Unfortunately, the sportfishing landscape is full of stories of drug and alcohol addiction. What follows is a real-life, first-person account from a sportfishing professional about his experience with addiction. Written anonymously, we publish it not to preach or condemn or tell anyone how to live, but rather to provide a point of reference for anyone who might benefit from reading it. It is an insightful read on a topic that is all too often avoided.
InTheBite congratulates the author of this piece for his courage and commitment. We also wish all the luck in the world in the Gulf tournaments of 2020.
Many of us who have a drinking problem all could carry on about our “war stories.” This isn’t what I want to write about. I want to share my story about my love and passion for fishing and how the addiction of alcoholism nearly took everything from me. Thankfully my addiction and the negative ways in which it affected my life and that of my family was not the end of my story.
I also want to share how believing in something bigger than myself and making the bold decision to live MY life has enabled me to be the happiest, healthiest version of myself. What follows is a recollection of my experience and what has led me to ultimately be free from the thought of ever going back to a drink.
My hope is that my story may help a captain, mate, or boat owner to understand the power of addiction and what it can do to someone’s life. An addiction to alcohol can also destroy a fishing operation.
“RIGHT TEASER!!! HE’S ALL OVER IT!!!” I could make out the dark shadow through my glazed over double vision. My current state was the residue from the drunkenness I experienced the previous night.
Running in and out of the salon throughout the morning to try and cure my hangover, I grabbed the 30 pitch, tangled the ballyhoo, tripped and hit my head on the covering board. Not only did I miss the bite, but I awoke to a swollen head and missed the entire day of fishing. I’d like to say this was a onetime bad judgment event, but unfortunately, this happened more often as I grew up.
Which addiction is stronger? Fishing? Drugs and alcohol? I’d like to say fishing, but in my reality, the alcoholism was stronger. Let me go back to the beginning.
I grew up in a very successful and affluent family. I began catching piggy perch at two years old off the dock at my parents’ beach house. By the age of five I was trolling for billfish on my dad’s Bertram. I grew up on the water. Even from a young age, the saltwater quickly became my passion.
I was fortunate to have a good family that always took care of me. Not only that, I was able to fish on my father’s sportfishing boat in the Gulf and learn the offshore fishing world at a young age. I was able to travel to the best fisheries around– Isla Mujeres, the Bahamas, Kona, the Great Barrier Reef and many more. I was given a fishing education at a young age that many captains and mates may never be blessed with.
As I grew older and began to spend more time hanging around the docks, I began to see what goes on after the fishing is over. What I saw was the “fun after the fishing”– the partying, the drinking, and an abundance of girls. To round out my complete dedication to the offshore experience—the hours rigging ballyhoo, spooling rods, and the hard work it takes to prepare us for fishing– I began to indulge in the lifestyle that commonly goes so well with fishing– the drinking.
What set me apart from others though, was that I was extremely dedicated to the fishing. I understood the importance of being sober while fishing for big money in a high stakes tournament. That was my one rule in high school – never drink while fishing, always do it after. And I held to that very well.
I thought that if I could do that—stay sober while on the water– and maybe get a little out of control at the awards, then I didn’t have a problem with drinking. I was diligent in my work on the boat. My way of rewarding myself would be to have way too much to drink and typically make a fool of myself the night after the awards. I’d laugh it off with friends, but internally I was pretty ashamed.
My First DWI
I graduated high school and moved on to college because that’s what everyone does where I grew up. Between my senior year in high school and freshman year of college I picked up my first DWI. I was mortified that that could happen to me and I told myself that would never happen again. I would never drink that much and drive again.
After all, I had it all worked out in my mind. “I couldn’t be an alcoholic. I come from a good family. I’m going to college. I’m a successful fisherman. Besides, alcoholics are people that live under a bridge and drink out of a brown bag, that’s not me by any means.”
At this point, I was 18 and I was going off on my own for the first time. I was headed to college—a place where everyone drinks and parties. I managed to fail out of college my first semester… due to my drinking.
It was then that I went to rehab for the first time and learned that I MAY have a problem. This cycle would continue throughout my late teens into my twenties. At some points, I managed to stay sober for a while to get everyone off my ass. Inevitably I would drink again and cause a firestorm.
This became the norm in my life and people began to expect it. All hope was gone. I lived a life that I wasn’t proud of. Deep down, I wanted to be a good, honest, hard-working person. I had many of those qualities while sober and healthy. As soon as I began to fall off that path and become deceitful to others—most especially myself, however, I would find myself on the verge of heading back for a drink.
After one of my particularly epic benders—something that I’m most definitely not proud of—I earned a nickname (one that is typical within the fishing community). As my drinking continued, my life was generally spiraling out of control around me. My DWIs started accumulating. As they did, there was no amount of money that I could throw at a lawyer to get me out of trouble or save this life I had become stuck in.
I was wearing a business suit Monday through Friday. Ok, that’s a lie – maybe I’d keep the suit on until about Wednesday afternoon. From there we would fish a tournament that weekend. I was also generally miserable working the 9 to 5 life.
The expectations early on in my life were very high. My father and his father were successful businessmen. I was trying to live up to the expectations I set for myself. I wanted to become my father and grandfather.
As a result of the pressure I put on myself, I was a perfectionist in everything I did (I later learned how unhealthy that was for me). I turned to drinking to decompress from those unobtainable expectations.
Drinking would help me to finally breathe and relax… but I could never stop at a six-pack. I would start drinking and there was no telling when I would stop. It was like playing Russian roulette every time I opened a beer. I really didn’t drink when I fished, but occasionally the night before would lag into the early next morning. When this happened, I was generally unproductive and couldn’t be on point.
I was so, so passionate about being on point while fishing, that it was more important than that drink. However, I wasn’t fishing everyday so I couldn’t use fishing or seeing the bite to overcome the alcohol. I finally realized that fishing—like the many other important things in life such as having a wife or family—could not keep me sober. I had to find something bigger, stronger, and most importantly more powerful that might help me achieve lasting sobriety.
By my early 30s, I was on the verge of going away for a long time… to the big house. I constantly thought, “How does a guy with two loving parents, who came from what seemed like the most normal background with a good job and good friends end up in the predicament I was looking at?!?!” Fishing was always my positive vice, but so many people looked down on it as a career or lifestyle because of the drugs and alcohol that are so readily attached to it.
I would always hear, “You can’t stay sober running a boat.” I knew I couldn’t stay sober doing it, but I also knew that fishing– and the water, the bite, and my passion– were all very positive things in my life. Other real fisherman can understand. Even during my lowest points, billfishing was one of the only positive things that helped me to continue to live my life.
I received my third DWI in my mid 30’s. In the state where I live, upon getting a third citation for driving while intoxicated, there is nothing you can do to get out of a prison sentence. In 2016 I stepped into the walls of a prison.
I was no longer the great fisherman, or the sweet husband. I was an inmate now referred to as a number – not a name. I lost a year of my life but in the end, I lost so much more.
I missed the birth of my son. I lost the ability to be a good husband. I lost the ability to fish. When I walked into that prison that day, I realized I’d been lost for the majority of my life.
That first night scared me to death. I got on my knees, placed my hands on my iron bunk and truly, humbly, prayed to God to help me. Whatever he wanted me to do in life, I would do.
I prayed, “God, if you want me to work at McDonalds the rest of my life – I will. But I can’t live this life anymore.” It was there in prison over the next 365 days that I became humble, grateful and began living for something bigger than myself for the very first time.
I wouldn’t wish this experience on my worst enemy, but I also wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. That experience is what I needed to finally hit rock bottom and realize that alcohol wasn’t worth ruining my life over any longer. I’m still alive and have so much greatness to offer. It was then that I truly began living my life for the first time.
A New Life
Upon regaining my freedom, my wife and I decided to leave the society bubble we had been living. This decision came much to the disappointment of many. Rather than continue to feel like a round peg in a square hole, I committed myself to pursuing my life where I found peace and happiness – on the water.
While I had plenty of connections at the Gulf coast town where I spent my summers fishing, I moved with no secure job offer. We decided to move to coastal waters in 2017. I immediately felt at peace being close to the water.
We got settled in our new home without selling our home in that big city bubble. Now having two mortgages, the fear began to creep in. Did I make the right call moving my whole family down here? I kept questioning God if this was the right thing.
I’d fished the entire summer for my third season with a friend and captain of a well-renowned, successful Gulf sportfishing operation. We fished very well together. Things began to play out and I just continued to live the way I’d promised myself that first night in prison. Just do the next right thing, listen to that voice and continue to move forward.
And wouldn’t you know it, the captain’s long term mate soon moved on to a new job. About the same time, the captain was transitioning to a new job running a beautiful used custom sportfishing boat. I believe I caught him off guard when I said to him, “Hey man, I’d like to be your full-time mate.”
Most people looked at me like I was this rich kid that has it all. I was seen as that “great angler and/or 2nd mate that we all love,” but never someone who was going to ever be a full-time mate or career captain. In my eyes, however, this was all I wanted to do.
Fishing was my passion. I wanted nothing more than to make a career billfishing, live baiting rigs, pulling dredges with dink baits – anything that had to do with fishing I love. Excluding the time I spend with my wife and son, I’m most comfortable in my life on the blue desert. That’s where I find peace and serenity.
The captain I fished those seasons with gave me a shot in September 2017. We took the boat to south Florida to do an extensive refit to make her pristine. During this time, I got to spend six months in the boatyard with some of the best-known experts in the boat building world. I gained as much wisdom and knowledge as I could possibly retain. My goal was to become the best mate that I could possibly be.
My friend, that captain, continues to teach and mentor me like a brother. Each step of refitting the custom boat he would walk me through the process. I was always a great angler and good working in the cockpit, but there is so much more to running a solid program than just hooking fish.
Where I’m At Today
This is where I am today. Everyday continuing down this path of being a professional mate I realize how much I still have to learn. I ask questions, and continue to look over the Captain’s shoulder to see how the process works. I work to enhance my knots, my ability to tie up with a heavy side wind, and all the things that most people don’t think of. Paying attention to the details is crucial to being a professional mate and enabling my Captain to focus on his role without worrying about mine.
Today I dedicate my life to God because ultimately He is what allows all this to transpire in my life. Not everyone believes in God and I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. What I am telling you is that if you’re someone like me, who has struggled with addiction in your life, it can’t hurt to believe in something bigger than yourself for once. That said, it probably couldn’t hurt anyone to believe in something.
Fishing, family, and work were never the answer for my addiction. I tried all of these things only to fail and I drank again. Once I believed in something bigger than myself, the world opened up. The family got better, my health improved, and so did my friendships. I finally had the ability to live my life.
Today I’ve got a dream job. I work for an incredible boss and a great Captain who’s more like a brother to me than a boss. Life is good and it’s all because I quit trying to run the show. Rather I have committed myself to just doing the next right thing.
I knew that drinking wasn’t bringing value to my life any longer and that I had to do something bold and different. My family and I made that courageous decision to make a change and aren’t looking back. It was the best choice I ever made.
Fishing Season is Upon Us
Fishing season is now kicking off in The Gulf. We have 1,000 7/0, 80-pound rigs ready to go, 100 live bait rigs, and multiple custom dredges built (thanks winter nights after the long days in the boat yard!) We’re ready to crush some tournaments and give the owner and clients the best experience of their lives while fishing on the boat. I love nothing more than watching the sunrise running offshore with nothing else in sight but blue water.
Watching as the riggers layout you never know what the Big Man is going to present you for that fishing day. I’ll never stop getting goosebumps when I think about those moments. This is my high today.
Today I’m blessed with over four years sober. The thought of drinking is so distant to me now that it’s unreal. I love being a professional mate. My family loves me for the man I’ve become. They see the pure happiness and joy in my life today. And today, I’m able to see the authentic happiness in my life.
Thank God there is a better way to live.
Do you have any comments or questions for us? We’d love to hear from you.