Reel E’ Bugging Capt. Bobby Earl Talks ‘Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks’ [Interview]
The locally filmed National Geographic Channel (NatGeo) reality competition series Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks will air its 100th episode this Sunday, and we had the pleasure of talking to Reel E’ Bugging Captain Bobby Earl earlier this week about his journey from Wall Street to commercial fishing, the skills he learned in his former life that he uses in fishing, his tragic boat fire just before filming of this season started, and more in our exclusive new interview.
Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks originally premiered in 2014 as Wicked Tuna: North vs. South, taking audiences into the lives of Southern commercial fishermen trying to make a living off the coast of North Carolina’s Outer Banks as they were pitted against fan-favorite captains from the first three seasons of the flagship Wicked Tuna series, which takes place in Gloucester, Massachusetts. A name change in Season 2 switched the title to Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks, but the competitive essence remained.
Season eight – the show’s current season – has marked the first time the entire fleet is made up of Southern vessels.
While most of the fleet is composed of returning boats and captains, 2019’s winner, Captain Earl returned to the fleet this year with an all-new version of his boat Reel E’ Bugging. After a devastating fire over the winter decimated his previous vessel, Earl was determined to come back stronger than ever, but has faced a shaky comeback thus far.
In our recent interview, via email, we learned that his former career on Wall Street was in some ways a perfect training ground for the high-stress stakes of commercial fishing for a living, and how loosing his boat has only fired him up more to win again this season.
You can read our exclusive interview with Reel E’ Bugging Captain Bobby Earl below.
Your road to becoming a commercial fisherman was somewhat unconventional, going from Wall Street to your extermination business to commercial fishing. So how would you compare the harsh conditions of fishing off the Outer Banks in the winter to the sometimes volatile nature of your previous life on Wall Street?
I was on Wall Street through four crashes. All the stress is mental anguish, but not physically challenging at all. You’re sitting at a desk. The difference is when you’re fishing it’s all about the elements, it’s a physical exhaustion. Sure it’s emotionally exhausting as well, but my previous careers were never physically challenging at all. The only risk you have in other careers is that people may be upset with you, but there is no risk of you losing your life. In the Outer Banks, every time you leave that inlet, you are responsible for yourself, a cameraman, crew members, and their lives are in your hands. Those other careers are high class problems, but they’re not life threatening.
Are there any skills that you learned from your time working on Wall Street that you have applied in some way to your fishing?
A lot of people skills. When you do sales for a living you need to be able to deal with people. With your crew you need to do a lot of hand holding and find a way to get the most out of your people. The skills are important. You are around the same people 24 hours a day for 8-9 weeks, and need to be able to tap dance around everyone’s personalities.
You fished here for a number of winters prior to joining the show, so did you watch Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks prior to appearing on it? Were you a fan of the original series and/or the Outer Banks spinoff?
I was a big fan of the show long before I was ever on the show. It’s part of the reason I enjoy it so much, I was a consumer long before I was ever a participant.
Was it difficult adjusting to having a film crew member(s) and the cameras everywhere on board? What’s the biggest challenge of the filming aspect taking place while you’re doing what you do?
The Pilgrim Media crew is so professional, they’re really never in the way. The biggest challenge, being a highly emotional individual, was when something went wrong, or we lost a fish, it’s a critical moment when everything is stressful, and then they would throw a camera in your face. The first 10-15 seconds, my replies are never good! So I would run up the ladder and make the cameraman chase me so I had a few seconds to gain my composure. If you mess up or say the wrong thing, you can guarantee it’ll make it to air!
Unlike the rest of the Southern fleet, you don’t use a green stick. Why is that?
I just think the rod and reel outperforms a green stick. The fish in the Outer Banks have gotten too big for a green stick. It’s also an expensive set-up, a very big investment for very little reward. It can also be boring, it just doesn’t compare to the thrill of rod and reel.
Two years ago, you won the 2019 season, and then had a pretty tough year in 2020, but the worst blow came just prior to filming the current (2021) season when your boat caught on fire. Can you tell us about what happened?
We don’t really know what happened, why the fire started. We can speculate, and the Coast Guard investigated for three months, but we believe a turbo starter exploded, and we think it started in the engine room. I had everything I owned on that boat, as we were moving to the Outer Banks permanently, and it was packed up. We were roughly 50 miles off the coast of New Jersey when we realized the boat was on fire. We had about 12 minutes to call in a mayday, deploy the life raft, and get the survival suits. The funny thing was, it was such a beautiful morning, I had just said to myself “Look at the sunrise, what a beautiful day to be going down to the Carolinas,” and then it turned into “Oh no what’s that smell?” and we had to act.
How did the fire incident change your outlook approaching the 2021 season?
We had a bad Season 7. I spent the entire Spring, Summer, and Fall getting that boat ready—we renovated the entire thing—to make sure that when I went to the Outer Banks for Season 8, we would whoop everyone’s butt. It would be the year to get even and prove we belonged. But that quite literally went up in smoke. Last year was probably the worst year of my life. Financially, the past 10 to 11 months have been awful—borrowing money, equipment, rods and reels, just trying to get back on our feet. I haven’t really had an opportunity this year to enjoy much, since it’s been about rebuilding. But in this last month I’ve started to see some of the fruits of our labor.
Can you tell us about your new boat. How much of an upgrade is it from the original Reel E’ Bugging?
Same builder, also a Hatteras. It’s 8 feet longer, 2 feet wider. A lot more expensive to run from a fuel standpoint. However, it’s literally a battleship. It’s 100,000 pounds, probably the strongest boat on Wicked Tuna. I think it’s a major upgrade! I don’t want to say indestructible, but I feel really safe in it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
After a heartbreaking loss of a fish on this past Sunday’s episode, you are currently an underdog going into the 100th episode. Can you describe what your mindset was like at this point during the actual season this past winter, with the quota about to close?
Even though we slipped to last place, I remember thinking to myself “If we get two bad days of weather, I’ll beat em all.” I was praying for a hurricane, because we would have been able to go out and beat everyone!
Are there any spoiler-free final thoughts you can give us before these last few episodes of Season 8?
These next three episodes are going to be amazing. The competition is so tight, so close, and the weather only gets worse. There’s a lot of heartbreak, and exhilaration, but it’s great. The ending of this season is probably the best I’ve ever seen.
Do you do charter fishing when the show is not filming, and if so, how can people book a charter with you?
We charter out of Morehead City when we’re not filming the show. We’re out seven days a week, and anyone interested can find us at ReelEBugging Sportfish Charters on Facebook.
The 100th episode of Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks premieres this Sunday, Nov. 7, at 9:00 p.m. on National Geographic.
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