Nantucket History & People

Catchin’ with Tuna

by C. Oscar Olson

There are plenty of pastimes to be had on Nantucket: many miles of trails and bike paths, an abundance of activities and attractions, so many marvelous museums. And of course, there is the ocean. Whether it’s swimming or shelling or just walking in the surf with wet, sandy feet, the beach never seems to get old. This year, with the help of our friend Steve Tornovish, we rediscovered a longlost love for a coastal activity in our family: fishing.

All year long and across the island’s endless edge, there is always a chance for a good catch. If there are plenty of fish in the sea, then Nantucket is the place to find them. When at the shore, wetting a line is a wonderful way to spend time with friends and family, relax, contemplate, and if you’re lucky, fight a good fish or even feed your family and friends. Our waters are home to a myriad of species like fluke, bluefish, black bass, bonito, and of course striped bass.

Steve Tornovish, or “Tuna” as he is locally known, has spent his life fishing along the beautiful beaches of his beloved island home. From Brant Point to Great Point, ‘Sconset, Madaket, and everything in between, there’s almost always action to be had. “I am a Nantucket native,” he says, “I was taught to fish by Mr. Dan Kelliher, my fourth grade science teacher.”

Steve remembers Kelliher fondly. “He was an impossibly tall man. He would teach us to cast a fishing rod on the playground at Academy Hill School. He used a tennis ball with an eye hook in it as the lure.” Steve still summons those lessons. “I channel him as I teach folks to cast. He also taught us some fishing knots that I use to this day. I remember him fondly.”

Steve Tuna’s Fishing Adventures will take you to places that most island visitors, and even some locals, rarely get to see. Get up bright and early and fish first thing or go at your own pace and enjoy an unforgettable day at the beach, it’ll always be your choice when on one of Steve Tuna’s Fishing Adventures.

Steve will provide most of what you’ll want while wetting a line, but there are a few things you should be prepared to bring with you. “It’s always a good idea to have a variety of layers with you on any Nantucket outdoor adventure. Bring a sweatshirt, a hat, good sunglasses, and clothing that will assist in protecting against sun, wind and, rain.” And even if the sun isn’t shining, it’s always a good idea to lather up. “Sunscreen is vital!” Bug spray is never a bad idea, either.

Though fun is a certain guarantee with Steve Tuna, catching a fish is not. He will always take you to the best spots based on your preference, current conditions, and his extensive knowledge, and he’ll also provide gear and all the instruction anyone will need. But there is no promise that you’ll bring home the bacon.

“The charter business happened by accident,” he says “like many things in my life. A friend who did some private guiding asked me to take some of his clients out, as my friend was overloaded with his main job. I was worried that I wouldn’t know what to do! So I decided to conduct an experiment. I learned that my daughter’s boyfriend Zach had never caught a fish.” He told Zach to get his butt in the truck. “I took him to 40th Pole, taught him to cast, and he ended up catching three bluefish. That’s when I concluded that I might be able to be a guide.”

Tuna’s favorite fishing spot is Great Point, which is exactly where he guided us. “It’s pristine and wellmanaged by the Trustees of Reservations. There’s a variety of fishing spots to try.” After an hour or two of casting, laughing, and having fun, the only thing we caught were memories. But like Steve said: “It’s still one of the most beautiful places on Nantucket, so how upset can you really get?”

He’s the ideal guide for children who’ve never tried surfcasting: he’s patient and encouraging. “Seeing a kid catch their first fish is magical. My main mantra when fishing with kids is to make sure that the trip is a positive experience for the kids every single time. I do my level best to set realistic expectations with parents as to the physical demands of surfcasting. I’d rather not book a trip than to have a kid soured for life by a bad fishing experience. So far, so good!”

If you’re not comfortable with casting, worry not: there’s a lot more to fishing on Nantucket than a hook. “Not every type of fishing involves rods and reels. Nantucket has an abundance of quahogs, hard shell clams that live in the shallow areas around the island.” Steve made a habit of this hobby from an early age. “It seemed that once or twice each summer I’d end up on a trip with Oscar Bunting, a commercial fisherman and distant relative.”

Oscar was a big, strong man, straight out of central casting for the role of a haggard old man of the sea. “He was a strong, strong guy with forearms that rivaled Popeye. He had a steely look in his eyes that told you he was a serious man but he softened that look with a frequent and wonderful deep laugh.” He and Steve would dig for quahogs with sharp-tined metal rakes, but Tuna’s catch could never rival Oscar’s. “I swear he could dig quahogs in a bathtub. What a great man he was!”

A new hobby can sometimes be as daunting as it is exciting. But on Nantucket, we’re lucky to have loads of friendly, helpful, and experienced anglers and some of the best tackle shops we’ve ever visited. “The folks working in the shops all fish avidly, so they do a great job getting new fishermen pointed in the right direction. My go-to lure with my customers is the Island- X Hellfire popper, made by the amazing Nick Whitbeck. Casts like a dream, attracts and catches a variety of fish. Plus, folks get to see the fish attack the lure on the surface—so exciting!”

If you ask nicely, Steve might even play you a song. He’s a man of many talents and wears many hats. Previously he was a police detective for the Nantucket Police Department. “I loved it,” Steve says, “it just seemed like stupid things happened in front of me, and I just did a really good job.” He’s written a novel tentatively titled Siren’s Song that we hope to see on bookshelves soon. “I would love to publish it. I looked into self-publishing,” he explained, “but then I went fishing.”

What’s more, he is an excellent singer and songwriter. His music is fantastic: a light, fun approach to blues. Yet he still remains humble: “To call me a musician is an insult to musicians. I’m a wannabee who has gold medal skills in self-promotion. I can put people in seats but truly need to be surrounded by real musicians to not look like the talentless hack that I really am!” Earlier this summer, he performed several times at Children’s Beach for the Sunday Concert Series and before that he was headed a local show at Faregrounds Restaurant dedicated to nurturing musicians.

Steve has a lot to be grateful for on his island home. “If I had 24 hours left, I think I’d grab my two dogs and go to Sanford Farm and do the long walk out there and back. There’s no place that’s more serene to me. A lot of times I’m playing my harmonica and working on a song.”

Because of all this, Steve is forever grateful for all his guides, teachers, and all the friends and fisherman, moments and memories that helped him find his path. “How do you repay all of those who helped you along the way? The only thing to do is to try to share what you’ve been taught or perhaps figured out. Pass it on to the next generation.”

“Remember that fishing is about so much more than hauling your catch up on the shore. It’s about the drive out to your best spot, talking with your fishing partner about whatever comes to mind. It’s about the moon and the tide. It’s about the phosphorescence in the water or the shooting stars that you often see. It’s the strategy you employ to pick the right lure. It’s about the big one that spit the hook in the wash. It’s the forming of a friendship that others would have a tough time understanding.” Life on Nantucket is a far better journey with Steve Tornovish on board.

Articles by Date from 2012