July 22, 2015

The sassy women of 'Wicked Tuna:
Outer Banks" call Hatteras home...WITH VIDEO


The second season of National Geographic’s "Wicked Tuna:Outer Banks" premiered last week featuring some of the same rough men as last year and some of the same rough conditions.

But what that first episode was missing is this season’s most interesting addition -- the show’s first-ever all women crew. 

On Sunday’s upcoming episode, Captain Tami Gray, from Frisco and her mates, Jessie Anderson and Dita Young, from Hatteras, will be in the spotlight, showing them fishing last winter on the Reel Action in a ferocious competition to hook bluefin off the Outer Banks.

The show includes three boats from Gloucester, Mass., fishing against four boats from North Carolina. In addition to Gray, the local captains included two returnees -- Greg Mayer on the Fishin’ Frenzy and Britton Shackelford on the Doghouse -- and another newcomer to the show, Charlie “Griff” Griffin on the Reels of Fortune.

The New England boats were captained by Dave Marciano on the Hard Merchandise, Tyler McLaughlin and co-captain Paul Hebert on the Pinwheel, and T.J Ott on the Hot Tuna.

When it came to it, Gray says, the Outer Banks boats were competing just as hard against each other as they were against the northerners. 

“We all want to be the best down here – I mean, we live here,” Gray says, chatting on the docks at OBX Marina in Wanchese, where a showing of the first episode was held on Saturday.  But she couldn’t divulge the outcome of the bluefin hunt.

“We had a good year,” she says coyly.

Gray, 42, says she’s been fishing since she was a young girl in West Virginia. She went to college in Massachusetts, after which she became a licensed re-hab provider. In 1997, she moved to the Outer Banks with the father of her daughter, Paloma,  who is now 17, because his family had a house in Nags Head and he was going to be a fisherman.

“We thought he was,” she says “ but he wasn’t. He comes from money, but I honestly don’t think he was bred to work that hard. I kind of kicked him out and he went home to his mama and I stayed.”

By 2003, Gray found herself living in Hatteras village and working on charter fishing boats.  Hurricane Isabel in 2003 presented a fateful opportunity. The restricted access created by storm damage dried up her work at the same time it made it hard to find crews for commercial boats.  So she asked Hatteras commercial fisherman Jeff Oden for work.

“I went to him. I said, ‘Jeff, I need to make some money,’” Gray recounts.

That January, she continues, Tilman Gray Jr. came running up to her and announced, “Come, on, we’re going fishing!’”

And before she knew what happened, she was on Oden’s boat, commercial fishing.

“She did a real good job,” Oden says. “She certainly held up her end as good as could be expected. She filled in only for a while, and the rest is history.

“Here’s she’s going off to Hollywood,” Oden jokes, “and I’m left here in the weeds.”

That first night, as Gray remembers it, was very cold on the boat, and she found herself tugging at a piece of blanket that happened to be on Tilman’s bunk, waking him. He asked if she wanted him to come over and warm her up. Since he was 21, and she was 28, she hesitated for a moment, but they agreed, she says, that “what happens on the boat, stays on the boat.”

But soon enough, they were a couple, and it didn’t matter. And before long, they were married.  Since then, they’ve fished together frequently. Tilman has two boats he runs out of Avon and they have another four boats moored at Hatteras Landing Marina. Gray said she now runs her own charter boat. 

“I fish with Tilman; I fish with anybody,” she said. “I’m just one who flies by the seat of my pants.”

The tragic loss of her year-old son in a drowning accident set her back, but she knew she needed to rally for her daughter. “You can’t stay in bed with a cover all your life,” Gray says.

The couple now have a 4-year-old daughter, Sophia.

Last year, Gray was contacted by the "Wicked Tuna" production, asking if she wanted to do the show with her husband.

“He said, ‘hell, no!’,” she says.

 But the man from Wicked Tuna persisted, asking her again about doing it with Tilman. “He says, ‘Can’t you give your husband a couple of drinks and talk him into it?’” Gray says.

“So I say, ‘What if I get some chicks?’,” she recounts.

“He said, ‘Yeah – can you do that?’”

“I said, ‘Hey, we need recognition for women.’” 

Women who fish for a living on the Outer Banks – they use the general term ‘fishermen’ to describe themselves -- are very few. When Gray approached Young, 45, and Anderson, who declined to give her age, they were game.

But all three of the women agree that there was more friction than they anticipated.

“There was a little bit of jealousy here and there,” Gray says. “When you’re doing this, the captain is up front.”

During last winter’s filming, a story circulated about a wild argument between the women.

“Oh, there’s always drama,” Gray says dismissively. “We always fight. We get mad. We get loud. We’re loud women. I mean, that’s the way fishing is. It’s not warm and fuzzy.”

Young, an offshore charter boat mate for 16 years, sees it differently.

“This was the first time we’ve fished together,” Young says, stepping off the Fishin’ Frenzy to talk during the Saturday event.  “Interesting? You can say that again. It was stressful. Very stressful.”

Young says that she and Anderson felt that Gray not only misrepresented her experience, she did not respect the experience of her mates. 

“That’s where the tension came from on this,” Young says. “Jessie should’ve been the captain.”

Anderson says that the boat was old, and she felt like she spent too much time having to fix it. She and Young are hardworking and good at fishing, she explains, and that’s what they wanted to do – not fussing around. Considering how rare women are in the business, she says, it’s a shame that the energy between the three women turned negative.

Both Anderson and Young agreed they would never do the same arrangement with "Wicked Tuna" again.

“It could’ve been a very, very good thing,” Anderson says. “If we all stayed true to what we are, it would have been a good thing.” 

But Gray is not one to put on airs.

“I don’t try to be anybody I’m not,” she says. “I don’t try to impress anybody.”

Doing the show was stressful, but she said she would do it again.

“I cried a lot, I really did,” she says. “I went through an emotional roller-coaster every day.”

 When asked if doing "Wicked Tuna" brought the women closer, Gray answered bluntly.

“No,” she says. “I wish it would have.”

Now that the hard work of filming is over, Gray says she is finally starting to enjoy the "Wicked Tuna" experience.

“I just did it,” she says, “so my kids would say, ‘That’s pretty cool!’”

(You can watch "Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks" on Sundays at 9 p.m. on The National Geographic Channel.).


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