Natalie OBrien with striper
Nantucket Essays Nantucket History & People

Fishing with Dad

by Steve “Tuna” Tornovish

There are certainly some interesting sights to be seen on Nantucket beaches these days. Now hold on just a minute… I’m not commenting on the new law that allows everyone to run around topless. It’s still a bit chilly for that anyway, don’t you think? No, the interesting sight that I saw is good, G-rated and beautiful (um, not that the other won’t be, perhaps). Just let me explain before I dig this hole any deeper.

On a recent Saturday morning, I was packing up after a couple of hours of fishing for striped bass. The fish were being a bit stingy, but I had managed to catch and release one chubby little striper. As I looked up from doing the unglamorous dance that occurs when taking off one’s waders, I saw a man approaching. He was pushing a double jog stroller of sorts that was chock full of little guys. Not real common, but not wholly unexpected—the beach was near a well-traveled walking path. But here’s the unusual part—the stroller had a surf fishing rod attached to it.

The man parked his kid rig near my truck and said hello. He introduced himself as Jeremy while his two boys, about two and four years old respectively, scattered out of their transport vehicle. Jeremy was a big, affable guy with a gentle demeanor. I heard a familiar twang in his voice and asked where he was from. “Tennessee,” he replied. He said that he had married a Nantucket girl. Jeremy returned the question to me, and I told him that I’m local kid. We soon got talking about fishing. Jeremy was just getting into the world of surf fishing. His fishing rod was rigged with a Bomber minnow lure sporting the multi-colored “wonder bread” pattern. I told him that the lure was a fine choice for the conditions that day. I wished him good luck. Jeremy waved and went following after his two sons as they tumbled onto the beach. I made my way home for breakfast, smiling at the joy that this young father and his kids were sharing.

There’s a special bond that dads and kids form when they go fishing together. Seeing Jeremy with his boys instantly took me back more than fifty years, back to 40th Pole with my dad and my brother Billy. Billy and I shared a fishing rod as we learned to cast. We chased bluefish throughout the summer months. We tested the limits of our dad’s patience with tangled line and broken gear. My brother and I would wade out, tossing Hopkins metal lures or Stan Gibbs wooden Polaris poppers that we had bought at Bill Fisher’s Tackle Shop (located on New Lane back then). I’m sure that we snapped off lures in equal numbers to the fish we caught. Our father taught us to watch for signs that the blues were around: slick spots on the ocean’s surface, birds diving after bait, or the sweet smell of watermelon that would drift across the water when the bluefish were feeding heavily. My brother and I would pile bluefish up on the beach, certain that we needed to keep every fish that we caught. Our father would dutifully fillet our catch when we got home. Those were some of my favorite memories of growing up on Nantucket.

I did my best to perpetuate the joy of beach fishing with my two daughters. Both girls enjoyed it, although I think that they liked going squidding more than surfcasting. I asked them recently for their fishing memories. Anna, my younger daughter, fondly recalled driving out to 40th Pole in my old red Explorer Sport Trac and catching bluefish. KD, the older one, had some not so fond recollections of fishing such as, “…throwing up on Uncle Jon’s boat and then that time the crawfish bit me in Florida…” Well, you do what you can, right?

Tyler O’Brien is at Great Point just about every weekend of the fishing season. Tyler’s daughter Natalie, now 15, has been Tyler’s co-pilot for those trips since she was three years old. These days, Natalie is a fishing machine, tearing up the Nantucket Angler’s Club junior contests. She recently received an award for catching the heaviest beach fishing bluefish in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 2022 with an 8.97 pound beast. I tracked the two down at Maxcy’s Pond where they were, of course, fishing.

“I remember the look of amazement on her face when she caught her first fish. It was a scup. We were on the Town Pier.” Tyler said that the little scup was a catalyst: Natalie was off and running from the moment of that first catch.

photo by Steve Tornovish
photo by Steve Tornovish

Natalie recalled her excitement when she hauled in a big white perch at Second Bridge. “I was five or six years old. I loved it. My dad taught me everything about fishing, honestly. The most important thing he said was for me to learn to be patient.” Natalie never stopped fishing as we spoke. She certainly has all the skills, pulling in five fish in quick succession. Four of the five were catfish, causing Tyler to start calling his daughter “Cat-alie,” much to his daughter’s chagrin.

“I love the competition. I hope to one day be as good as Tammy King. I really want to fish against her—and win!” Natalie said, smiling confidently. Natalie looks to Tammy as a great role model, someone who is widely acknowledged as one of the smartest, toughest and best fishermen on Nantucket (yeah, my hand is raised for this motion too). Tammy, you better be ready for this young lady!

I asked Natalie what she does that irritates her father. “Catching more fish than him, of course!” she laughed.

Tyler simply beamed. “If she’s catching more fish than me, then I’ve done something right.” Tyler, my friend, I could not agree more.

It’s now Sunday morning. I look at the clock and know that if I get moving, I can sneak in a quick hour of striper fishing down the street before church. I park my truck beside a familiar looking double jog stroller. Wow, Jeremy and the boys are here two days in a row! I gather my gear, put on my waders and head over the bank to the beach, but something makes me stop. I see Jeremy and his two boys as they play at the water’s edge. I watch as Jeremy casts his lure and lets the older boy reel the plug in through the crashing waves. Then he stops and helps his younger boy dig a hole for a sand castle. Then another cast, one where Jeremy actually gets to reel it in himself. And then back with the boys. As I watched, I realized that those two boys are the luckiest kids in the world.

Fishing is about so much more than trying to catch a fish.

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