Gone Fishin! -August 2015
by: Joshua H. Balling
photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger
Fish on! The shout went up from the deck of the Just Do It Too as the charter boat trolled off Wauwinet on the island’s east end, the early-morning summer sun low in a cloudless sky.
Triple on! Four on! The boat was in the midst of a bluefish blitz, and Michael Richman, his girlfriend Claire Ann Resop and their families quickly reeled in 15 fish in the span of about 10 minutes, urged on by first mate Devin Durand on the deck and captain Marc Genthner on the bridge. The fish box at the stern of the boat was in short order filled with the sleek, toothy blues, most weighing eight to 10 pounds and measuring 25-28 inches.
“I don’t think we’ve caught this many fish in any of the trips we’ve been on,” said Richman, a New York City bankruptcy attorney who’s been visiting Nantucket for 20 years and chartering the Just Do It Too almost as long. “Once they started biting, it was one after the other. They just didn’t stop. You can’t beat that.”
The morning didn’t start off with quite as much action. After casting off from his slip in the Nantucket Boat Basin for the two-and-a-half-hour trip, Genthner steered the Just Do It Too past the other charter boats, pleasure craft and 100-plus-foot megayachts, bound for a rip – turbulent, shallow water – off Great Point where he’d been told the bluefish were congregating. The sun was a glowing yellow-orange orb in the sky and the water was like glass, the basin quiet just after 7 a.m.
The twin 315-horsepower Yanmar engines quickly powered the Just Do It Too out of the basin, past Brant Point and through a cut in the east jetty, downtown Nantucket a hazy mirage in the receding distance as the boat trailed a V-shaped frothy wake.
The first lines topped with bright orange lures went into the water at 7:37 a.m., the anglers yanking their rods back and forth in unison to simulate baitfish and better attract the sharp-toothed bluefish. The boat was in constant motion, moving parallel to the rip near Great Point lighthouse, a slow-moving commercial trawler trundling by past in the distance.
“We’ve got nine lines in the water. Something’s got to bite,” Durand said, encouraging those in the boat to keep working the rods.
Still nothing. After about 20 minutes, Genthner decided to try another location, and his intuition – and three decades of experience – quickly paid off.
Once the Just Do It Too started trolling with Sankaty Head in the distance, it was a whole different story. Durand nimbly bounced from one side of the boat to the other, offering words of encouragement, unhooking the blues and dumping them in the fish box at the stern before setting up the rods for another troll. Genthner kept the boat moving, at the same time checking the rods in holders attached to the bridge and handing them down to Durand when he felt a strike.
There were nine lines in the water at any given time, and four or five anglers with a fish on the hook for an adrenaline-packed 15 or 20 minutes of action.
“That’s what we’re talking about!” Durand shouted above the sound of the Just Do It Too’s motors and the excited yells of the anglers.
After about half an hour, the lines were cranked in by tired arms and the Just Do It Too began making the trip back to Straight Wharf, where the second charter of the day would be waiting, looking to haul in a few fluke.
Just off Great Point, where the water depth dropped to below three feet, Durand sliced up a bluefish and began to feed the swarm of gulls that followed in the boat’s wake, hovering over the stern and snatching the morsels out of the air before they hit the water.
“Everybody loves the bird show,’ Genthner said.
Even as the bluefish and striped bass populations have declined in recent years, Nantucket still has some of the best fishing in the Northeast, and it’s a rare day when the charter captains don’t come back to the dock with at least one keeper in the fish box. They just have to work harder to do it.
“The bluefish and stripers are down, there’s no doubt about it,” Genthner said. “I think the cold winters recently have had an effect. The squid boats off the south shore are having an effect on the baitfish. The seal population is getting bigger. Now we have to go farther and use wire line and target the fish on the bottom. We didn’t have to do that years ago.”
Bluefish are the charter fleet’s bread and butter, fierce fighters who don’t give in easily. They’re prevalent around the island from early in the season right through until September. They’re not the best eating, but can be tasty when cooked properly, and make a mean paté.
“The blues are here all summer. They’re kind of what we live off of. There really wouldn’t be a sportfishing industry on Nantucket if we didn’t have bluefish,” said Durand, who hails from Mankato, Minn. and has been Genthner’s mate for four years.
“Very rarely does Mark get back to the dock without at least one fish in the box. Last year I can only remember one day: July 5, the day after Hurricane Arthur blew through.”
Stripers are prized for both their looks and their taste. They don’t, however, put up much of a fight.
“Striped bass are cool-looking, and good to eat, but they’re like catching a sack of potatoes,” Genthner said. “They don’t fight like the bluefish, but people like them because they’re a beautiful fish.”
Genthner offers two-and-a-half-hour trips, usually to the rip off Great Point, and half-day trips where he’ll take his charters around Sankaty Head to fish the beach off the island’s east end and a pile of rocks known to attract stripers. He has regulars who like to fish for bottom-fish like fluke and sea bass. Ninety percent of his charters are repeat customers.
“We must be doing something right. We target the fish people want,” he said.
Later in the season, the attention turns to false albacore, bonito and the stripers’ return on their southerly migration. Some charter captains offer fullday charters, especially as the season winds on, for shark and tuna, and cod in the spring and fall.
Genthner, 49, has been a charter captain since he was 19. He’s originally from Acushnet, Mass., and first came to the island working on his uncle Jim’s sailboat, the Endeavor. But fishing quickly captured his attention. He caught his first keeper striped bass – a 36-inch, 36-pounder – just off Brant Point Light.
“I saw the Flicka in the basin, and decided fishing was for me. Then I caught that first striper at Brant Point, and it changed my life. I decided that’s what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” Genthner said.
He built the Just Do It Too between 1986 and 1988 with his father Chip, designing it for fishing in Nantucket waters, and with his charter customers in mind. He even lived on the boat for 10 years while he saved enough money to buy a piece of Nantucket land on which to build a house.
“The idea was to be able to get completely around the boat,” he said, gazing at the fish finder next to the throttles on the bridge as the boat made its way past Brant Point Light and into the channel leading out of Nantucket Harbor.
“You can easily get to the bow, you can fish from anywhere. There are 57 rod-holders on the boat, and I wouldn’t mind having more. They’re set up for different fish in different places. We like to be rigged and ready to go when we get on the fish.”
Genthner is one of a half-dozen or so charter captains who occupy “Charter Boat Row” on Straight Wharf, and a handful of others like Capt. Tom Mleczko in Madaket, Pete Kaizer off the White Elephant Hotel and others on the Town Pier who actively ply their trade from around Memorial Day through Labor Day and beyond. All told, however, there are more than 50 licensed charter captains on the island.
For the most part, they help each other out, staggering their short trips so they won’t be fishing on top of each other, and by doing so, share information about where the fish are biting and what spots have gone dead.
That’s how Genthner started out at Great Point, even though by the time he got there, the fish weren’t biting. He’d heard from the captain of the Herbert T that the bluefish were all over the rip earlier in the morning.
“At 5:30 they were on the rip, and by 7:30 they were gone,” Durand said. “The tide went slack. The fish don’t like to bite when the water’s not running.”
It’s a tough business, and not an easy one at which to make a living. Most charter captains work second jobs in the off-season to make ends meet. Genthner and Nantucket selectman Bob DeCosta, with whom he shared the low-down on the bluefish blitz off Sankaty Head over the radio, work carpentry jobs in the winter.
The season starts and ends slowly, but it’s a sevenday-a-week job, pretty much from sunup to sundown, in July and August.
Genthner likes to have the boat ready to fish by early May, although there isn’t much steady business until the Fourth of July, except for Memorial Day Weekend, Durand said.
“June picks up a bit, and by July 4, we’re booking four trips a day, seven days a week, between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. The fishing is really good until around Labor Day, when it drops off, and we’re back to partial days and some off-days,” he said.
The bulk of the charter fleet wraps it up in the weeks after Labor Day, with weekend and tuna trips when they can book them, and by November, another season is in the books.
“The fishing around Nantucket really stays red hot until the end of October, when the false albacore and bonito are around, and the stripers come back through,” said Durand, who works construction and travels in the off-season. So far, he’s visited more than 60 countries worldwide.
“It’s a 100-day season, but the shoulders are slower these days. We’ve really got two months to make it: July and August. You better not break the boat,” Genthner said with a laugh. “There are huge starting expenses each season, with the slip fees and fuel. You’re playing catch-up for quite a while. In the offseason, you do what it takes to get by. My wife is a schoolteacher and our daughters are natives. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”
On his short trips, Genthner prefers not to travel too far, sticking to the rip off Great Point where the bluefish like to feed. But when they’re not biting, he needs to go where the fish are, even if the fuel bill eats up a good chunk of the charter cost.
“I don’t like the ride. It’s a $200 fuel ride, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” he said. “You’ve got to find the fish, and it’s all about everybody having a good time. It’s about entertainment as much as it is about fishing. It’s why we have the bird show on the way home and take a look at the seals.”
Despite the challenges, Genthner, like many of his colleagues on Charter Boat Row, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Nantucket is a great spot to do this. I love every trip I go on. It’s a new adventure every time.” ///
Joshua Balling is the associate editor of Nantucket Today and assistant editor of The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821. He’s still hoping to hook that monster striped bass.