Local fishermen weigh in with the story of their most memorable catch.
Photos by Elise Sinagra
Most North Shore natives have heard their share of fish stories, from Uncle Steve’s brush with a shark to Grandpa Jack’s fight with a monster bluefin tuna. But few New Englanders can spin a tale better than the captains of Gloucester’s charter fishing fleet. As summer trips fill up, crews are hunting everything from haddock to giant tuna and shark. It’s a great time to be fishing, but then, when isn’t it?
Captain Gary Cannell
Gary Cannell is a New Jersey native who moved to the North Shore after “meeting his mermaid” many years ago. In 1983, he built his own boat, Tuna Hunter, and has relied on her ever since.
His best fish tale? It’s about as unlikely as any you’ll hear.
“We had one where the fish died while we were fightin’ him and I couldn’t get him off the bottom. It was an 800-pound tuna and he had a heart attack and just sank to the bottom.
We tried and tried. Finally, it started getting dark and rough, and we just grabbed the line and started pulling it by hand. We’re pulling and pulling and all of a sudden we felt that he was coming.
He was comin’ and comin’ and then this monster’s tail came up behind the boat, and he was tail wrapped. He came up backwards, dead as a doornail. The line had wrapped around his tail and we pulled him in backwards. The whole thing is, you gotta have skill, but you gotta be lucky.”
Charter: Tuna Hunter Fishing Charters
Boat: Tuna Hunter, a 36-foot custom Runaway
Fish: Tuna, haddock, cod, striped bass, bluefish, shark
Groups: Up to six people
Captain Collin MacKenzie
At 36, Captain Collin may be one of the youngest captains in the marina, but he’s an expert when it comes to big game fish. A Gloucester native, MacKenzie has been fishing since he was 10 years old.
His story serves as a warning to those of us who are always on the clock: Fish don’t abide by schedules.
“Last year, I had a group of six business guys, and they booked two days in a row, and the first day was slow and we had no luck. And then the second day, there [was] maybe 20 minutes left in the day before we were gonna pull anchor, ’cause two of the business guys had to get to the airport for a meeting in Ohio.
With 20 minutes left, two of the rods went off. We hooked two tuna at the same time, and we were in real rough weather. We landed both: two real nice 95-inch, 500-pound fish. Those two guys were elated at first about the fish, but then, ya know, once we got ’em on the boat and cleaned and sorted, that rush went away and you saw they were a little bit bummed. They ended up having to rent a car and drive 12 hours to Ohio.
But with tuna fishing, 20 minutes changes the whole day. That’s how it goes. You sit there all day and nothing, nothing, and then the rod bends.”
Charter: Karen Lynn Charters
Boat: Karen Lynn, a 43-foot Carol Lowell
Fish: Tuna, striped bass, cod, haddock, shark
Groups: Up to six people
Captain George Lemieux
Captain George is a retired public school teacher from Billerica who has been fishing the waters off Gloucester for more than 40 years. But it was a two-week run last fall that tops his list of fish adventures.
“I had a couple of guys from Nebraska who had never been on the ocean in their lives, and they wanted to catch a giant bluefin tuna. And I said, ‘They call it tuna wishin’ for a reason, guys.’Anyway, we went out and we fished the morning and didn’t get much of a bite, so I started to think about pulling the plug and doing some ground fishing. Then, around noontime, the rod goes off. One of the guys hopped on and he couldn’t believe how that reel was spinning so fast. We tag teamed off and on for about an hour and 15 minutes. They got the fish in, and it was 95 inches [long]. First time in their lives on the ocean and they caught a giant tuna, and I said, ‘Guys, people go their whole lives and don’t catch one like this.’
About two weeks later, we had a young couple from Pennsylvania. This time the rod went off and it was a bow rod, and the fish was actually towing us around. We tried for an hour to get him in, and I called my buddy, and he was fishing down the bank and came over. We couldn’t get him, so I put the boat in gear and we hand-lined the fish up. It was a giant, 105-inch fish. The harpoon actually bounced off. [Its] live weight was estimated [to be] over 800 pounds. It was the biggest tuna fish I ever caught.”
Charter: Full Strike Anglers
Boat: Lady Diane, a 24-foot Pacific
Fish: Tuna, shark, haddock, cod, pollack, flounder, striped bass
Groups: Up to four people
Captain Kevin Twombly
Captain Kevin, 56, grew up fishing with his dad in Quincy Bay. He was one of the first charter captains in Gloucester, and he has hosted all sorts of seafarers, from billionaire oil tycoons to Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm.
His story is a reminder to fishermen everywhere: Fish don’t break for bad weather.
“One time we were out at George’s Bank and it turned into a full gale. We drifted a mile over the Canadian border. It was 15- to 20-foot seas, and the 40-foot Lisa & Jake had all it could do to maintain. Took us an hour to get back into U.S. waters.
We tried to hook up again but the seas were so big the hook would just rip out of the fish, so we had to lay for a day and wait for the weather to calm. The waves were coming and smashing at the side of the wheelhouse and filling the deck, and it was a gang and a half of pretty wild stuff. But we stayed out for a couple more days. And we went back with three giant tuna.”
Charter: Kayman Charters
Boat: Lisa & Jake, a 40-foot Young Bros. Downeast
Fish: Haddock, cod, tuna, striped bass, shark
Groups: Up to six people