It’s mid-May, which means the bluefin tuna fishermen around here are getting ready. Perkins Cove, Maine, my home port, has produced more than its share of world-class tuna harpooners. I am not one of them.
I went tuna fishing in my youth, but I went only a handful of times when I owned the Hard Times. The summer Little Joe and I tried it, around 1981, the dabs hung on until August, and we probably averaged 80 cents a pound and 1,200 pounds a day. We’d leave at 5 a.m., make three, three-hour tows and be in by supper time – not that we always went straight home – down only about 50 gallons of fuel.
So after a few days of joy-riding around the ocean looking for bluefin, Joe and I took the tuna stand off and went back to dragging flounders and earning a paycheck.
I’d seen the tuna movie before. Several years earlier I was whiting fishing with Lester Orcutt aboard the Minkette when, sadly, the tuna bug bit us. The Japanese had a longliner in the northwest Atlantic, the Tatsumi Maru, and they were catching a lot of bluefin, which they froze at sea and unloaded in Portland for shipment to Japan.
They must have been selling to Willard and Daggett because Phil Willard offered us some of their gear to try, and the next thing I knew our net and doors were on the hard. We ran the towing warps off in shoal water in front of Biddeford Pool and replaced them with longlines. Phil also supplied us with snap-on gangions, which a lot of longliners did not have in those days, and glass floats, so our gear was finestkind, as we say in Maine.
My recollection is that our bait was not. I believe Lester had frozen some whiting once he made the decision to try the tuna. In any case, the bait likely would not have made much difference. The Tatsumi Maru was fishing 60 miles of gear, we were probably fishing two. They could stumble onto a bunch here and there, we had to find feeding tuna.
We didn’t. What we found were feeding bluedogs, and we found them only because they found our bait, as did the birds that dove on our gear as soon as I snapped the gangions on and flung them over the side. I guess the lesson is that not everything in nature is as fussy about what it eats as the bluefin tuna is.
After two weeks we gave Phil back his longlines and loaded the dragging gear back on. There was a lobster bait shortage that year, so for the rest of the summer and into the fall we went port to port selling bait at $20 a drum. We fished on the beach and loaded the boat every day, and Lester paid me 25 percent.
Who needed tuna?