Does the idea of flying over the waves while clinging to a fishing pole with its hook firmly attached to the mouth of a blue marlin thrill you?
It does for the sport fishing men and women who charter out of Indian River Inlet.
“I tell you, the first time I went out and landed something big, I was hooked for life,” says Hank Draper of Prime Hook Sportfishing.
If you are not familiar with fishing terms, “landing a fish” means bringing it on board your boat.
Draper and his crew take clients out on the water all summer to share the thrill of sport fishing. They are looking for white marlin, blue marlin and yellowfin tuna primarily.
“The marlin you catch and release, but the mahi and tuna you can bring home and eat for dinner,” Draper says. That’s why marlin is considered a sport fish—you are only in it for the chase.
Draper takes clients about 80 miles off the inlet. Out there, it isn’t like being in Delaware anymore. It’s a whole new world where all you can see is clear water. The outings generally last all day, but Draper will sometimes do shorter trips.
“When you are out there trolling for marlin and then you hook one, it is really an experience. You are fighting the fish— mano a mano,” Draper says.
As you grip the fishing pole, he explains, the marlin jumps out of the water. The battle is on. When a marlin is fighting you, sometimes its entire body lights up (their scales have a light-reflecting quality that makes them appear to glow above the water’s surface) as it leaps into the air. “It’s pretty wild,” Draper says.
Chris Ragni, considered by some to be the fishing guru at Indian River Inlet, runs both in-shore and offshore fishing charters. His season starts May 15 when he takes clients out for black sea bass. Offshore season begins in June, and he will take multiple trips each week for tuna, bass and marlin.
In-shore charters travel no more than 30 miles out, while offshore charters are usually about 50 to 80 miles out.
“My best days are when we have 10 rods in the water, and there’s a tuna on each one,” Ragni says. “That’s as good as it gets.”
Both Draper and Ragni compete with clients and teams in many of the local and regional sport fishing tournaments. The closest big one is Ocean City’s White Marlin Open, a 48-year tradition, held each August.
“We try to steal the glory from Ocean City,” Draper says with a laugh.
The tournaments are huge, drawing participants from across the nation. Famed basketball player Michael Jordan has competed several times. The tournaments are known for big crowds and even bigger payouts, with some of the contests rewarding winners with prizes of $1 million. Last year’s White Marlin Open awarded $3.2 million to Butch Wright of Maryland for a marlin weighing in at 85.5 pounds.
It can cost more than $30,000 to enter all the contests at a tournament—there are separate competitions for different types of fish—so groups of friends will often pool their money to enter. Others only take part in the lower-cost contests.
“It’s like competing in the NFL when you have only played in your backyard,” Draper says.
For him, it’s all about the thrill of the sport. “I just want to be fishing every day,” he says.
As Draper prepares his 37-foot custom Carolina sport fishing boat at the dock in Indian River Inlet, the sun glints off the water, waves lap softly at the sides of the boat and a warm breeze gently dances in our hair. Yeah, seems like a great day to do some fishing.