Heather Nicole started fishing with her stepdad when she was six years old.
The Deerfield Beach, Florida native would “fish off the local docks around Hillsboro inlet.”
“I’d catch catfish and grunts,” Heather says. “Nothing too serious.”
That’s a little different from what she was doing these days.
“Last weekend I fished in the Saltwater Shootout tournament,” Heather told me.
The tournament — one of the Sunshine State’s biggest spring contests — launched out of Hillsboro Inlet, targeting five species: Wahoo, cobia, blackfin tuna, kingfish and dolphin (dorado/mahi mahi).
“I went out on the Outboard Specialties boat,” she says. “It was a lot of fun.”
Although she got an early start to her fishing career, Heather has not fished all her life. She quit at 14 or 15 to pursue “more girlie things.” But after returning home to south Florida after a few years away at college in Orlando, Heather started fishing again at the age of 23.
“It just felt natural, like a normal part of being home,” she says. And that’s when Heather started developing her love for offshore fishing. In particular, she loves to cross the Gulf Stream and fish off the Bahamas — especially the waters off Freeport and Grand Bahama.
Although she’s game to catch anything, Heather loves chasing yellowfin tuna.
“I love the chaos,” she says. “There’s just so much going on when you’re trying to get yellowfin to come up to the boat, and then you hook one and they fight you. It’s exciting.”
Heather believes in sustainable fishing, which is particularly important when it comes to Atlantic tuna.
“I only keep the fish that I can actually use,” she says. “One day we were out catching yellowfin all day long, but we knew we weren’t going to eat them, so we released them as we went.”
Heather’s personal favorite fish battle happened this past January during the Rockstar Offshore Tournament off Quepos, Costa Rica when she hooked onto a blue marlin.
“I fought the fish for almost an hour,” she says. “I was yo-yo fishing the whole time — you know, reel down, pull up, reel down, pull up.
“Then they said ‘you know, even if we boat this fish, it’s not going to put us in first or second,’” Heather says. “‘So, we could turn up the drag — and risk the line snapping — or get this fish in faster.
“So we turned up the drag, this fish didn’t come off, and I got it to the boat. It was a 200-pound marlin.”
It doesn’t look like Heather is ready to go back to fishing for grunts off the docks anytime soon. She’s too enamored of offshore fishing.
“Saltwater is calming, and I love catching pelagic fish,” Heather says. “No matter what species you’re targeting, you never really know what your going to catch.
“And I love the serenity of open waters. It means endless opportunity.”
Follow Heather @heather_nicolexo on Instagram.