"Fish is good brain food. You should eat a whale!" shouts Wicked Tuna's Dave Marciano across the table to rival Dave Carraro when I join the stars of one of NatGeo's highest-rated series for dinner in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where they're shooting Season 3. Why the advice? Captain Carraro doesn't eat seafood.
Even more bizarre than a fisherman refusing to eat fish is witnessing the cutthroat captains laughing amicably over clam chowder, sushi (veggie for Carraro) and steak. "You have five teams all wanting the same goal," says Carraro, Season 1's champ. "We can joke around and have a beer, but when you get on the water, things change." They'd better have an appetite for competition, since this season will see two new crews (in addition to the five returning teams) competing for what they call "monstahs," which can reel in $20,000 each.
Throughout our meal, Carraro repeatedly checks on marine conditions; choppy waters will put our planned deep-sea expedition in jeopardy. But to my nerves' dismay, the Atlantic Ocean smooths out. Here's how the next day went on Carraro's boat as — my Dramamine in tow — we searched for bluefin tuna.
1:25am My alarm goes off.
2:30am All aboard Carraro's FV-Tuna.com! The boat came in second last season, just one fish behind reigning champ Pinwheel, and Carraro is pumped up today. "Ten percent of the boats catch 90 percent of the fish. That competitiveness is what makes the top boats," he says. "We're going to catch today. No doubt about it."
3:20am Carraro's first mate, Sandro Maniaci, and deckhand Darren Mailman grind chum. "It's what we use to bring the fish into the boat," Maniaci explains. "We throw it into the water and then, when we see a fish, we throw one of those [live] hook baits out there." Mailman adds: "You want to give them a couple different options — a little buffet."
5:01am We arrive at our anchor point, 18 miles out on the Atlantic.
6:29am Sunrise! The cameraman on my boat says the fishermen are "proof that sleep deprivation won't kill you."
8am Carraro shows me the fish finder, a monitor powered by radar to detect fish. A bluefin tuna shows up on the screen. "That might be the excitement for the day," Carraro says, referring to the crew's recent dry spell (often, fishermen won't even spot a fish, let alone catch one). Over the next hour, we locate two tunas but can't seem to hook one. The guys' language is getting salty.
9:27am Hooked! A fish is on the line, but there's no guarantee we'll get it on deck. "A million things can go wrong, but only one thing can go right," says Carraro. "We need this more than anything right now."
10am The bluefin puts up a mean fight. "Man versus fish! Him versus me!" Carraro screams.
11:56am After more than two hours of manual reeling, Carraro harpoons the fish, his sixth of the season.
2:54pm Carraro cuts into the tail to check the quality of the meat. "I'm looking at the color, texture and fat," he explains. "It's a butterball!"
3:43pm The crew finally finishes cleaning out the guts and packing the fish with ice to preserve it for its appraisal back on land. The guys rebait and wait for more fish.
5:29pm Carraro closes his eyes for the first time all day. He naps in the captain's seat but is back on the line before 6:30pm.
7:32pm With no more tuna in sight — and a seasick reporter on deck — we head back to shore.
11:15pm After 22 hours, we're back on land, but the crew gets ready to set sail again three hours later.
2:30am "Think about us when you're in bed!" Carraro chuckles as I exhaustedly shuffle off to hit the sack. "I'm always sleeping with one eye open."
Wicked Tuna airs Sundays at 9/8c on National Geographic Channel.