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As a boy, Daniel Blanks fished all the little farm ponds around Wilson County.
On Sunday night, Blanks will be featured on the popular National Geographic television series “Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks” as he and commercial fishing partner Zack Shackleton angle for bluefin tuna 40 miles off the North Carolina coast in the Atlantic Ocean.
The 2011 graduate of Community Christian School told The Wilson Times on Thursday that he was hooked on fishing from an early age.
“Ever since I was a little boy, I liked fishing in ponds and everything else,” Blanks said. “When I was in Wilson we’d hit all the farm ponds around anywhere from Middlesex to Wilson to Bailey. Anywhere there was a farm pond we knew about, we fished, Wiggins Mill, all the little ponds around there we fished in.”
Blanks, 26, now resides in Holden Beach, west of Cape Fear.
“I really grew up in Wilson,” Blanks said. “I was there from when I was 5 until I was 18. I did all my years of school there, New Hope Elementary, Elm City Middle and CCS to finish it off.”
When Blanks was 8 or 9, he started spending his summers at Oak Island fishing on the pier with friends. His desire to fish grew from there.
For about two years, Blanks and Shackleton ran a 24-foot Cape Horn named Wahooligans for a fishing friend.
“After that we bought our own boat and we have been commercial fishing full-time since then,” Blanks said.
The Rasta Rocket is a 27-foot-long Contender with an 8-foot beam.
Blanks and Shackleton fish out of Holden Beach for grouper and king mackerel most of the year, but take the boat to Wanchese in January and February to fish for bluefin tuna.
Every time they fish, they bring along a Jack Russell terrier named Minnie.
“She’s our boss lady, the chief mate,” Blanks said. “She fishes with us every day. If we go, she goes.”
Blanks and Shackleton talked to the producers of the “Wicked Tuna” program a few years ago about being part of the show, but the TV people didn’t bite.
Ironically, the anglers have already been on the show.
In the winter of 2016, when Blanks and Shackleton were running the Wahooligans, they were in the same patch of ocean when the crew of a 57-foot sportfishing boat, the Waste Knot, struck a submerged object and started to sink.
Blanks and Shackleton pulled in their lines and went to the distressed boat’s rescue.
“That was actually us that got them off of it four years ago,” Blanks said. “They showed the boat, but they blurred our faces out.”
Then this year, the “Wicked Tuna” producers were looking for new captains.
“We saved those people on the Waste Knot a few years ago and I don’t know if they put all that together,” Blanks said. “They learned who we were anyways from that. They are starting to respect our fish-catching now.”
Blanks’ girlfriend sent in an application to “Wicked Tuna” hoping to get on the show.
“We were kind of joking about it saying they would never pick a little boat like us to be on and sure enough, they called us,” Blanks said. “They liked our story and we got on and it pretty much just went from there.”
Pushed by two 200-horsepower Yamaha outboards, the Rasta Rocket takes about two hours to reach offshore waters 5,000 to 10,000 feet deep.
“It is definitely the smallest boat in the fleet,” Blanks said. “It’s about half the size of everybody else.”
The Rasta Rocket gets to rocking and rolling in offshore waves.
“Once you get up there above Cape Hatteras, you get up there in all that tide, it’s some nasty water up there,” Blanks said.
This is part of the ocean where the south-moving Labrador current collides with the north-moving gulfstream to create challenging conditions for mariners.
“We fish in some nasty stuff, but we fish in some nasty stuff all year. Up there, it’s a different ballgame. There is some big water up there for sure.”
Blanks admits that he and Shackleton are a bit crazy going so far away from land in such a small boat.
“Oh yeah. No doubt. We’ve got to keep our costs down so we can make it. We’ve got the government keeping us down, so we’ve got to cut costs any way we can,” Blanks said.
The duo said they’d eventually like to get a bigger boat like those the other captains are running.
“Most of those guys have either inherited a pile of money or they have been doing it for 40 years,” Blanks said. “This is the third year trying to start this business. We ain’t but 26 years old. Eventually we will have us a bigger boat, but for right now, it works for us and it’s what we can afford and it’s what’s worked.”
The Rasta Rocket is one of four southern boats competing against four northern boats in the program, which is in its ninth year.
The fleet is after bluefin tuna that weighs from 300 to 1,000 pounds.
Blanks declined to talk about how the Rasta Rocket ended up in the competition.
“We’re not allowed to talk about anything to do with the fish, but I’ll just say we repped well for North Carolina,” Blanks said. “Tune in Sunday night and hope we make y’all proud.”
Look for the episode of “Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks” on the National Geographic channel at 9 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s just a cool fishery-to-go experience,” Blanks said.