|Maine Farmhouse Journal
I was over at Steve and Marianne Athanosios' new place on Robinson Hill Road in Sebago in early September, just to check on how the conversion of their garage into a house was coming. Steve was hard at work laying pine boards in the kitchen.
"What do you think?" Steve asked. "These boards were cut from pines on our farm here."
"These are going to look great! The place is really coming along" I said "You've been busy."
[Steve's old 1826 farmhouse had burned in a terrible fire on July 4, 2002 (see Service to America for a picture of the farmhouse after the fire) and the community of Sebago has pulled together to help Steve and Marianne rebuild a garage next to the farmhouse into a two-bedroom home. They will have a sound place to stay while they rebuild the farmhouse over the next two years.]
"I can't tell you how much I appreciate the help everyone has been in getting us into this place after the fire" Steve said. "I'm thinking, once we are all settled in here, in taking folks who have lent a hand here on a tuna fishing trip. Would you be interested if I can arrange something?"
"I sure would!" I replied. "Where did you have in mind?"
"I know this head boat that goes out of Montauk, New York that goes for big tuna" Steve said. "I'll let you know - it'll be sometime in mid-October."
Marianne contacted an old friend, Captain Steven Forsberg of the Viking Star and made arrangements for him to take the group out tuna fishing. The Viking Star is a 105-foot "head boat" that takes anglers out for tuna, cod, and other species. Steve said that we would be fishing the Block Canyon area at the edge of the continental shelf. To get that far off shore and have time for fishing, the trip would last two days.
Steve and Marianne had arranged a special group price for us all, discounted from the normal fee. A group of 20 firefighters, neighbors, and friends signed on for the trip. We all got our money to him for the trip, and he made all the arrangements. No funds that had been raised by the community for Steve's rebuilding were used for the trip. Everyone paid their own way.
I had no idea where the Block Canyon was located. I gathered, from the way that Steve talked and from the information in the Viking Fishing Fleet brochure, that it is a popular fishing area in the Atlantic off New Jersey and New York. Both sport and commercial fishermen go there. I later found this true when we were out there at the edge of the continental shelf. All night long when we were fishing we could see the lights from three other head boats not too far away. Steve has fished it with his father who owned a marina in southern New Jersey, and with his own fishing boat the Panther when he was a full-time commercial fisherman.
Thousands of years ago, during the last ice age, the continental slope was above sea level. Rivers flowing across the continental shelf carved channels into it that are there today, but underwater. The Hudson River carved a channel from the current mouth of the River to edge of the continental shelf. At that point it is five miles wide. The Block Canyon is a submarine canyon incised into the continental shelf southeast of the northern end of Long Island.
The continental shelf itself slopes very gently until it reaches the continental slope. There it plunges steeply into the abyssal plain. Off the edge of the shelf the Hudson Canyon is an enormous gorge 9,000 feet deep, and the Block Canyon is similarly deep.
We would be fishing the 100 fathom (600 foot deep) line where the Block Canyon plunges into the depths.
As the date for our trip approached Steve gave us a list of things to bring on the boat with us, including foul weather gear, rubber boots, sleeping bags and food. The Viking Star has 43 bunks, 21 at the cabin level and 22 down below. It also has a full galley where the cook, Kobi Kobashi, serves up hot meals and keeps the coffee pot always hot. Steve recommended that we plan on buying our breakfast and suppers from Kobi and bringing our own food for snacks and lunches, plus whatever beer, soda, water and booze we might want.
I got a call from Steve the afternoon of October 15. "Our trip has been postponed" Steve said. "Things are a little rough out there, and I just received word from the Captain that he will be delayed a day. Be at my house tomorrow night around 6:00 p.m. and we'll leave then."
I turned on the weather channel and looked at hurricanes moving up the Atlantic, and gale warnings posted for the area where we were supposed to be fishing. Then I remembered that Steve used to be a long-line swordfisherman who had fished the Atlantic for years in his trawler Panther. Once, in 1996, he was in a storm so severe that the Coast Guard plucked crew members off the Panther while Steve stayed with his boat and brought her safely back to port. In 1991 Steve was fishing off the Georges Bank when "The Perfect Storm" hit. Steve knew the folks on the Andrea Gail out of Gloucester that was lost with all hands, and was particularly close to Alfred Pierre, one of the crew. Steve and the Panther made it back to New Bedford in the storm, only to find that the hurricane gates had been closed and they had to ride out the storm outside the protection of the harbor. He and his boat and crew survived, but it was a rough time. Steve has had lots of rough times at sea.
So when Steve said "it is a little rough out there", I had to remember Steve's experience and frame of reference to translate that into landlubber terms. What he was really saying was "it is going to be rough as hell out there!" I found out later that the gale warnings, high winds, and high seas cancelled many charters and delayed others the same days that we went out. Another charter company, the Canyon Runner cancelled trips and described things in simpler terms - "THE WEATHER SUCKS!!!!!!"
When we finally arrived at the dock in New Bedford, Mass at 2:00 a.m. on October 17, 2002 the seas had calmed down a little but were still rough. The Viking Star was delayed several hours in just making the transit from its home port of Montauk to New Bedford to pick us up. Once we loaded everybody aboard and all their gear there was an additional wait until weather improved.
We finally left the dock in the early hours of the morning but it was a slow passage to the Block Canyon fishing grounds. Although the boat makes 14 knots, Captain Steven didn't manage much more than 8 knots because of the rough seas. The boat pitched and rolled, and the hull boomed with every wave that the ship crashed into. Faced with the dark and the cold, the rough seas, and the prospect of no fishing for many hours, most of us just found a bunk and turned in.
Motion sickness is a conflict between your senses. Motion on the water causes fluid changes in the semicircular canals of the inner ear, making it unable to maintain a state of equilibrium. This fluid filled canal in your inner ear controls your sense of balance and tells your brain that your body is moving, while your eyes, looking into the cabin of the boat, tells your brain that you are not moving. That conflict can cause your body to be out of balance, causing nausea, sweating, salivation, and drowsiness.
Even experienced sailors sometimes get sea sick. I have a friend who has been in the U.S. Navy and in the Merchant Marine for 40 years, who still gets sea sick for the first day or two of each voyage. Some sailors describe it as a fate worse than death: first you're afraid you're going to die -- and then you're afraid you won't.
Steve passed out Bonine to the kids on the boat and anyone else that wanted it. Dramamine was chewed, and some folks even tried the acue-pressure beads. Some of the group, like Steve, Lance, Todd and Mike were old hands in rough seas and were at home with the pitching decks. There were a few who succumbed to "mal de mer" and then got their "sea legs" and were fine for the rest of the trip. There were some, like myself, who didn't get sick but came very close a couple of times with that coppery taste in your mouth. Usually if I can keep my eyes on horizon I am OK. It is hard to do that at night, when you are anchored and fishing, and the deck is pitching and rolling. The motion sickness pills worked pretty good, however. A few of the group decided that their bunks were the place to be, and stayed in them for most of the trip.
After 9 hours of being hammered by the rough seas, the boat finally arrived on the edge of the continental shelf, 100 nautical miles offshore. It was mid-day and the sun was up, and so were most of the anglers. The seas were calmer, and most everyone was ready to start fishing with the help of some Dramamine.
We fished light tackle around some of the deep water lobster buoys and caught a few small fish using squid for bait. I caught the first fish of the trip, something called a "jack" that I'd never seen before. Stephanie, Steve's daughter, amused herself by catching foot-long squid that were swimming alongside the boat on a jig and a light spincasting rod. These went into a live tank for use as bait later on.
As the sun went down, Captain Steven left the lobster buoys and moved the Viking Star to another area, where we were going to fish for tuna. Enroute we put out some lines to troll, and hooked but lost a tuna.
Once at the right spot, the crew changed our tackle to heavy crank rods with heavy sinkers to bring the bait down to 35 fathoms or so. We all got instructions how to rig the frozen bait fish onto the hook so that the tip of the hook was completely hidden. Apparently, even in the darkness of the night and 200 feet of depth the tuna could still tell the difference.
After what seemed hours, Bruce Knowlton hooked a nice albacore tuna on and fought him up to the boat where one of the mates gaffed him and brought him aboard. The first tuna of the trip was an ice-breaker for everyone, and people started to catch fish. The albacore were in the 40 to 50 pound range, and were a chore to land.
There are seven commerical and sport-caught tunas, as well as several related species. All are members of the "scombrid" family. Commercially caught tunas include albacore, bigeye, blackfin, bluefin, bonito, skipjack, and yellowfin. On our sport fishing trip we caught albacore, bigeye, and yellowfin tuna, and on other trips bluefin tuna have also been caught on the Block Canyon.
Albacore tuna are sometimes called "Longfin" because of their long pectoral fin, often extending past its second dorsal fin. They are also known as the "chicken of the sea". Albacore's high quality white meat is good eating and most canned tuna fish sold in stores today is Albacore.
Albacore caught will run from 20 to 50 pounds and are good fighters. The world record Albacore caught on a rod and reel was 88 pounds and 2 ounces, caught in 1977 off the Canary Islands.
They can be fished by trolling, using small jets or ballyhoo for bait. Or, as we found, they can also be caught by "chunking" bait from a anchored boat. All of the 11 Albacore we caught were by chunking.
Yellowfin tuna are sometimes called Yellowtail tuna. They are some of the best eating tuna and are much sought after for sushi. Yellowfin are a beautiful and colorful tuna, with blue to steel black above and silvery white bellies. They are silver to silvery gold colored on their flanks. Their fins are yellowish in color.
Yellowfins caught near the Block Canyon range in size from 15 to 225 pounds. An average fish would be in the 40 to 80 pound range there. The world record for Yellowfin caught on a rod and reel was 388 pounds 12 ounces, caught in 1977 off San Benedicto Island, Mexico. We caught 5 Yellowfin, all by chunking bait at night.
The Big-eye tuna is one of the most sought after tuna, and pound for pound they are one of the hardest fighting fish in the ocean. They have a shallow notch at the center of the caudal fin fork. The eyes of adults Big-eye tuna are relatively large compared with that of other tunas.
Big-eyes caught in the Block Canyon run bigger than Albacore, and often are in the 125 to 225 pound class. The world record Atlantic Big-eye caught on a rod and reel was 392 pounds and 6 ounces, caught in 1997 off Puerto Rico.
Bob Burns caught the only Big-eye Tuna of the trip, and Shawn the mate estimated that it weighed nearly 220 pounds. It took Steve and Shawn helping on the rod with Bob, and three others with gaffs, to finally boat the big fish. As you can see from the pictures below, Bob was more than a little pleased with himself.
We continued fishing through the night. There were some slow times when nothing was biting, and only Steve and a few hard-core anglers stayed at the rods. There were probably 25 rods out manned by 4 or 5 of the group.
I went down below to grab a nap during the slow time and came back up to the cry of "fish on!". I found Bob in the middle of his battle with his big tuna.
I missed Ralph Brown catching his tuna. Ralph, one of our Sebago Firemen who lives near Steve, had stayed up when I went below during the night. He was rewarded for his efforts by catching a nice 60 pound Yellowfin.
A few minutes after Bob caught his fish, I hooked onto a nice Albacore. I found out how difficult it is to reel these fish in, and finally had to ask Steve to help with pumping the rod up and down while I reeled it in. Compared to Bob's fish mine was tiny, but it was still the biggest fish I'd ever caught and I was a pretty happy guy.
During the afternoon and the long night, Steve was everywhere. He tended to rods, made suggestions to fishermen, looked after the kids, and offered encouragement to all.
Steve recently got his annual haircut, and looked like a completely different guy with it. I was used to seeing Steve in his Charlie Manson haircut. On one of our fire calls I noticed a new guy helping out. We have a small volunteer department and a new face is an event. I asked one of the other firemen who the new guy was. "That's Steve the Greek" I was told. "He just got his hair cut!" Here is Steve before (left) and after (right).
Finally, after all the fishing was over and the rods put away, we started back to New Bedford. Steve went below to his bunk and took a short nap before being roused to come up and help filet the fish.
We caught 17 tuna all together, or about a half-ton of fish. When they were filleted we were able to fill all our coolers with about 650 pounds of wonderful tuna steaks. Lance carefully harvested all the cheek meat from the heads of the fish, for a nice bag of these choice cuts.
We also caught a 120 pound Bluedog shark while chunking bait during the night. Chris Harrington spoke up and received the shark jaw and teeth as a trophy to bring home.
The day was fading when we pulled in through the harbor islands and into New Bedford Harbor. We arrived a little after 17:00 hours, about 36 hours after we left on our fishing trip. Capt Steven had another charter and turned the boat around to go back to Montauk to pick them up that afternoon. He and his crew would be back out on the Block Canyon that evening.
It was short work to load the vans will all the coolers full of Tuna steaks and all the rest of our gear. After a short stop at MacDonalds for supper on the fly, we headed north to Sebago.
It was amazing how Bob's fish grew bigger as we got further north. By the time we got to Sebago, it weighed 750 pounds! As the tale was told and retold over the next few weeks, that fish reached true trophy proportions. It was a wonder that we were able to get the fish on board at all!
When I got home, we had Albacore steaks on the grill and Yellowfin sushi for several days. I traded some tuna with a neighbor for some moose meat and have several meals of each left in the freezer to enjoy over the winter. It was a good trip, everyone enjoyed themselves, and I appreciate Steve for making it happen.
[ E-mail ]
Last updated November 20, 2002
Copyright © 2002, Allen Crabtree
Copyright © 2002, Allen Crabtree