Wherever he drags that finger across the South Pacific, through Micronesia, to Australia, along the underbelly of Asia, around the coasts of Africa, past islands and inlets and isthmuses of all ilk — he draws the possible path of what he intends to be an unprecedented journey.
In a nutshell, here’s what the founder of Fischer Productions and the host of “Offshore Adventures” has in mind: seven years, around the world, whacking monster fish, making television, and along the way developing a snapshot of Earth’s oceans in the early 21st Century.
“I have a feeling we’re going to get to places where it’s going to be so bizarrely wide open, and there are going to be so many fish, we’re going to look at each other and say, ‘How can we leave?’” Fischer says as he studies the atlas.
He’s sitting in the cabin of a 126-foot former crabbing vessel with its old name, Arctic Eagle, still emblazoned on its mighty hull. It’s a ship that has been, and can go, just about anywhere in the world, with enough fuel and supplies to support fishing expeditions of ridiculous ambition.
“We can go to nowhere,” he says, “and stay for a very long time.”
When ESPNOutdoors.com catches up with Fischer, he, a crew and his new vessel are docked in San Diego at a marina choked with sailboats, yachts and megayachts, the playthings of the privileged. One afternoon, a 236-foot floating city called Coral Island, pulls alongside the old crabbing boat. It was a reminder that while Fischer isn’t hurting for cash — he counts on his sponsors Red Lobster, Toyota and most recently, Dos Equis — he’s still a medium fish on these seas.
“We play in the world of billionaires,” he says.
“Most people, they don’t look at it and understand what it can do,” he adds, speaking of his boat. “They don’t think, ‘Oh, wow, there’s a boat you could take around the world and fish any time and have the greatest fishing adventure of all time.’ That doesn’t pop into their heads.”
Fischer Productions, now based out of Park City, Utah, has since 2001, been catching sea creatures for TV, mostly along the eastern Pacific Rim. Scoring this new ship changes his mission somewhat. Now, with the ability to tote his 45-foot Cabo, an inshore Triton rig, inflatable boats and a skiff to virtually any sea or coast on the planet, he’s allowing himself to think less like a TV host and more like an explorer. For that, he has some profoundly good timing to thank.
Even amid the conspicuous wealth of Southern California boat owners, it’s hard to ignore his baby blue behemoth. Fischer bought it from an old Alaskan boater who had the resources and raw gall to outfit the vessel as a mothership, capable of transporting smaller boats anywhere in the world, through any sort of weather. (It’s a point of pride, as well as of confidence, that the boat was at one time featured in documentaries about crab fishing in the Bering Sea.)
As Fischer tells it, he encountered the boat one night while on a shoot in Costa Rica. The boat’s lights were on, attracting snook, and Fischer rode to it in a skiff to fish around it. The next day, after touring the vessel, he and its owner sat in the cabin upstairs, where Fischer now keeps his atlas. The man had put a great deal of money into overhauling the boat — Fischer declines to offer numbers for publication, but it was well into seven figures.
“I just reached out my hand, shook his hand and said, ‘Deal’ on the spot, the morning after I saw it.”, Fischer recalls. “I knew I could never put a program like this together financially. This was my one chance in life. I had to go for it, even though I didn’t really understand what I was getting into.”
He closed on the boat August 1. Since then, Fischer and his crew have been chewing on one big question: Now what?
The industrial earmuffs at the door to the engine room tell the story of what this vessel will become when it’s not at rest. Captain Brett McBride, who’s charged with overseeing the vessel, explains that the boat is outfitted with triple or quadruple redundancy on most of its systems, allowing failure by, say, a couple of engines, or one of the reverse osmosis machines that supplies the boat with drinking water.
“Sometimes I still look at it and get overwhelmed,” McBride says. But the advantages are countless. Instead of having to refuel every few hundred miles, as was the case on the previous Go Fisch, the Arctic Eagle can travel roughly 16,000 miles without refueling: That amounts to a trip from Los Angeles to Tokyo and back to L.A. — and then back to Tokyo.
A large part of McBride’s job used to entail the logistics and red tape of clearing many ports in many countries. This boat, however, may stay at sea for months at a spell. “We can just go straight there,” he says, “and be on the spot, and you’re not so tired from bouncing around all day. Those small boats beat you up by the end of the day, just by sitting down and fighting them.”
“He’s talking small like 80-foot yachts or a 60-foot swordfishing boat,” Fischer adds.
In the control tower, talk turns, as it often does, of where to send the boat, and how. “What does ‘around the world’ really mean?” McBride asks. “It’s a big world out there.”
Fischer outlines a preliminary itinerary for McBride. Starting in January, head to the Galapagos, go northwest to Honolulu, swing through the Johnston Atoll and Marshall Islands on the way down to Tonga, Vanuatu, and Fiji, then maybe hit New Caledonia on the way to Auckland, the commercial center of New Zealand. “I think we should hang out there for a year,” Fischer tells him. “And learn how to fish.”
“I’ve been thinking about going to New Zealand since I was about 5 years old,” McBride says.
“You know that feeling you get when you go to a place for a first time?” he asks Fischer at one point. “It’s like, what do I expect? Are the people friendly? What’s going to go on?” Then you go back somewhere on vacation and you’re back in that comfort zone, you’re in that bubble again.
“We’re never going to have that. Every place we visit is going to be, ‘How’s it going to be when we get there?’ That feeling of not knowing what you’re up for is going to be everyday life for us. For seven years.”
Their ship is, above all, a fishing vessel (as a view of the extensive tackle room attests) and it will be the fishing that ultimately dictates the crew’s direction. Depending on the season, rods will be bowing to stripers around New Zealand’s Three Kings Islands, wahoo from the Johnston Atoll, black marlin near Madagascar, tarpon in Angola, tuna off Ghana.
They’re also facing the possibility that many of the fisheries they’re hammering will be, in effect, virgin — beyond what sport fishermen can reach, too far for commercial fishermen to bother, so ostensibly out of range for most of humanity.
“You don’t call somebody up and call for help,” Fischer says. “You have to be completely self-sustaining.” That requires a versatile crew: underwater welders who can fix plumbing, machinists who know how to handle tackle. “Plus,” Fischer says, “I’m a pretty loose guy, so I like guys who can do their job and can hang out and have a couple of beers at the end of the night.”
McBride tells the story of an expedition he was on at age 21, in Ketchikan, Alaska, where he hunted for fish by first hunting down fishermen at the local bars. “Next thing you know, I’m coming back with all these lures and spots, things like that,” McBride says. “The captain I was with was like, ‘You can go drink any time you want.’”
Currently, the crew is taking the Arctic Eagle on a quick spin to the coast of Mexico, fishing for great white sharks so a marine biologist on board may tag them with some of the most advanced transmitters ever used to track white sharks.
On the ship’s deck, Sofia, one of McBride’s two small children, plays in the shark cage; Fischer and his wife, Melissa, are expecting a second baby of their own. Asked to name the most perilous aspect of his planned voyages, Fischer cites sinking as a prime candidate: A freak wave, or an explosion, or some breach in the hull would be calamitous. But he also mentions the toll that absence takes on families. “Managing everyone’s life” is the height of challenge, he says. “If you don’t have balance, you’re on some road to failure.”
That’s why children will participate in the voyage, and will affect the route. Fischer, now 39, attended college at the International University of Singapore, and has experience in Southeast Asia. He’d love to fish the untrammeled waters around Bali, Thailand and Burma, but admits that “piracy issues,” especially around the Strait of Malacca, between Malaysia and Sumatra, virtually rule out that path. “We may look at each other, because we’ve got our wives and our kids on board the whole time, and we may decide we need to blow on by here and go to, say, the Seychelles,” he says.
It’s unclear yet just what the expedition will become. The gear is in place, the boats are in place, the resources are aligned. That has Fischer, who serves on the board of the conservation-minded Billfish Foundation, dreaming of doing something not only profoundly fun, but just plain profound. He wants the record of this journey to enlighten human knowledge of pelagic species, to remind Americans of their Pacific history in World War II, and to show people around the globe what is in the ocean, so that they may take better care of it.
“We have an opportunity to make a global impact on the awareness of the world’s oceans and our fishery stocks,” he says. “Look, we’re going to be here. We’re on the planet. People love to eat fish. We can be some voice of reason in the middle, between the far right that says eat ‘em all, and the far left that says you can’t kill one. Maybe we can be a centralist message like, let’s have a little common sense here. We can manage this in a sustainable manner.”
Or, to cut straight to the chase: “You want to whack them at the rate they can sustain it.”
“We have the vehicle to get that message out and have some awareness through our viewers,” he says. “And now we have the vessel to get to places that no one’s been able to show or measure their stocks.”
One of the vessels aboard the ship is a center console Triton that the mothership’s four-ton crane can lift from the deck and lower into the water. On the rainy afternoon of the day after Fischer’s crew took possession of the Triton, they practiced just that maneuver while at the dock.
With McBride at the controls and five others pitching in, they hook the boat to the steel cradle and carefully guide it up and over the edge. Francis unhooks the straps, and what had been deck clutter is a seafaring dreadnaught.
“Just like that: Triton’s ready to whack ‘em,” Fischer says, almost giddy.
Before that boat has seen its last, it will have fished the reefs and structure that a larger boat can’t safely reach, as well as fish areas where no fishing boat in its size has gone. Ditto for the Cabo: in fair seas, a massive forklift will drop it into the drink. As the mothership plows along, it can explore until depleted, then climb back on board.
The possibilities aren’t endless, but they seem pretty close. “It’s going to be like it was when the first explorers came across it, in some places,” Fischer says. “It’s going to be something no one’s ever seen before.”
He knows how preposterous he sounds, at times. Dragging a small flotilla of boats across the high seas in a modified crabbing ship that can go two-thirds of the way around the world on one diesel fill-up, cherry-picking the biggest fish in the best seasons from a veritable floating island, exploring faraway lands and deserted stretches of sea, recording scientific data and taping it all in high definition, all while pollinating the world with the gospel of sustainable ocean management.
Depending on your viewpoint, the mission verges either on the insane or the brilliant, with numerous shades of gray in between.
“Just say it’s the greatest oceanic expedition of all time,” he suggests. “People will be debating it, they’ll be saying, ‘How you can compare this punk to Zane Grey and Jacques Cousteau? He hasn’t done anything yet. He’s just a fishing guy.’ And that’s true. We’ve got a lot of proving to do. But we’re doing it.”
During his 10-year journalism career, Sam Eifling has covered sports, government, crime and culture for publications large and small. The Sigma Delta Chi award winner, Northwestern University alum and former Harper’s Magazine intern currently works as a reporter and editor at ESPNOutdoors.com.”