This is easy for me to write now that I am no longer afraid of deep sea fishing. Beforehand, it seemed impossible. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the world is full of unfounded, crippling fears. Having a fear of deep water or the ocean is not crazy. Extreme depths, deadly sea creatures and the like are not just figments of imagination. For me, the idea of taking a small fishing vessel out to wrangle some of these creatures was just insane. I was afraid of deep sea fishing and, as a Midwesterner, there was no need for me to ever do it. Ever.
….Except for this one time. I’m not kidding. I had no choice but to participate in deep sea fishing as part of a group tour to the Alabama Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. My options were to participate in an intimate zoo tour and hold live animals, or deep sea fishing. As someone who is *highly* allergic to all things with fur and feathers, the zoo was out. I can’t be near furry creatures without developing hives and trouble breathing. While I was afraid of deep sea fishing, at least I wouldn’t need an epipen.
A Distracting Introduction
Deep sea fishing excursions are usually a few hours long and depart at various hours of the day. The idea of sweltering under the noon sun is no ship captain’s idea of fun and, as they say, the early boats get the fish. While a 5:30AM call time to the dock does not afford a person beauty sleep, it does offer less oppressive temperatures. It also offers some of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen. While I normally would be sweating the details e.g. IS THERE A BATHROOM ON BOARD?, I was completely distracted by the gorgeous scene at the harbor. I may have been afraid of deep sea fishing, but watching the sun bob on the water took my mind somewhere else.
A Trustworthy Captain and Crew
One of the details that made me afraid of deep sea fishing is that everyone I knew told me about how seasick it made them. I have gotten seasick only one time, in 1997 on a dinghy in choppy waters from the Rosario Islands to Cartagena, Colombia. Did I really need to commemorate it with a 20th anniversary recurrence? I really didn’t want that to happen again. While weather patterns can’t be predicted, a skilled captain and crew know enough to determine whether or not to go out on the water. With Ocean Ox Charters, Captain Jimmy and his crew told us that we had a perfect day. They recounted that they’ve cancelled trips and turned back early because of choppy water and inclement weather. I didn’t yet know the crew, but I already liked and trusted them.
Asking for Help
One of the great things about deep sea fishing in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama is that the fishing boats have radars. The captain knows when and where you should drop anchor. Well, not only because of the radar, but also the years of expertise. Each time Captain Jimmy came upon floating driftwood or a buoy, we dropped our lines and waited moments for bites. It must have been my lucky day because every time I put a line in the water, I got bites. We used a line with two hooks so that we had twice the possibility of pulling up fish. While this didn’t seem like too big of a deal, there was a lot of weight on the pole.
Based on the above photo, can you imagine the kind of battle I faced? I didn’t know it at this time, but two, over 10 pound red snappers were attached to my hooks. I bobbed my pole down toward the water and pulled back while reeling in the line. In over 100 feet of water and with persistent fish, the process started to wear me down. Minutes later, my forearms were burning, I felt my body leaning too far overboard, and sweat was dripping down my chest. While my co-fishermen were enjoying the struggle and getting their cameras ready, I began to panic. I was afraid I was going to lose my grip and lose the pole to the deep blue gulf. Instead of letting these fish get the best of me, I squeaked out a plea for help.
“Will?” I asked, speaking to the first mate. ” Could you help me? I don’t think I can hold on to this pole much longer.”
And wouldn’t you know it? He gave me a belt with which I could anchor the pole onto my hips and take some of the weight off of my upper body. He coached me through saving my energy and not letting the fish get the better of me.
The Ocean Ox Crew had my Back…Literally
If you’ve never gone deep sea fishing, you don’t know how thrilling and exciting it can be to reel in a fish. You also don’t realize how much energy you expend trying to pull in a fish or two. After two large hauls, I was in need of a bit of rest. The Ocean Ox had an air conditioned hull with oversized bean bags and comfortable benches. We had snacks and coolers and I used a bit of down time to reapply sunscreen.
When I was ready to try my hand again, lady luck was on my side. Once again, fish were on my hook. This time, however, I didn’t have the energy available to reel and give back and forth. I needed even more help. Captain Jimmy and first mate Will saw my struggle and decided it was time for a harness. While I held onto the fishing pole, Will wrapped a blue fishing harness around my torso. Then, he pulled me back to counterbalance the force of the fish pulling me over the side of the boat. He secured me into the boat and literally “had my back.”
Surviving Deep Sea Fishing
Deep sea fishing was more thrilling and exhausting then I ever thought possible. I grew up fishing on a pond; when fish weren’t biting, it was all kinds of boring. The occasional carp would bend the pole and put up a struggle, but the strength and energy expended pulling up these deep sea fish was extraordinary. For someone with an anxiety disorder, keeping calm and enjoying the experience will require some preparation, but it is definitely worth it. Here are my tips:
- Bring food, water, sunscreen, anti-nausea patches, layers of clothing, and a distraction object (book, phone, music) to provide a sense of stability to the boat.
- Listen to directions from the captain and crew and ask if you need help or don’t understand something.
- Choose a ship and crew that is reliable. Sometimes, that involves walking down to the dock and seeing which captain is most amenable to your plans. In Orange Beach and Gulfshores, Alabama, I highly recommend contacting Ocean Ox Charters. For a more luxurious experience, they also operate The Duke.
- Don’t force an excursion in bad weather or choppy sea.
With these tasks in mind, deep sea fishing in Alabama, on the calm waters of the Gulf, is a great idea for people with anxiety disorders or even on the autism spectrum.
DISCLOSURE: This post was written in conjunction with the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism Board and Ocean Ox Charters. Most photos of this post were provided by Eva Faircloth and credited to her where appropriate. As always, all opinions are my own.