Just Like Old Times
Nantucket History & People

Just Like Old Times

by Steve “Tuna” Tornovish

Mid April on Nantucket will fluctuate from a spectacular sunny t-shirt only day to one that requires a hooded neoprene jacket just to get to the mailbox. The wind howls, the boats are cancelled, and the rain pounds down in a sideways manner, just to remind you to stay inside. Which is what reasonable Nantucket people will do, of course. But fishermen are not necessarily reasonable people. And this is how I found myself standing in waders in the North Head of the Hummock, hands numb, eyes watering, trying to cast an ultralight pond rig into a 30 knot wind.

My brother Billy was in the same predicament, standing about 20 feet away from me. Billy, recently retired, has taken to fishing to fill up the portions of his day that aren’t involved with chasing his grandson Edward around the house. Billy’s commitment to fishing is impressive, and he has the hardware to back it up. His 2023 run was quite impressive. Bill was a member of Team Bucktail, the three-man squad that won the Spring Sea Run Open tournament in 2023. Billy then won the inaugural August Blues tournament, beating his beloved older brother (yours truly) by a couple of points. He concluded his 2023 beach fishing tournaments with a Top 10 finish in the Inshore Classic, a five week-long event.

I was grateful when Billy asked me to partner with him for this year’s April Freshwater Tournament. This event is sponsored by the Nantucket Angler’s Club and Nantucket Tackle Center. Now in its sixth year, this tournament inspires hibernating anglers to leave our warm, comfortable caves and take to the island’s ponds. This is a multi-species catch-and-release tournament. Anglers measure their best catch of six species: pickerel, white perch, yellow perch, crappie, sunfish and holdover striped bass. The fish are measured, photographed and released. This tournament is fun and surprisingly competitive, often being decided on the last day of April.

Tournaments like this don’t happen without someone stepping up to take on the duties of looking at big batches of fish pictures posed with measuring tapes and transcribing the results. The man behind the curtain for this event is Tim Coggins, the affable and steady manager of Nantucket Tackle Center. Tim tells me that Monday mornings in April are the toughest as he sorts through the onslaught of weekend catch submissions. In true old-school fashion, Tim updates the tournament leaderboard on a whiteboard leaned against the door of Nantucket Tackle. Tim joins Rafael Osona (Spring Sea Run Opener), Dr. Greg Chotkowski (August Blues), and Jeffrey Heyer (Nantucket Inshore Classic) in the club of folks who do the hard work to make Nantucket fishing tournaments go smoothly. Thanks to you all!

Just Like Old Times
photo by Steve Tornovish

Our friend Chuck Duce had joined Brother Bill and me on the blustery day in the North Head of the Hummock. It made me smile to think that Chuck, Billy, and I have been fishing buddies for about 50 years now. Chuck was part of our Hooper Farm Road neighborhood crew who would gather on Saturday mornings (after cartoons, cereal, and professional wrestling on channels 38 and 56, of course) and hike about a half mile to Miacomet Pond. We spent some of the best days of our childhoods tossing worms and bobbers, Red Devil spoons and Roostertail spinners at the perch and pickerel, listening to Red Sox games on transistor radios. Those were days that the three of us remember fondly.

Chuck is a mason by trade and his hands are solid evidence of his years in the concrete business. He’s a quiet man but one who says what he means. Chuck told me “The people that I see when I’m walking my dog in the woods, when I’m standing in a pond or walking the beach at night looking for stripers—those are the ones I want to be around.” We talked about the changes on the island. We discussed what might be the straw that would make us leave (hint: the day that we can’t access our favorite beach fishing spots will be the day that some realtor’s phone will be ringing). And, of course, we talked about old times.

“I still have Jimmy Haley’s fishing rod in my basement. He left it at my house the last day that we had gone to Miacomet together.” Jimmy left the island to attend college and didn’t return to Nantucket. Jim, if you’re reading this, Chuck, Billy, and I are ready for you to visit and hit the ponds again!

Chuck had the formula for catching big crappie that day. These beautiful fish, a freshwater staple across the country, were not around when we were kids. Some unconfirmed research told me that a man named David Goodman, an avid pond and surf fisherman, got together with another guy (who may or may not have owned a local tackle shop) and decided to stock some of these aggressive panfish into the local freshwater ponds. David passed on some years back, but if he was truly responsible for bringing crappie to Nantucket, I tip my fishing cap to him (as well as to his alleged unnamed co-conspirator). Crappie are a blast to catch. They’ve made for a quantum improvement in the local freshwater fishing.

My homecoming week of pond fishing was not quite over. Mike Ramos, the master plumber who I spend a lot of time with during the spring and fall seasons, had the itch to get out and fish. He compiled his waders and pond rods, and the two of us headed to Maxy’s Pond after a long day of turning on water for millionaires (and the odd billionaire, I suppose). Mike and I go way back. We were schoolmates from our days in kindergarten at the Coffin School. We were in Boy Scouts together, until an overzealous scoutmaster threatened to make us go on a five-mile punishment hike—Mike and I had opted to hike a mile or so back home instead, and that was the end of that.

Joining us for this after-work adventure was our longtime friend Norman Moore. The three of us were teammates on a fairly mediocre Nantucket Whalers football team in 1979. Norman was a team captain and wild man middle linebacker. Mike was a guard, fast and strong like a guard must be. I was mostly an undersized benchwarmer. And here we were, all these years later, standing in a pond together on a cold April afternoon.

Just Like Old Times
Norman Moore photo by Steve Tornovish

The talk on our fishing trips these days is centered on more age-appropriate topics, I suppose: upcoming medical appointments, things our kids are doing that we’re proud of, and, of course, the many good times that we have shared over the years. Yeah, a couple of fish were caught. Norman’s Red Devil enticed a fairly good sized pickerel. Mike’s Roostertail spinner yielded a smaller one that escaped a photo op by jumping free at the last minute.

But the afternoon was not really about fishing. No, not at all. It was about the deep bonds that we have forged over all these years. It was about the encouragement and support that we give to each other when the other guy is in troubled waters. It was about the laughs shared as we look back at so many years of cars and girls and football games from our past. Ultimately, it was about hope. Hope that we can continue to get together in good health as we navigate our sixties. Hope that most of our challenges and heartbreaks are in the rearview mirror. Hope that the island of Nantucket can cling to some semblance of community as the pace gets faster and the money gets bigger. And hope that new generations will have impromptu reunions like this and, perhaps, catch a few 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: stevetuna.com

Articles by Date from 2012