by Steve “Tuna” Tornovish
It’s been almost a month since the awesome August Blues tournament ended, and my butt is still sore from getting beat out on the Gator Blue prize for the biggest bluefish. A fine young fisher named Gray Malitsky knocked me to the canvas and stood over me like a young Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali) did to Sonny Liston, beating me with his 36.5 inch monster blue. In the weeks since my humiliating, soulcrushing, “…to the death! No, to the pain” style defeat, I have learned some things about Gray, this mysterious young champion. And what I’ve learned is far too great to not share with you all, so here goes.
For background purposes, let me say this: the coolest part of my gig as a beach fishing guide is getting to meet youngsters who seem to share a fishing gene where fishing is all-consuming, a passion evolved from a human survival skill. For example, I fished with eight-year-old Declan yesterday. His dad Joe told me that Declan is either fishing or watching YouTube videos about fishing—a complete obsession. And it showed. Some of my buddies stopped on the beach and watched as little Declan was casting a surf rod. One guy quipped “That kid casts better than some of the guys in this truck!” It’s his total focus. And when I did a deep dig into my nemesis Gray, I learned that he is of that same nature. Gray Malitsky is my kind of fisherman. He wants to catch a fish like he wants his next breath of air. It’s what he was born to do.
“I remember when Gray was three-years-old. We’d go to Walden Pond, very near where we live. One day, Gray had a string with a shiny washer tied to the end of it. He dangled it in the water and loved watching the fish that were attracted to the washer!” Gray’s mom, Karen Turk told me, “When Gray was eight, he made a fishing rod out of a stick, a string, and a Lego hook. I remember him wanting so badly to catch a fish at Sanford Farm (North Head of the Hummock Pond) with it. He was furious when I told him it wasn’t going to work. That day, I ended up taking him to Bill Fisher’s Tackle Shop and got him a Diawa pond rod and reel setup. Our first trip to Miacomet pond was an insta-mess of tangled line and frustrated tears. Then, we went down to the Town Pier. We used little pieces of sliced ham for bait. Gray caught a load of snapper bluefish and that was it—he was off and running!”
Gray, now an 18-year-old high school senior, fondly reminisced about that day fishing with his mom on the docks when I spoke with him. He told me that one of the best parts of his summer job at Tidal Creeks Tackle was helping kids get set up. Gray coached them on those same docks to catch their first fish. “I loved getting those kids going!”
Karen told me that she began looking around for a way to help Gray and his older brother Elias to get more fishing experience. She found a week-long fishing camp in Marblehead MA and signed her sons up for it. The boys learned a lot about the fundamentals of fishing: casting, reading the water and tying a variety of useful fishing knots.
Albie fishing changed everything for Karen and her sons. I asked her how she became interested in fishing. Karen told me that she booked a boat fishing charter trip off of Point Judith in 2014 that she described as “…an absolutely EPIC albie day!” Thirteen-year-old Elias and nine-year-old Gray each caught 15 false albacore on that trip. And, equally important to our story, they talked their mom into giving it a try. She caught her first albie and said, “I get it! I’m in!” Karen joined her sons in their fishing obsession.
Gray loves to hit the beach early and often. “My mom got me a surf rod one summer, and I casted every single day. I had a Deadly Dick lure and a metal leader on it. I only caught one bluefish that whole summer. The next year I only caught one bluefish again. Peter Van Dingstee told me about catching albies (false albacore) from the beach. He said ‘lose that metal leader!” Gray did so. And soon he started catching albies from the beach. “I got into them!”
Karen and Gray soon became a well-recognized team on Nantucket beaches. I asked Gray what it’s like having his mom as his fishing partner. He said, “We’re on the same page in terms of fishing. If the conditions are good, there’s never a question. We’re going!”
Karen loves fishing with her sons. “It’s become a passion. This is what Gray and I do together. We get up early and make that drive out to Great Point.” Karen and the boys also fly fish together, and particularly enjoy sight fishing (presenting a fly to a fish that is spotted in the water—a difficult skill to master). “I’m so lucky to have kids that share an obsession. Fishing is the thing that I get to do with them, and I’ve learned so much from Gray. I can tie my own knots now!”
Karen is a serious fisher all on her own. Even with Gray off-island and attending Middlesex High School in Concord, MA, Karen is still fishing Great Point. And catching! I spoke with Lois Boland and Brian Majczak one Wednesday morning after Labor Day. They both told me that Karen had put on an absolute catching show earlier that morning, beaching four bonito and five false albacore—an amazing day by any standards. Brian told me, “Karen is all business when she hooks a fish. She sets the hook so harder than (our mutual friend and fine fisher) Dave Small!” Yikes! Dave has been known to break a fishing rod or two setting a hook, so that’s a serious statement!
Karen laughed when told about Brian’s observation. “I missed an albie one day a few weeks ago and Gray told me that I need to ‘reel ‘till you feel’. So I do.” I asked Gray about his mom’s fishing skills. He told me, “My mom casts well, fights the fish well, she’s not going to stop, very determined. Always casts with confidence. She’s fast, too. When the albies are coming, she’s ready. She knows when to buckle down and get a fish past the seal. And she knows the spots. She’s logged in her time out there!”
And now for the painful part of our story… I asked Gray about his tournament winning catch. He told me that he had driven out to Great Point in the middle of a crazy rainstorm. “August Blues was my first real tournament. I told myself that the weather was not going to get any better that day, but I’m going out. I put on a raincoat and a bathing suit. The fishing began slowly, but then the albies started going crazy. Then I caught some tiny blues and that big one came out of nowhere —I thought it was another albie!” And that was that: Stevie Tuna was knocked to the canvas. Ouch!
Along with being a tournament-winning fisher, Gray has also become very accomplished at tying fishing flies. “I caught a real nice striper on the fly, and that was all I could think about. So when Covid came, I just tied and tied flies. I tied a lot of crab flies. The ones with the yarn body take a lot of time!”
I love getting to know people like Gray and Karen. The fishing community is amazing on Nantucket. It’s wonderful to see the bond that mother and son share through fishing together. “Gray is quiet but really dialed in. I love being with my 18-year-old son! There’s something about being outside with your kids in the world. It’s not about your phone—it’s just about being in the world outside without the distractions.” Amen, Karen. Enjoy every trip, and, of course, reel ‘till you feel!
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