One fall, we were cobia fishing and had raised a wad of several nice fish when one of the anglers hooked up. I turned to reach for the gaff when I heard the sound of a rather large fish flopping on the cockpit deck. Wondering how he had managed to land the large fish so quickly and without gaffing it, I turned around to find the anglers scattering from a 25- to 30-pound king mackerel flopping around, snapping its razor-sharp teeth. It seems that the cobia had thrown the jig, and as the angler reeled in to cast again, the king leaped at the lure as it broke the surface and landed inside the boat.
I’ve heard of large sharks leaping into boats and landing on hapless anglers, wahoo breaking through windows to land amidst a table of dining anglers, and numerous tales of anglers marooned after their boat sank. It seems that about anything you can imagine happening at sea probably has happened.
Eric and I were in the tuna tower trolling along a rip some 100 miles offshore one time when we spotted a nice cobia in the 65-pound range that swam right up to the boat. Jokingly, I yelled down to the cockpit for someone to gaff it, as I turned to get my camera for a shot. Much to my horror, my son Chris had taken me at my word and had the gaff out, ready.
In slow motion, I yelled, “Nooooo,” just as he took his shot. The episode ended with my son holding a broken gaff, the cobia swimming indignantly away, and Chris apologizing for losing the fish and breaking the gaff. I told him that was the second-worst possible outcome. The worst would have been having an angry,green cobia demolishing the boat. I’ve heard of anglers free-gaffing cobia, but seldom have I heard of anyone trying it twice, and for good reason.
One year, we decided to fish the New Orleans Big Game Club Invitational Big Game tournament. After registering and paying all of our fees, we joined the captain’s meeting where we feasted on a massive array of boiled crab and shrimp. We spent the evening meeting other anglers and boasting to each other about the fish we planned to catch during the tournament.
The next morning, we eased out of Port Eads before the sun was up and waited, eagerly listening to the VHF radio for the starting signal. As soon as the tournament start was announced, the fleet roared out the mouth of South Pass, headed for two days of fishing with good weather and clear blue water ahead of us. We had just rounded the sea buoy when our trouble started.
The port engine began to rev up, and the boat began to lose headway; clearly, we had a big problem. We immediately pulled back on the throttles, but a quick scan of the gauges showed no problems. We then eased the starboard engine into gear, and the boat edged forward. After taking it back out of gear, we engaged the port engine and—nothing; the boat just sat there. Knowing that with a 42-inch-diameter wheel turning, it was impossible for the boat not to move, so we concluded that we no longer had a prop on the port side. This meant that the shaft had broken, and if the break happened to be inside the boat, we could have a three-and-a-half-inch hole in our bottom and could be sinking.
Though the high water alarms had not sounded, Capt. Eric Gill ran down below and confirmed that we were not taking on water. He and Steven Kuljis then bravely slid into the muddy waters to discover that the shaft had indeed broken, and the port prop was no longer there. So instead of continuing our offshore run, we were forced to tuck our tails and head back to Gulfport, running on only one engine. It was a slow, miserable ride home.