Other families bond over casual angling, but the Henderson clan's elite talents and teamwork has them filling fishboxes and trophy cases.
We're at the boat ramp at zero-dark-early, ready to meet our ride for the day: a 39-foot SeaVee with quadruple Mercury 300 Verados, rigged to the teeth to hunt pelagic species. Which, not coincidentally, is exactly what we plan to do. Even so, seeing a rig this monstrous sailing across the asphalt at the Newport River boat ramp in Beaufort, North Carolina, is a jaw-dropper. What sort of boaters trailer a 5-ton fishing machine on a regular basis? And what could possibly motivate members of this tight-knit family to sacrifice their time and money to form their own fishing team to compete on a professional level?
These are all questions for later. Right now, we're itching to catch fish. Big fish. As soon as the boat's off the trailer, Captain Josh Henderson fires up the electronics. Stage one in determining the hotspot du jour is checking the sea surface temperature charts and fish location predictions via SiriusXM Fish Mapping, one of Liquid Fire's numerous sponsors. With the latest satellite data piped directly into the helm, we can see where the temperature breaks are and where marine biologists have predicted the likelihood of locating king mackerel.
The standout break where two bodies of different water temperatures meet — and where SiriusXM's scientists predict the mackerel should be hunting — is a little over 26 nautical miles from the inlet. Josh sets the course while Captain Crockett Henderson (yes, the boat has two captains today, and they're brothers) starts rigging baits and fishing lines. The team's third captain, patriarch Mark Henderson, has been forced to stay ashore due to other obligations.
We idle through the speed zone, hit open water, and when Josh lays down the throttles those 1,200 Mercury Marine mares begin pounding their hooves with authority. It doesn't take long to get to the fishing grounds, nor does it take long before SiriusXM Fish Mapping's prediction is proven right. Just moments after setting the lines out, a rod goes down and shortly thereafter a king mackerel goes into the fishbox. We catch an amberjack and a barracuda as well, but before long we're itching to head in search of larger prey. We study the chartplotter screen and the overlaying color-coordinated Fish Mapping again, and see that mahi-mahi should be about 10 miles farther out. So we pull the lines, and point the bow eastward as Crockett switches out the baits. In minutes, we're ready to begin targeting those green, yellow, and blue aquatic missiles.
As the engines drone, Rachel Farlow, the newest member of the Liquid Fire team (and Crockett's significant other), stares back at the rod tips. The fish play hard to get for a while but suddenly one of those rod tips pumps down hard, and she pops up fast. Before she reaches the rod, another starts screaming under tension, and we have a double hook-up. Mayhem ensues — the fish swim in opposite directions and cross the lines, take turns jumping clear of the water, and rip drag from the fishing reels as they fight to get away. They do not succeed. Josh and Crockett gaff the fish one after the next and put them on ice, future dinners for the entire crew.
The next several hours are what offshore anglers dream about: multiple mahi-mahi smashing baits, jumping clear of the water, and creating minimally controlled chaos in the cockpit. The adrenaline peaks when a larger fish attacks, and after a long fight we spot a yellowfin tuna on the end of the line — only to have the hook pop free as Rachel draws it within a few feet of gaffing distance. What fishing trip would be complete without a story about the one that got away?
Eye Of The Storm
The excitement of a trip like this is what all anglers live for, but venturing to fish offshore is no small feat. It requires prepping the boat and gear the night before, waking up well before dawn, and capping off a long day of action with a huge cleanup effort. Then there's obtaining a boat and filling its fuel tanks. The investment of time, effort, and money is immense and requires almost single-minded dedication. That's why so many anglers who dream of battling pelagics simply charter a boat for the day.
So, what sort of people make it their all-consuming priority?
In the “real world,” one of the captains Henderson (Mark) is the sales manager for Taco Marine. Another (Josh) reps for Ocean Marketing. The third (Crockett) is a captain for TowBoatUS Beaufort/Swansboro. Crockett and Josh also run fishing charters as their time allows. Rachel Farlow, meanwhile, is the dispatcher for TowBoatUS Beaufort/Swansboro. And the Liquid Fire team is managed by Audrey Henderson, the matriarch of the family. Despite the flashy fiberglass, roaring outboards, and jumping fish, family relations is actually what this endeavor is all about.
“It's always been about being with my family for me,” explains Captain Mark. “Being able to share time with my kids is the most important part of this journey and, as I get older, I cherish those memories and opportunities more than they will ever know. Fishing has been a mainstay in our lives ever since we moved to the North Carolina coast 20 years ago, and the sport has definitely provided commonality for us. When we're together fishing, planning for fishing, talking about fishing, or cooking fish ... it's continuous. There's no doubt that being part of Liquid Fire and seeing my family grow up in the sport as a team has been worth all of the money and effort.”
Crockett agrees that adding the team effort has brought the family closer together. “Our different jobs take up so much time, fishing is one of the few things that bring us together so we can hang out as a family,” he says. “Plus, there's the aspect of competition and fishing together against other great teams — communication is huge and everyone on the boat is capable of doing any job. So if the usual rotation of tasks gets out of order, we can still operate smoothly. Trying our best to end up on top definitely adds to the excitement.”
The aspect of competing as a team while communicating as only family can clearly has an impact on their rather astounding level of success, too. Liquid Fire has won and placed in too many tournaments to list here, but some highlights include first place big fish in the Cape Lookout Shootout Championship, first place in the Kingfish Cup Series Championship, and winning the Southern Kingfish Association Dan Schaad Family Achievement Award.
“Without being a close family we wouldn't have been able to achieve anything near to what we have as a team,” Josh explains. “Everyone knows what they need to do at any given time. There's no competing for the rod, helm, or gaff, and when there's a fish on the line, our ability to communicate helps ensure that we can put that fish in the boat.”
Farlow, as the newcomer to the team, naturally sees things from a slightly different perspective. “It's a lot of fun to join in on the fun with the Hendersons,” she says. “The whole family has definitely made me very welcomed, though I might feel a little bit of pressure to perform well and exceed expectations since I'm new to the crew and the least experienced. I also think my job (as a BoatUS dispatcher) has made me more aware of the dangers that could happen on the water, but I feel more comfortable heading offshore with the team knowing Crockett is on the boat. As a captain at TowBoatUS, he knows how to handle an emergency situation better than most people would.”
Cast With Confidence
When you're making the investment in time, effort, and resources that it takes to have a shot at offshore pelagic beasts, you'll want to do everything you can to stack the deck in your favor. That includes lining up tech like SiriusXM Fish Mapping, which can help you point the bow right at the fish, as opposed to endlessly trolling while hoping for the best. With the addition of Raymarine in 2022, SiriusXM Marine's Fish Mapping package is now available on MFDs made by all the major electronics manufacturers: Garmin, Furuno, Simrad, Lowrance, Raymarine, B&G — you name it. All you need is a subscription and the manufacturer-compatible receiver.
This system also provides sea surface temperatures, contours, and front strength; subsurface temperatures to 30 meters; major weed line locations; and plankton concentrations and front strengths. Oceanographers interpret the same data to determine where different predators are likely to be and then create the Fishing Recommendations, displayed with areas color-coded by species on the MFD screen and updated twice weekly. Species recommendations include billfish, kingfish, mahi-mahi, swordfish, tuna, and wahoo.
Along with Fish Mapping, a SiriusXM subscription also includes weather data piped into your MFD. You'll be able to overlay critical intel like weather radar, storm, lightning, wind, and wave info. We at BoatUS have used the weather service many times through the years and have found it accurate, more so than any other weather service we've used, allowing us to literally dodge thunderstorms and/or return to the dock minutes before they arrived. Seasonal subscriptions are available as well year-round. As we go to print, SiriusXM is offering a special offer for BoatUS Members (see Tip below).
All Hands On Deck
As often happens in families that have found a way to both work together and play together, at some point their growing together led to natural role reversals. Sure, there was a time when the kids were small and Captain Mark held the reins and did the heavy lifting. But today?
"I made a lot of the decisions for the first five years or so, but today Joshua and Crockett are really the brains and talent on the team," he says. "They have worked diligently to understand the science of the sport. I was the angler for the first couple of years, then Joshua quickly took over as he got older and more experienced and I then moved to gaffing duties. As Crockett got older, he became the primary angler, Joshua took over gaffing responsibilities, and I moved to handling the boat when a fish is on. But both of my sons are now far better at driving a boat than their old man, so these days I just sit back and try to enjoy the ride. I've gotten to the point where I just try not to mess anything up!"
With all three Hendersons aboard, plus Rachel, you'd think the team is complete, but there's an unsung absent hero, too. "We can't forget to mention the value Audrey brings to our team," Captain Mark says. "While she rarely fishes competitively, she has not only embraced the dynamic of what we do, but leads the charge when it comes to organization. The 'Lil' General' stays on top of the business side of Liquid Fire."
Audrey seems to take her role on the team in stride. "Life evolves, as does the time available to devote to the team. My own time has been limited as I've progressed from having a lot of 'mom duties' to having 'grandma duties,'" she says. "When the team is fishing an event, I can't tell you how nail-biting it can be, waiting for that call, and how exciting it is to get word when the team has a nice fish in the box and is in contention for the win."
The Delicious Reward
During our day at sea with team Liquid Fire, it does indeed seem like the ocean is aflame. Aflame with life, that is, with one smashing strike after the next bending the rods and sending the reels singing. After the fishbox is loaded with mahi-mahi, Captain Josh points the bow west and we run for home at hat-stripping speeds. Teamwork and seamless communication are again the themes of the post-fishing cleanup, and, finally, Crockett shows us his fish-cleaning talents — and talent is exactly what he has in this department, as I'll discover later when I open my bag of boneless, skinless fillets of perfection.
A few hours later we'll meet back up for a family-and-new-friends dinner, joined by Mark and Audrey. Our discussion includes the tuna that got away, Liquid Fire Sportfishing Charters business run by Josh and Crockett, and the original genesis of Team Liquid Fire back in 2005. And when we circle back to the original question of what sort of boaters get into this crazy game, it all boils down to one simple concept: loved ones, doing what they love. Together.
"We do have some grandchildren coming along, should they choose to jump aboard for tournament time," notes Audrey. "Stay tuned."
Fish With Fire
You want to join in with the Liquid Fire anglers for a day of red-hot fishing? See for yourself how they apply the latest in angling tech, like that SiriusXM Fish Mapping system, and learn what tactics and tackle they apply for specific fisheries. Liquid Fire Sportfishing charters fishes the Crystal Coast for everything from grouper to wahoo. Visit LiquidFireSportfishing.com to contact Crockett and Josh.