A deep sea summer experience

A deep sea summer experience

By Marc Larocque

At 6:15 a.m. Friday, about 40 Northeastern students and staff wielding Styrofoam coolers and sunscreen slowly assembled in front of Chicken Lou’s.

“The plan for today is to live the dream,” said Brian Shute, a graduate student waiting for his friends to arrive. “Most of my classmates are probably sleeping and hung over right now.”

Shute, however, was wide-eyed, waiting to board a bus bound for Gloucester, where he and the others would embark on a day of deep sea fishing. The trip was part of Northeastern’s Summester program, in which faculty, staff and students are offered discount tickets for outings to places like Six Flags, Newport, R.I., and Attitash Mountain.

This type of trip normally costs $55, but the Northeastern group received a discounted rate of $10 per person.

When Shute saw a flyer for the event at the Curry Student Center, he told his fellow graduate accounting students a week before tickets went on sale at the end of June.

“When Brian announced it, I thought, ‘Well, maybe I can catch something. I’ll go,'” said Kim Hartford, graduate student. “But I don’t want to have to touch the hook and the bait. I’ve never fished before because I never thought I’d like to learn. I thought it would be boring. But things are easier to learn with other people.”

Hartford and Shute stood with fellow graduate student Fernando Rodriguez and discussed the prospects of the trip.

“Deep sea fishing is hit or miss,” Shute said. “If I catch something, that’s great. I just want to have a good time.”

This is Northeastern’s third year taking a summer trip to Ann’s Marina in Gloucester. Last year, many students came back to campus empty-handed.

Marina Snitkovskaya, another graduate student, arrived moments before the bus departed, visibly exhausted. She said she had some reservations about fishing, but decided to go anyway.

“Growing up in Ukraine I was always scared to catch a fish and kill it,” Snitkovskaya said. “I’d eat it already cooked, though. They convinced me it’s something I should try to do. It’s not going to be easy.”

The group boarded a Peter Pan bus that then drove almost 40 miles north of Boston, traveling along Route 128.

The Northeastern group filed from the bus at 7:45 a.m. and boarded the Yankee Clipper, a bright white 75-foot charter boat. It took two hours, traveling east, southeast in the Atlantic Ocean, before the group reached a spot suitable for fishing.

Readying their posts, the students grabbed poles inside the cabin and placed them in white plastic cylinders staged around the boat.

In the bridge, Captain Rob Fyfe, who has taken Northeastern students fishing for three consecutive summers, steered the vessel toward the gate, an area of water with rocky outcroppings on its sea floor that he found using sonar technology.

“The rock piles are good for catching cod,” Fyfe said. “But haddock like the softer, more clay-like floors. We try to stay in between the two.”

In the past, Captain Fyfe’s method was to hover directly above the rock piles. But, he said, “we changed what we do” because the cod – as well as others – have been overfished in that area.

“You can’t blame fishing groups, recreational or industrial. I blame the government,” Fyfe said, who has captained the Clipper since 1998. “They mismanaged the fisheries, the given areas where fishing is allowed. Fishing was really good right up until 2003. All of our old spots are not producing fish like they used to.”

Fyfe said this year has been a slow year for fishing and dogfish have been an increasing nuisance to the Yankee Clipper crew. Dogfish are three-foot sharks that are often caught in the gate. Pollock and cusk are also caught. Occasionally, he said, someone catches a wolf fish, a leathery, bottom-dwelling creature that can crush shell fish in its mouth.

The captain claims to take more New Englanders fishing than any other; he takes pride in the crowds the Clipper attracts during its season, which begins March 15 and ends December 18.

“It’s a good way to try the local fishing,” he said. “You have the young and old from across the country and further. It’s a totally broad spectrum of people, too.”

At 9:45 a.m., when the Clipper was about 20 miles from shore Captain Fyfe stalled the engines and the boat slowed and began to float in place.

The group of students was eager to hook some fish. Rodriguez put a piece of bait fish on Snitkovskaya’s hook.

“I’ll do it next time,” Snitkovskaya said. “It’s not that disgusting.”

Rodriguez was the first of his group of friends to catch a fish – a cod. But Mary Toppin, the Yankee Clipper’s chef, came from behind and took it.

When Snitkovskaya asked why the fish had to be released, Toppin told her it was smaller than government-mandated keepable length of 24 inches for cod.

To prevent overfishing, state regulations mandate that fish smaller than a certain length, depending on the species, be returned to the ocean, Toppin said.

The Yankee Clipper crew paced around the ship, casually releasing dogfish the students frequently hooked. In the half hour the group spent at the first location, they caught 10 dogfish and only a few cod. Ruchio Farkiwala, a graduate student from India studying pharmacy, caught two sharks in a row. One shark gushed blood all over the deck when a Clipper crewman ripped the hook out.

Because of the abundance of sharks, Captain Fyfe decided to move on.

The boat moved further and further from land and stopped at 10:40 a.m. The anxious students picked up their rods again.

Hartford dropped her bait down about 250 feet, feeling it hit the bottom. She turned the reel a few times and looked down. After a few minutes, she felt a pulse. She quickly pulled the pole backward, trying to set the hook like she was told, and began to reel the line in rapidly. A few moments later, she was smiling, admiring her first fish, a 19-inch haddock.

When the vessel moved on to its third and final spot, Snitkovskaya felt the tug on her line she had been anticipating all day.

“I think I got one,” she said. “Yeah, I got one!”

After reeling in her line for two minutes, Snitkovskaya pulled a six-inch red fish from the water, its eyes bulging out, its pink swim bladder protruding from its mouth – a result of the rapid pressure change the fish experiences being pulled up from the sea floor. But her line became tangled with others on the deck.

“I give up,” she said, laying on a bench. It was too chaotic, she said. As the Clipper crew untangled the lines and unhooked the fish, Snitkovskaya said, “I’m not taking it. I don’t know if you guys want it.”

At 3:15 p.m., Captain Fyfe spoke over the intercom. “We’re about to stop,” he said. “Pull in your reels when the engine turns on.”

But in the last minutes of fishing, one married couple from Egypt – a Northeastern professor and a graduate student – caught a wolf fish. At nearly three feet long, it was the biggest catch of the day. The wolf fish wrenched from side to side as a Clipper crewman gripped it by the gills, avoiding the jagged molars, which are strong enough to break bones.

On the way in the Yankee Clipper crew took all the fish the group caught and filleted them at the back of the boat, flinging skin and bones off the stern to seagulls.

Captain Fyfe docked the boat in the harbor at 4:50 p.m. The tired group plodded back to the bus, exhausted, but content.

“I thought it would be boring,” Hartford said. “Waiting around to catch nothing. But now I like the idea of fishing, talking and joking with friends.”

Snitkovskaya turned around in her seat. “Let’s go fishing tomorrow,” she said.

For Shute, the sea excursion was a day well spent.

“We became better friends on this trip, for sure,” he said. “Nothing like a day at the water. Before, we only hung out at bars together. This is a great alternative to that.”

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