Fighting the Battle
Nantucket Essays

Fighting the Battle

by Steve “Tuna” Tornovish

Take a look at the young lady in blue pictured holding the striped bass. I saved this picture in my favorites album because I truly believe it’s the best photo I’ve ever taken. Everything about it is perfect: blue bucket hat, blue tie dyed shirt, blue sky in the background, and the windswept beach of Coatue arcing behind her. Her bemused expression—is she really happy that she caught this fish? Is she trying to find her place in this family or maybe even this world? There’s so much going on here! Even though I’m mad at myself still for not remembering this young lady’s name, I consider her picture to be on par with the Mona Lisa.

Fighting the Battle
photo by Steve Tornovish

She was part of a wonderful family whom I took fishing a couple of years ago. They were a blast. Although I may not recall this young lady’s name, I remember everything about her catching that beautiful little striped bass. She was rather short in stature, so I had set her up with an 8-foot long St. Croix Inshore fishing rod, pale green in color, with a Shimano Stradic 4000 reel. I attached an Island X Hellfire 120 fishing lure to this rig. That lure, the smallest of the Hellfire series, can’t be fished wrong. It splashes and pops like its bigger brothers, the 180 or 200 series. But it seems that when my younger or shorter guests fish it, the 120 becomes a tantalizing swimming bait that zig-zags its way back to shore. Stripers can’t resist it, even on a bluebird August afternoon

I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world most days. I get hired to take people out and show them how Nantucket beach fishing works. I see families at their absolute best: relaxed and happy together, their real-world worries left back wherever they came from. I get to glean little insights about who they are during our three or four hours together, something that appeals to the retired detective in me. Some days I see someone overcome a fear or limitation that may have haunted them. Sharing in such a triumph, every tiny victory, is one of the greatest parts of my gig as a beach fishing guide.

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” This quote is often attributed to Robin Williams, the phenomenally talented actor and comedian who left the stage far too soon. There’s a lot of debate about if the former Mork from Ork truly said this or not. There is no doubt, however, about the truth contained in that quote. The older I get, the better I understand this.

Fishing is therapy for me, plain and simple. I know, some of you out there are thinking that maybe I should fish more. And I agree with you! Fishing brings a spiritual joy, connecting the fisher with so much more than a rod, reel, and lure. There’s no better place to clear your mind than standing with the surf splashing over your feet, washing away the worries of the day. Just relax and let the steady sound of the waves replace the endless cacophony of this world and you’ll feel better in no time!

Fishing is the ultimate metaphor. Jesus used it, telling his two soon-to-be disciples, brothers Simon (Peter) and Andrew, to follow Him and He would make them fishers of men. Jesus was also solid with fishing tips, such as, Hey guys – don’t give up yet. Toss those nets on the opposite side of the boat and let’s see what happens. Now some would see that as a test of faith, but I look at it as Jesus loving to see us put fish on the beach. We win both ways, right? Yes, indeed we do.

On a much lesser scale, Ernest Hemingway knew a thing or two about fishing as well. His book, Hemingway on Fishing is an absolute classic. But his masterpiece was The Old Man and the Sea. This one paragraph from that amazing work is everything:

“Then he began to pity the great fish that he had hooked. He is wonderful and strange and who knows how old he is, he thought. Never have I had such a strong fish nor one who acted so strangely. Perhaps he is too wise to jump. He could ruin me by jumping or by a wild rush. But perhaps he has been hooked many times before and he knows that this is how he should make his fight. He cannot know it is only one man against him, nor that it is an old man. But what a great fish he is and what will he bring in the market if the flesh is good. He took the bait like a male and he pulls like a male and his fight has no panic in it. I wonder if he has plans or if he is just as desperate as I am?” (Ernest Hemingway)

Wow. There’s so very much to unpack in that one amazing paragraph. Is the fish just as desperate as I am—I will ponder this when I’m hanging on to a big striped bass on a dark night this fall during the Inshore Classic tournament!

I received a phone call a couple of weeks ago that made me cry. Tammy King was asked by the crew present at the awards ceremony for the Spring Sea Run Opener fishing tournament to find out what local charity has provided help for my wife, Beth, as she fights cancer once again. The answer was simple: The Marla Ceely Lamb fund, administered by the fantastic PASCON organization. Here’s what tournament organizer Rafael Osona subsequently posted on the Spring Sea Run Opener Facebook page:

“The Spring Sea Run Opener is a lot of things, but more than anything it is a community…a family event. It’s all those in the island’s inner circle of fishing coming together to celebrate the start of the salt water season. This event only works because of the generosity of its community members through sponsorship and participation, and when one of our own is in need we answer the call. Stephen Toffey was officially selected to pick the local not for profit organization to receive the monies raised during the tournament but after a quick group consensus the choice was made. We will be sending $3,000 to PASCON @pasconack— we are all here for you, healing vibes and tight lines.”

I love our fishing community here on Nantucket. This group is absolutely amazing. We help each other out on the beach, far beyond the basic, “Hey, where are the fish” questions. We care about each other and we look out for each other. We compete hard in the various tournaments but in the end this is a very solid group. And the cool thing? We’re always accepting new members.

So to you, the mysterious Mona Lisa in blue, I say please feel free to join us on the beaches of Nantucket. You’re awesome in your mystery and your fish-catching abilities, and we’d welcome you. And to all my readers…remember: everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.

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