Tase to Table is congratulating itself on an event well done after this Saturday saw the return of the Shallow Bottom Tournament following a pause of activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Early morning saw chartered fishing vessel Lucky Harvest, helmed by captain Cecilio Raiukiulipiy, depart Smiling Cove with a cargo of 22 young fishermen, all members of Tasi to Table’s youth club. Chaperoning were TTT club advisors Dan Wollak and Micah Page.
Lucky Harvest took the students out into open waters on an hour-ride through the morning surf. They reached a choice fishing spot just outside the reef, and from there students cast their lines, putting their skills to the test. The club teaches the basics of fishing technique and equipment care, said Wollak.
“They’ve been practicing, they’ve been learning everything for months and months, and now we’re getting to the fun stuff, where they get to go out and actually practice what they’re learning.”
It wasn’t more than 10 minutes before their practice paid off. The first catch of the day was from the advisors, but almost before that fish was pulled off the hook the students were starting to reel in their own.
The morning went well, with a half dozen student catches in the first hour and a half—including what would turn out to be the tournament’s winning fish, reeled in just an hour after starting by Tasi to Table member Jenisha Dubrall. Participants continued to cast well into the morning, bringing up a number of fish, some undersized and thrown back, but a good dozen or so set aside and destined for the next day’s dinner.
Unfortunately, the morning’s joy wasn’t unanimous. Rain and wind occasionally rocked Lucky Harvest, and the surf was not as calm as could be. Several students began feeling queasy soon after stopping at the shallow bottom fishing zone, and lay down their rods and their heads to try to keep their lunch. They were mostly successful—but not all, sadly. A few “chummed the waters.”
The ocean can be an uncomfortable place, and seasickness is an unfortunate fact of fishing on open waters. Dramamine was advised and available before departure from the docks, though not all chose to take the option. I myself felt some regret, there. I was on that boat along with the students, and they had my sympathy and my own slightly queasy stomach. Things calmed down when a service vessel, reserved for the event, arrived to take anyone who needed it back to shore and solid ground. The captain and advisors made the call to change fishing locations soon after their departure.
With the seasick fishermen and women taken to the safety of land, the atmosphere picked up again as the day wore on. The captain changed location twice, in search of more active fish to catch, and the remaining students enjoyed the sun and the ocean spray as Lucky Harvest rocked, trailing hooks and lines off every side.
Fishing (when not afflicted with motion sickness) is a calming and comfortable sport, and the students and teachers spent their time talking, laughing, and having a nice morning trying their luck against mother nature. The advisors had clearly done a good job of preparing their students for the event. The young fishermen and women prepared their lines and hooks without incident or injury—it’s always a good day when nobody gets a hook in the hand.
The fish bit less and less as the hours passed—mornings are generally known as the ideal time for fishing, after all—and successful catches slowed as the sun climbed the sky. By 11am, the fish were quite done with being caught, and the captain turned back toward the marina.
A highlight of the day came on the way back to shore, as a pod of dolphins were spotted breaching. The captain slowed and the students gathered as the dolphins spent a few minutes resting at the surface before descending out of sight. It was an excellent way to cap off their time on the water.
Back in Smiling Cove, Tasi to Table had set up tents and scales, and the students registered their catches with the Division of Fish and Wildlife, as they had been taught before the event. Students and families sat to celebrate a low-key tournament well done. Awards were issued for the Top 6 catches of the day, with prizes donated by sponsors Fishing Tackle and Sporting Goods, Mobil Oil Marianas, Gold’s Gym, and Fisherman’s Wharf, along with the Marianas Visitors Authority.
The early catches of the day had not been surpassed, and Dubrall’s prized goatfish weighed in at 0.65 lbs, winning her first place and a brand new rod and reel, donated by Fishing Tackle and Sporting Goods.
As the Lucky Harvest pulled back into the docks, I spoke to Wollak and he was happy to have the opportunity to be out there, and to give his club members some first-hand experience.
“It’s really important to learn subsistence fishing, and it’s something you can do for a lifetime… [They learn] to really appreciate the ocean, to go out there and spend time on the water. It’s not just the fishing itself… today we saw turtles, we saw dolphins, just being out here on the water, not in front of a TV, not in front of a screen – it’s just such a valuable skill for these guys.”
That’s something I think many of us can appreciate, especially after this past year and change of being cooped up. Students have been on reduced class schedules, with many classes online. It was clear, out on the water, that they were glad to be out and doing club activities again. “You can learn everything in a classroom, in a seminar, but nothing replicates being on the water and actually experiencing it.”
Wollak was right, there. Nothing does.