During the Wicked Tuna Season 8 Premiere, the cast and crew paid tribute to Nicholas "Duffy" Fudge, the 28-year-old star who died suddenly last July.
As fans saw in a previously-released teaser, Captain Tyler McLaughlin spoke about losing Fudge, who was his first mate on the Pinwheel. He also announced his sister, Marissa, would be taking over as his new first mate.
"A few days before the season, we got some tragic news," McLaughlin said. "I just lost the the best first mate I ever had. I decided to ask my sister Marissa to fish with me this season."
Marisa said she was up to the challenge, but noted the job was more intense than expected. "I've never committed to a fishing season this intense before," she said.
At the beginning of the episode, McLaughlin revealed that Fudge's death happened just three days before the new fishing season began. He called Fudge his "best friend" as he walked onto the Pinwheel for the first time since Fudge's death.
"It's just... it's not going to be the same," McLaughlin said as his sister arrived on the boat. The two hugged as they shed tears.
McLaughlin told her he was considering not going out fishing at all, but Marissa said Fudge would want them to go out.
The next day, the other captains talked amongst themselves about how tough it was to lose Duffy.
"All tuna fisherman have this bond with each other," Captain Paul Hebert of the Wicked Pissah said. "When someone passes, we all feel it. Every one of us. He was a good kid. God needed him more than we did, I guess. Hopefully he's up there watching over all of us and the fleet."
McLaughlin also said he was dedicating his first catch this season to McLaughlin.
"No fish ever in my career has ever meant as much as catching this fish right here," McLaughlin said. "We want to catch this fish for Duffy."
At the end of the episode, Nat Geo showed a montage of happy moments from McLoughlin and Fudge's time together.
Fudge died on July 19, 2018. Police in Greenland, New Hampshire, where Fudge lived, did not make a cause of death public. However, his colleagues reportedly told the New Hampshire Union Leader he might have suffered from decompression sickness, a condition also known as "the bends."
National Geographic and Pilgrim Studios, which produces the series, confirmed Fudge's death on Twitter and sent their condolences.
"[Nat Geo] and [Pilgrim Studios] were saddened to learn that Wicked Tuna cast member Nicholas 'Duffy' Fudge passed away this week," the network said on Twitter. "Duffy was the first mate on Captain Tyler McLaughlin’s fishing vessel, Pinwheel. We join his family and friends in mourning his untimely loss."
Fudge, who was born in Topsfield, Massachusetts, is survived by his parents, brother Cody, a girlfriend, his paternal grandfather and maternal grandparents. His parents also established the Nicholas “Duffy” Fudge Memorial Fund for environmental preservation in his memory, according to his obituary.
"His passions were fishing and the outdoors. As a child, Nick began tuna fishing with his father and grandfather," his obituary read. "After becoming one of the top sport fishermen in the country, he earned a place on the National Geographic reality show Wicked Tuna for multiple seasons. Nick also treasured the environment and he took seriously his responsibility to protect it."0comments
In December, another member of the Wicked Tuna family, William "Willbilly" Hathaway, was killed in a car crash in Maryland. He was 36.
Wicked Tuna airs on the National Geographic Channel at 9 p.m. ET on Sundays.