The exciting eighth season of Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks premiered this past Sunday, July 18th at 7:30pm on the National Geographic channel and delivered on all levels. You can watch all new episodes every Sunday night at 7:30pm on the National Geographic channel and on Demand. With us is one of the stars from season eight and the sixth season winner, Captain Bobby Earl of the Reel E’ Bugging boat.
Yiorgo: Where were you born and did you like fishing as a kid?
Bobby Earl: I was born in Queens, New York and some people think you’re from NYC so you don’t fish. But you know what, some of the best saltwater fishing happens off Brooklyn and Manhattan. Queens is part of Long Island and Long Island is an island on the Atlantic Ocean. So I was always fishing growing up and I would catch blue fish or flounder typically from a pier or if you were lucky someone had a row boat.
Y: Before Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks, you made quite a name for yourself in the world of finance. Tell us about it.
BE: After high school, I joined the navy for four years and then got into finance and eventually I ended up in the bank brokerage arena working for Citibank. At the time it was called Citicorp Investments and I was a financial planner. I did that forever and at the height of my career I was a regional sales manager on the finance side. I had about 100 financial planners reporting to me. I did this up until 2007, then the financial markets collapsed. All my stock options were worthless and we all got laid off. I went back to Citibank as a broker with no clients because I was a regional manager for so long. That’s when John Furman, a good friend of mine to this day, invited me to join his bed bug business. I opened my own business in my son’s name in 2008 and we did very well. As a side note, my son Bobby J Earl who is now 26, when he was 12 weeks old, his mother left due to drugs, alcohol, etc. and we have not seen her since. I did all that while raising my son by myself.
Y: So how did you get into fishing, especially on a big level?
BE: My escape was to go fishing, first with little 17-22 footer boats and then I bought a 38 footer and called it Reel E’ Bugging. We put a big dead bug on the back of it because we felt that dead bugs bought that boat. And that’s where the name of the boat came from. We would wait for December to get here because that’s when the giant Bluefin tuna would pass New York on its way to Gloucester. Well around November they cancelled the season. A friend tells me that in the Outer Banks of North Carolina they are reopening the season on January 1st and it’s cheaper to winterize the boat there then in Long Island and that’s what we did. And by chance the marina that I picked had the Wicked Tuna boats there like Doghouse, Pinwheel, all the tuna guys and I would fish beside them for about 5 years. The funny thing is that we would always catch more fish than they did. That’s a true story.
Y: How did you go from fishing alongside them, to joining the cast and becoming part of the show?
BE: About 2 years in, I realized that my 38 foot boat was not big enough and we bought a 53 foot boat. It was a strange deal because I had no money. I googled Fishing Frenzy and I found a 53 foot, 1972 custom boat. It was falling apart but it was all we could afford and it was sea worthy. Literally two years after that, we saw an ad on Facebook that Wicked Tuna is taking applications. I said, we are better than these guys and we only fish part time. We actually were invited to come on board for the sixth season and I made the decision that we were going to win that thing if it killed me. And it almost did, but we won it. My son now runs the bug business and I can run this. But to put things in perspective, Covid killed the bug business. Since people were not going out, they were not bringing bugs home. Our business went down 90% during Covid. Simultaneously, my boat blew up and I lost $300,000 in that, so this has been one of the toughest years we ever had financially.
Y: For those not familiar with the show, can you describe how the show works?
BE: Seven boats are selected of what they deem to be the best of the best. The premise is, there is a short season. They stick a cameraman in your boat and you want to out produce the other six. There is a lot of gamesmanship in that. In my case, I pray for bad weather because everyone is afraid to go fishing and I go and catch fish while they are sitting at the dock. I’m competing against a lot of multi-million dollar operations.
Y: Without giving away anything crucial, talk about what this eighth season was like both competitive wise and dealing with the harsh weather.
BE: This eight season that we fished was the worst weather that I fished several weeks in a row. It was really terrible. One was worse than the other. This season will be by far the most amazing season for many reasons such as the weather and the competition was fierce. Here is one personal example. They told us Valentine’s Day weekend was going to be 10 feet tall waves. The others said we’re not fishing in that. They stayed home and took their wives to dinner. I cancelled dinner with my girlfriend, and told her to stay home in Morehead. I went fishing three days in a row and caught fish every day, when no one else left the dock. I don’t believe there was a single day after Valentine’s Day that every boat did not leave the dock because they were not going to be embarrassed. So it will literally be some of the fiercest competition ever filmed. That’s a fact.
Y: Why should people watch this particular season?
BE: As I mentioned, the competition is a very, very fierce battle by all involved.. A couple of the guys who were on other seasons but not recent news were brought back, so they have something to prove. There are some new boats so they are trying to prove themselves. We had a bad year last year. This was not publicized, but we got Covid and missed a few weeks of fishing and we finished last, so we want to prove that our win in season six was not a fluke.
Photographically this may be the most epic season yet. This season, the producers decided to add a chase boat. They hired a guy and put a million dollar camera on his boat, very similar to the camera they fly in a news helicopter. That boat would follow us around for six weeks. The TV viewer is getting a bird’s eye view. For example, there can be a 10 foot tall wave that your boat is battling but if the camera angle is from your boat the viewer does not see the outside perspective of how tall that wave is by your boat. Here is a personal example. When I had my first fish, we radioed it in, the chase boat came out, they were 15 feet away from us with that camera fighting the fish. They launched an underwater drone, a regular drone, it was incredible.
I’ve seen some of the footage and it is breathtaking. The third reason is that the fish this year were not your average 80 inches. They were 100 inches and over. These were some of the biggest, ferocious fish with six and eight hour battles before we would reel them in. Really big fish, tremendous photography, fierce competition, this really will be an amazing season.
Y: Your boat actually caught fire. Tell us about it.
BE: We had a lot of mechanical issues and I spent around $60,000-$70,000 on renovations. I borrowed money to make sure the engine was good and we could compete. On November 5th, I was going south to get there early. I was about 10 hours into the journey, it was sunrise, my friend Danny was downstairs sleeping and I heard an explosion. I was pretty far out, about 15 miles from the beach. I went down and I could see flames from the engine room. My friend Danny was unconscious from smoke inhalation. It was terrifying. I was punching him in the face to wake up. He started coughing, I was able to get his survival suit on him. I fired off a mayday and put my survival suit on. I threw a life raft in the water, we jumped in and for about an hour and a half we watched my life savings burn. The water was 54 degrees and from the explosion till we jumped in the water it was probably 12 minutes. We’re speculating that a turbo exploded.
We don’t know. The boat sank in 250 feet deep water so we could not bring it up. In the five years, I had sunk about $400,000 in the boat but it was only insured for about $150,000 because it was over 50 years old and you can only insure it for what they call “agreed upon value.” I had about $100,000 in fishing equipment, all my clothes, ID, credit cards gone. I was financially devastated and bankrupt and because of Covid, my bed bug business was bankrupt.
It was a real struggle to find the will to do this again and at one point I was so emotionally beat up that I was not going to do it again.
But I went on a road trip for 10 days and we found a boat in our price range in Florida. I got in the hole again for $64,000 and borrowed money to get fuel to bring it to the Outer Banks. We had no equipment, I borrowed rods and reels and made it within five days of Wicked Tuna filming. A lot of blessings and a gift from God, we pulled it off. I’ll tell you something no one knows, they were not sure what direction they were going to go and I got a call saying I was off the show. They wanted real southern boys and my New York accent really stands out. So that’s when I said I’m not buying a boat, I’m not doing this again, but I made the decision to buy that boat anyway. I was in the rental car on my way to Florida with my son when I got the call, hey we changed our minds, you’re back on the show. God works in mysterious ways. Had I told the guy in Florida to sell the boat to someone else, I would not have had a boat. So we ended up buying a 1983, 60 foot Hatteras. It’s the baddest boat in the ocean and like the other one, it’s old and requires a lot of work.
Y: What do you do when you are not competing on Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks?
BE: I run Reel bugging Sport fishing Charters http://Reelebugging.com/ full time out of Morehead City, North Carolina. January through April I’m in the Outer Banks and the rest of the time I’m in Morehead City.
Y: What is a favorite moment or two that you experienced because of this show?
BE: It happened about three weeks ago. I was going into the local tackle shop down in Morehead City and there were three young kids about 13-15 years old and you can hear one of them saying all excited, “That’s Bobby Bugs, that’s Bobby Bugs.” I went over, took off my hat and gave it to them and said, “Hey guys, I heard you talking, here you go.” It’s that stuff, the kids that make me all excited. I love seeing kids fishing.
My second is, I love showing up every year in the Outer Banks. It’s like showing up for spring training. I haven’t seen the guys in months. It’s like a little fraternity. Everyone is at the dock, telling war stories. It’s a brotherhood and that’s the part of doing this every winter that is exciting for me. And it’s not just the seven boats of captains, crew that are on the show, there are 30-40 boats that do this in the same inlet every year. They come from Virginia, New Jersey, they come from all over the place. We sit on the dock and talk about the weather, where you think the fish are. It’s very similar to a sports club. It’s very dangerous what we do and even those guys you don’t get along with, they have your back. It’s a good feeling to know you have those brothers.
Yiorgo is an arts, entertainment and sports writer. A stage, TV and movie actor, he is alsoan educator, motivational speaker, writer, storyteller and columnist.