This thought was reinforced as the Sea Angel II bobbed over another 6-footer while Capt. Bruce Armstrong eased towards the rocks offshore of Diamond Shoals Tower one spring morning. The southwest wind and swell had persisted longer than had been originally forecast, but the update had it falling out around noon, so the decision was made to go fishing.
"Let's get going," Capt. Bruce Armstrong had said as the fishermen debated the merits of the 25-mile, hour-and-a-half trip in the cockpit beforehand. "It won't be a long run, and we can ease out and go fishing. The wind is supposed to lay out, the conditions should get better all day and then we'll have an easy ride back in."
Armstrong, who has several decades of experience fishing the waters around Diamond Shoals, later admitted he thought the fishing might peak as the barometer began to rise in tandem with the improving conditions. Plus, Mark Melnyk, the host of Reel Rod Trip, a TV show on the World Fishing Network, had traveled a long way from his base in Canada for the trip.
Once through the breakwater at Hatteras Landing Marina, the captain's son and mate for the day, Bruce Armstrong Jr., began rigging several dozen ballyhoo onto an assortment of sea witches and colorful plastic lures, and shortly after the boat slowed to trolling speed, he set out a spread that included long and short outrigger lines from the transom and a pair of lines set to run below the surface.
Melnyk, who admitted he'd never caught a dolphin, was selected as first in the fighting chair, and he didn't stay idle long. About 20 minutes after he took his seat, the line snapped free from the outrigger clip with a crack like a .22 rifle.
Melnyk was passed the rod with the screaming reel, and six pairs of eyes scanned the water behind the boat for a jumping dolphin, but the line ran deep, and the younger Armstrong guessed that a tuna was on the other end. Sure enough, Melnyk had barely broken a sweat before the fish appeared behind the boat, and a minute later, the gaff was in a nice blackfin tuna.
Several more blackfin and a skipjack tuna were caught before the snap of the outrigger clip and the scream of the reel was followed by a dolphin tailwalking across the surface. The dolphin made another short run and a few late jumps as it challenged Melnyk all the way to the boat. Finally, he coaxed it close enough for the mate to sink the gaff home and heave it across the transom and onto the deck. Melnyk leapt from the fighting chair and grabbed it - not as much to prevent it from flipping over the gunwale, but because he really wanted a photo with his first dolphin.
"Let's make another pass through there," Capt. Armstrong said. "I spotted some junk floating back there, and it might be holding some more dolphin. Y'all get ready for some action."
On the second pass, two smaller dolphin grabbed baits, and the aerial show continued. The dolphin fishing was getting good when one of the big reels began singing a different song.
"Sailfish! Oh yeah! Got him on!" the mate said with obvious excitement, as a fish grayhounded away from the boat and wound the squeal of the reel a little tighter.
"Get it, Mark!" was a unanimous cry from the entire crew, which wanted Melnyk to have another offshore experience.
The sailfish continued to jump, but Melnyk reeled and rested at the right times, and soon, the tired fish allowed itself to be led to the boat. As it came along side, the mate reached down, took a double wrap on the leader and pulled, then grabbed its beak with his free hand. Held firmly despite bucking and frothing the water, the sailfish got a pat on the head from Melnyk, had the hook removed, then was pulled along for a minute or two until it was obviously ready to release.
During the excitement, the elder Armstrong's prediction that the sea would calm came true, leading to a more enjoyable completion to the trip. A few more dolphin joined the party, and at one point, the boat paused over a wreck near Diamond Shoals tower to allow the fishermen to jig an amberjack from the depths. The anglers found that it took far more time to get the amberjack in the boat than it did to convince them to bite.
At mid-afternoon, one last dolphin was slipped into the fish box, and Armstrong said it was time to clear the lines. It might have started off a little rough, but it had turned into another 24-carat Diamond Shoals day.