Ralph Wilkins | Outdoor Channel
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Ralph Wilkins

Ralph Wilkins

Owner and Captain – The Odysea

Back in the early 1990s, when cell phones were expensive novelties, Wilkins plunked down a princely $1,300 for one of those early brick-sized early models and happily ran up $1,000 in monthly charges, just so that he could try to stay in contact with his family while he was out on the water. “Now that we’ve got satellite phones, it’s a lot better,” he says, referencing the loneliness that is an occupational hazard of the bluefin trade, where fishermen must be away from home for days at a time. “I’m in a 32-foot boat, 200 miles off the coast, probably closer to Nova Scotia than the U.S.,” he explains. “You’re isolated out there.” Nevertheless, for Wilkins, the challenge of wrestling a 500-pounds-plus fish into submission outweighs the psychological hardships. A broad-shouldered, strapping onetime member of the U.S. national rugby squad who still moves with the exquisite grace of an elite athlete, Wilkins describes himself as an extreme competitor and a compulsive thrill-seeker: “I could have played soccer, but I played rugby, because it was tougher. When I go deer hunting, I get the biggest whitetail. I’ve gone sky diving, I’ve jumped off bridges, done all sorts of extreme sports. When I do something, I do it 100 percent. If I don’t almost die every year, I’m not happy.” What does fill him with joy is catching bluefin. The Brooklyn native started fishing at Sheepshead Bay at age seven, when his father would leave him at the pier to fish while the elder Wilkins went to work. At age 11, he started going out on fishing boats and catching the same 20 pounders that grownups were after. But once Wilkins learned about the bluefin fishing off the New England coast 25 years ago – I think it was from reading an article in National Geographic,” he laughs, he knew what quarry he was meant to pursue, and put his boat on a trailer and headed straight to Gloucester. “It’s the highest, biggest, best goal I can achieve in this industry,” he says. “I’m probably one of the most accomplished solo fishermen there are. I’ve caught more giant tuna by myself than anybody. Most of them need two or three guys to help. Not me.”

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