By Capt. Jen Copeland
Some say commercial fishermen make the best fishermen: because they are just, well, fishy. At age seven Mark DeCabia began as most fishermen do, fishing with his father. Surrounded by commercial fishermen as a boy, he and his father would go tuna fishing with friends. As Mark neared his teenage years, he found himself frequenting New York’s commercial tuna boats—eventually landing himself a deck job at age 13. “My dad would drive me to the dock each morning at 4 a.m.,” says Mark. “By the time I was 15, I knew this was the only thing I wanted to do for a living.”
Mark’s father was concerned his childhood love would falter, so DeCabia promised he would go to (and finish) college, “just in case.” Four years later, with a degree in Business Management and Fisheries Science from the University of Rhode Island, Mark took a job on the Canyon Runner out of Point Pleasant, New Jersey. “I started off running the boat in Miami,” he recalls. “I remember going eight for eight on sails, with a double header of swords that same night.” After a first day on the job like that, it’s no wonder that Captain Mark DeCabia hasn’t regretted a single moment since he began his fishing career.
Then 18-year-old Mark DeCabia became “Captain Mark DeCabia” – earning his ticket just one week before taking the helm of the Canyon Runner. He was working deck on a charter boat called Reel Action when a blood infection took his captain out of the game, forcing Mark to run the boat for the remainder of the season. “I was basically fed to the sharks,” he laughs. “I threw up every morning before the first ten trips I ran by myself.” Mark’s nerves finally settled, and 16 years later, he confidently splits time between Stuart, Florida and Long Island running the 52-foot Viking express called the Rebel.
“I still fish the same spots today I did as a kid,” says Mark, “but I use totally different techniques.” His modus operandi may have changed, but it has all been for the better. In 2014, DeCabia placed first in the Hamptons Offshore Invitational and placed second in 2015 in the same tournament. 2016 got him the second-place tuna award at the Montauk Canyon Challenge, and he followed that up with the MCC top boat trophy in 2017, all on the Rebel.
DeCabia’s hard-charging, private boat outlook runs a close parallel with his commercial fishing – which he still does today. “I’m the first one to the boat every morning, and the last one to leave every night, whether I’m fun fishing, commercial fishing, or tournament fishing,” he tells me. “In this business, if you’re not first, your last.” With few good, private jobs available, you must stay focused and positive to keep yours.
Mark says he is “over-prepared and confident, always staying three steps ahead” whether blue marlin fishing or targeting bait. “I try and remember on any given day there could be five guys standing on the dock waiting to take my job.” So, “when it’s time to ‘punch in’, it’s 110 percent until the boat is safely secured and clean.” This outlook is rooted in his dad’s advice – which Mark has taken very seriously.
With rock star influences such as Gina Lisa’s Danny Scotti, Canyon Runner’s Phil Dulanie and Northeast tuna legend Cookie Murray, I’d say whatever DeCabia took from these guys is worth its weight in gold. Scotti has been on the Gina Lisa for 31 years and is Mark’s go-to for “private” advice – like how to approach the owners when it comes to the boat. Dulanie, although he refused to give up any of his fishing “secrets,” showed Mark how to fix most of the problems that occur on a boat.
“These are the fixes you could never read from a book, they were real-life situations,” Mark points out. When looking back, Mark is smart enough to realize that the lessons these guys taught him were more valuable than any fishing secret he could ever been given. And as for Cookie, the man who he has emulated for most of his life, Mark is just happy to be competing with him head-to-head these days.
With all the different professional philosophies floating around in the world of sportfishing, this fact remains: we are only as good as those who teach us. For Captain Mark, his philosophy is plain and simple: the safety of his passengers and condition of the boat comes first, the owner’s enjoyment follows a close second, because without them, there is no boat job, and “everything else is minor.”
Confident, trustworthy, endowed with good communication skills and an ability to adapt from commercial to private and back again, Captain Mark DeCabia will no doubt have some young gun naming him as an influence in the years to come. They say love what you do, and Mark is a believer… “I always want to be the first out of the inlet and the last to come home because when you love something, it’s not really work.”