Nantucket Voices

British Invasion

by Steve “Tuna” Tornovish

Now don’t let the history books fool you: the real British Invasion happened in the early 1960s, and there was nary a Redcoat to be found. The American music scene had been floating along with mediocre pop music for quite long enough, thank you. Exactly how much Fabian and Bobby Vinton can one nation stand, right? So the stars were aligned for a quantum shift. And here came the Beatles, just in time to fill that vacuum which nature abhors. The flood gates opened, the American population went gaga for everything British, and things were never the same.

I’m a tad too young to have been swept up in this particular British invasion when it happened, preoccupied with potty training when the Beatles first wanted to hold our hands. I got swept along in the second wave of English invaders. The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Eric Clapton, and The Who—this is the music that opened up my little pea of a brain. I listened to the rock opera “Tommy,” and my world looked different forever.

The British Invasion happened in the world of Nantucket beach fishing as well, starting in the year 2000. That’s when a young man named James Hatton made the journey to our little island from his hometown of Melbourne in the UK. Now James may not have the crazy pop appeal of the Beatles, the swagger of Mick Jagger, or the bombast of The Who. No, James is much more of the Mark Knopfler variety: quiet and somewhat under the radar, but an absolute master of his craft and a stone-cold killer when in the spotlight. James uses his fishing gear like Mr. Knopfler fingerpicks a guitar.

“Just by chance, my dad had brought home a newspaper that he had picked up while on a work trip to Leicester. The Nantucket Bike Shop had put an advertisement in that paper, looking for employees. I was doing a lot of mountain bike riding at the time, so I figured I’d take a chance. I had no idea what I was getting into!”

Bill and Kay Cameron, owners of this bike shop, helped James secure a work visa and, poof, he was off, storming the shores of our little island. James lived in an apartment over the top of Steamboat Pizza. His mind was boggled by the craziness of the Broad Street strip in the Nantucket summertime. Yet something was missing and young James was determined to fix that.

“My whole life has revolved around fishing. It’s in my blood, it’s genetic. There’s lots of people who grew up on-island who probably take it for granted. I stumbled into it, they were born into it and never even thought about it. When I came here and caught my first four-pound bluefish, I thought this couldn’t be happening!”

James started at the bottom with the Nantucket fishing scene, literally. He connected with Barry Thurston, owner of Barry Thurston Tackle. He spent a lot of time in Barry’s downtown shop. “Barry gave me a lot of the information I needed to get started. I bought my first surfcasting combo from him—it was an old Penn rod and reel setup. I still have it!” James coupled this beginner setup with a bottom-fishing tandem scup rig, a pyramid weight and some squid for bait. He headed to Brant Point.

“My first striped bass was caught completely by accident. I had hooked two scup on my tandem rig and a 29-inch striper came and ate one of them. I ended up catching three fish at once!” James still laughs as he remembers carrying his keeper-sized fish up Easton and South Beach Street. “I was walking past Lola and the Yacht Club—got a lot of funny looks from horrified tourists, but I fed my housemates!”

James started fishing when he was 8-years-old, cutting his teeth on a lake located very near his home. “I began by fishing for carp and tench (a bottom feeder fish similar to a catfish). Tench are strong and hard to catch—my boyhood fishing romance was with tench!” James read every fishing magazine that he could get his hands on. Many of the articles in the British magazines were about ocean fishing. “Melbourne is dead center in the middle of England, as far away from the coast as you could get.” James would convince his dad, Brian, once each year to book a charter on the ocean. “We went to Cornwall, on southwest corner (of England). We’d catch dogfish—I thought it was the greatest thing ever. It’s hard to reconcile. The allure of the ocean had me, I guess.”

The fishing obsession grew stronger as James got older. “I was about 14. Peter Blackmore was my best friend, and we had the most epic fishing adventures ever! I lived near a lake, he lived near the river. We’d walk miles to fish—whatever it took. We carried all our gear. Thick as thieves! He’s my fishing boy! Everything we did revolved around fishing. Our parents were very supportive. We went on multiple fishing holidays together. I’ve known him forever. Peter was my dive partner at age 10. Buddy breathing is the ultimate test of trust. We learned to dive in a quarry in England in January!”

James taught me a new term: skiving. Skiving means to skip school. To use this in a sentence: “Peter and I skived out every year on March 14 and June 16, the opening day for lake fishing and river fishing. Peter would sleep over my house on March 13 to fish the lake, and I would stay with him on June 15 and fish the river. Our parents thought we were at school. We were fishing for chub and barbel. Barbel are fun, strong fish to catch. It was the best day of the year for us! There were only a few of us kids that would do it.”

James spoke fondly of his forever friend, Peter. “I hope he’s coming to visit this year. Peter lives in Belgium now with his wife and kids. He’s an offshore geologist. I get fun messages from him like, ‘Hey, I saw these huge fish while scouting a work project’.”

James met Dennis Dias, a fantastic Nantucket beach fisher, and learned a lot from him. “Denny showed me the locations and where exactly to fish when I got there. And lures: what to use and when. I was very unfamiliar with the various lures. I remember that he was always telling me to fish SLOW! I love that guy!”

James is well-known in the Nantucket fishing circles as a big fish master. He has won almost all of the local beach fishing tournaments. I asked him for some advice for beginning striped bass anglers. James said this: “First, the tide has to be moving. Next, you have to look for the white water—fish the suds! And the big thing is to remember that the nighttime is the right time!” James is a longstanding member of The Night Crew, those hardcore cats who chase striped bass when the sane people are snoozing. “Raf, Tammy, Parker, Cody, Victor—that’s my fishing crew. Chuck Duce, John Colton. A lot of people lie to you about fishing but these guys don’t! I respect all of these guys as fishermen and friends. They put the time in. All the people who are at the top of the leaderboard—they’re out there working hard.”

Of all the things he has to look forward to, James was most excited at the thought of his parents, Brian and Chris, coming to visit this summer. “My dad is finally retired and enjoying life. He’s the man! He had progressed from not knowing how to cast to absolutely owning it! He’s a legend—that’s what all my friends call him. He had caught some fish with me along the way. One day he sheepishly asked if he could borrow my truck. I set him up with the rods and gear. They drove to Great Point. My mom sat there on the beach and did her crosswords while my dad fished. He ended up catching five albies!”

James may well be the happiest guy on Nantucket. He loves his home in ‘Sconset. He loves his wife, Liza, and their 14 year old dog, Layla. He loves his job. And James loves putting big fish on the beach. Yeah, this Brit has been a very successful invader.

Steve “Tuna” Tornovish is a Nantucket native who has spent his life fishing from the beaches of his beloved island. He loves to introduce clients to the joy of fishing with his Nantucket Island Fishing Adventures:

Articles by Date from 2012