weâ€™re all yelling way to go, but I see TJ with this terrible facial expression and Tomâ€™s just bent over. I look down and see two trebles, one completely through and another where the barb is just in one side. We cut the line and move the tuna to the box. Rick gets me his cutters and I cut the rings off leaving just the hooks embedded in Tomâ€™s ankle. Somebody go gets Vic, heâ€™s an ER doc, to assess the situation. While heâ€™s coming, I cut the barb off the 4x stinger thatâ€™s come through. Iâ€™ve never seen this situation, much less had to help remedy it. We pull that one out, but the other remains. Vic looks at it and in a perfect deadpan manner says, â€œWell, just push it through and cut if off.â€ Uh huh, Okay. This whole time, Tom is just standing there like itâ€™s not that big of a deal. It takes Tom two attempts to push that barb through his skin, but pushes it through enough so I can cut the barb and remove the rest of the hook. What an experience! The Captain makes sure Tom dresses the puncture, but turns us around to make another drift! TJ feels bad and at fault, but before we get back into position, Tom reappears, bandaged ankle and all, says heâ€™s fine and get ready for the next drift. WOW! This drift, Vic hooks on a plug on what he thinks is his Penn 9500 that he bought just to throw topwaters on this trip (it turns out to be Bretâ€™s). I give him some bigger rings and he changes to stronger hooks and lets her rip. He immediately gets a blow up and the tuna is sounding taking all of the 40# topshot and most of the 65# spectra with him. Vic settles in to about a 45-minute fight, when at about minute 38, the reelâ€™s anti-reverse locks up. He canâ€™t turn the handle! Iâ€™m turning the spool and itâ€™s turning, but no way are we retrieving all of that line in this manner. Captain Ben yells from the cockpit, â€œTom, splice his line to a 50 reel and get that tuna in the boat!â€ Remember, we were only going to do one drift and call it a night. Tomâ€™s never done this, so the Captain Ben, still up in the cockpit talks him through it. We get Rickâ€™s Shimano AJ digitana rig and Tony puts on some wire gloves to hold the spectra and allow Tom to splice a using uni to uni connection. Tom gets the first uni tied, but then the rod snaps! Holy crap! Tom ties the other uni, finishes the connection and we hook Vic into his new rig. Itâ€™s midnight, weâ€™re drifting in 3,600 feet of water about 130 miles offshore, just performed minor surgery at sea, everyoneâ€™s dead tired, and none of us would rather be anywhere else in the world!!! Just as someone cuts the original connection, TJ starts yelling at Vic to hurry and get the new connection on the new reel! Just as Vic gets about 3 good turns on, the tuna makes its last short run. Within 4 minutes, Vic has color, and TJ and Tom gaff the biggest tuna of the trip, a fat, and beautiful 86 lb. yellow fin tuna! She hits the deck, everyone is high-fiving everybody, yelling way to go and we look down at the tuna and notice that only 1 hook of one of the trebles is still attached! Itâ€™s still only attached to the inside of the eye socket! This was the community fish. Everyone contributed something to get this fish in the boat. The Captain starts to move us back into position, but we tell him thatâ€™s enough. Weâ€™re very thankful you did those drifts, but go get some sleep to be prepared for the next night. He positions us to drift, turns on his collision avoidance radar, and then leaves us to make our swordfish drops until morning. We put out the swordfish drops, 3 rigs with a squid each including balloons with light sticks, drifted out about 100 yards and 400 feet deep. No takers, but we finally called it a night at 4:30 a.m. DAY TWO: We begin the morning heading to our next tuna oil platform, Na Kika, by slow-trolling 4 baits while the captain and some crew get their sleep. It takes about 6 hours to get there, but when we arrive, this platform is huge! Plus the current is ripping at about 4 knots! The Captain is still sleeping, but Tom and Tommy get in the 36-foot tower, while weâ€™re still pulling baits, and start to sight fish. Weâ€™re in the cockpit and they can see dolphin and tuna out to 200+ yards. Though this didnâ€™t really produce a lot of fish, I thought it was fun casting iron, topwater plugs, and live bait into the area they saw fish. To see the reaction of the dolphin when they heard the bait hit the water was amazing. The water was gin clear and very beautiful. We caught a couple of dolphin, saw a lot of busting fish, but didnâ€™t really hook up with anything. Most guys slept to get ready for tonight. We trolled until sunset, and then the captain wanted to try our drift techniques again! He held the boat in a 4-knot current, but we couldnâ€™t cast out to the busting fish. Instead, we let our topwaters and iron drift back about 100-150 yards and then began working the baits. We caught a couple of smallish fish that we tagged and released, but the big fish did not want to play on top. Bret decides to put on a whole pogey and drift it back with an 8 oz. sinker. Just as he sets the clicker, BAM! Zinnngggggg! Fish on!!! Right away, everyone changes to this set up and for the next couple of hours, weâ€™re drifting pogeys back to this huge rig. Bret lands a nice 50ish YFT, but they fight like 100#rs because of the current. Most of us pick the rest of our YFT limit at this spot and then things just turned off. We decide to move close to our last spot and make way. Captain Ben speaks with a supply boat Captain on the way and we decide to make a quick stop at a rig on the way. Again, the current is really ripping and we donâ€™t have much luck. We drop off a black-fin tuna to the supply boat captain as thanks and set course for our final spot. I intended to lie down until the next stop, but ended up sleeping through the morning. We drifted a rig, but not too much was happening. Some of the guys hooked up with some big sharks and said the fight was great. We tied up to a mooring buoy for the night. The last day, I come out and TJ and Rick have lines set out, but nothing is going on. I throw irons and topwater for about 2 hours with no sign of fishies anywhere. We have filled the boxes, the seas are picking up, no biters and we decide to head in. From my perspective, this trip turned out to be everything and more than I expected. Once we our group and the crew were on the same page, we all had a great time fishing together, learning different techniques and sharing different experiences while on the Gulf of Mexico. I consider all of the guys on this trip my friends and we did whatever was necessary for each other out there to make sure we all enjoyed the trip. Without hesitation, everyone shared their rigs, terminal tackle, food everything! It was great! We do have to still correct a serious situation that came up at the end of the trip, but I do hope we can continue the GEM trips each year, and hopefully Captain Ben Fairey and his crew will be the platform. I'm trying to resize some pictures and I'll add those soon!