by Steve “Tuna” Tornovish
You’ve waited all winter, dreaming of getting back out there for the new season. You’ve relived moments from the past season, moments of success, of failure, dreaming endlessly of what could have been. But that was then, this is now. It’s time for the 2023 fishing season to get going.
Much as the Red Sox don’t just show up at Fenway Park and start playing baseball, the fishing crowd eases back into the swing of things with some spring training of our own. And on Nantucket, that means pulling out the lighter tackle and heading to the island ponds.
So here it is, a typical Nantucket spring day: the temperature is in the low 40s, the wind is blowing about 20 knots and the chill goes right through to your bones. Now I’m not proud—I freely admit that these are the kinds of conditions that make me shake my head no and want to stay inside, wrapped in a blanket. But the itch to fish proves to be too strong, and I don’t think I can stand to watch another YouTube fishing video. So out to the garage I go, fetching my gear. Insulated neoprene waders, wool socks—check. T-shirt, long underwear shirt, sweatshirt, neoprene hooded jacket—check. Knit hat, sunglasses? Good to go. Fishing gloves. Fishing gloves? Can’t find them. So, as my sweet sister Lynell reminds me from time to time, if you’re going to be dumb, you have to be tough. No gloves means cold hands.
Doesn’t matter—it’s Go Time.
I’m braving the cold and heading out for some spring training at Miacomet Pond. Whenever I fish there, it’s as if I’ve fallen into a time machine and traveled back to the mid-1970s when every Saturday was spent with all the neighborhood kids, fishing until suppertime. We would spread out on the eastern bank of the pond and cast for hours: Red Devils, Mepps spinners, or the old reliable worms and bobbers, fishing for yellow and white perch, pumpkinseed sunfish, and pickerel, the big beasts of the pond. These fishing trips were a constant on our calendars from the moment that basketball season ended at the Boys and Girls Club, until school got out in late June.
Our mid 1970s Nantucket Saturday morning schedule generally went like this: cartoons and cereal, followed by The Three Stooges on TV-38 and then some professional wrestling on Channel 56. Once we’d spent an hour with the likes of Andre the Giant, Chief Jay Strongbow and the evil tag team champions Professor Tanaka and Mr. Fugi, it was off to the ponds. A quick list of the regular crew includes the Moore brothers, Norman and Greg, Jay Anderson, Colin Keenan, Chip Clunie, Michael Bridges, Bert Ryder, Scooter Herrick and the Duce brothers, Chuck and Ron. My brother Billy and I would meet up with the crew and off we would march, armed with whatever gear we could muster. Someone generally had a battery powered radio and we would listen to the Red Sox game as we fished.
So much has changed in the fifty years since the Hooper Farm Road platoon patrolled the ponds but some things still remain. On the change side of the fence, there’s a couple of new species of fish that have been introduced to the island ponds. Crappie, a very popular panfish, have thrived in the Nantucket freshwater since their introduction here some 35 years ago. Catfish have also been introduced and are doing their catfish thing in the ponds as well. And in the no change department, some of our original crew are still out at the ponds, fishing hard some 50 years later.
Chuck Duce still loves to fish. Same with my brother, Bill. They’re both members of a fairly elite club of Nantucket folks who catch at least one Nantucket fish per month, every month. These are some hard-core guys (and ladies—I’m looking at you, Tammy King!) who fish year round. Chuck won the April Freshwater Open last year, beating Brother Bill and Homer Ray IV by a slim margin to win the first fishing tournament of the year.
And let’s just talk about the April Freshwater Open tournament for a moment: This tournament, now in its fifth year, is sponsored by the Nantucket Tackle Center with support from the Nantucket Anglers Club. The tournament is a catch-and-release tournament, and it is very much designed to get kids outthere fishing. Kids under the age of 16 fish for free and compete for some cool prizes. This tournament is a lot of fun.
The next tournament is the Spring Sea Run Opener, and it has an unmistakable sense of fun built into it. The Opener, originated and managed by Rafael Osona, has prizes for all kinds of crazy categories: First sea-run striper (must have sea lice on the fish, not a holdover striper from one of our ponds), first keeper striper (in excess of 28 inches), first bluefish and, of course, the smallest striper. You have to love a tournament that doesn’t take itself too seriously! The tournament runs from the catching of the first sea run striped bass to the end of May. The awards ceremony, generally held in the parking lot of one of our favorite fishing beaches, is a fun time for all involved. It’s more of a raffle than an awards ceremony, with just about all participants leaving the event with a prize of some sort. A three-person team event was included in last year’s contest. Rafael does a great job of bringing our little fishing community together. The money raised from entry fees and t-shirt sales is awarded to the winner in a novel way: the winner gets to choose which local charity will receive the proceeds as a donation. The Spring Sea Run Opener is a winner all the way around.
I hope that everyone will put away the worries of this broken world and head out to the local ponds or surf and take a few casts this year. Better yet, take a kid fishing—show them that there’s so much more to life than a video game. And as for my spring training adventure on that blustery day, I caught a pretty nice pickerel (promptly released after a quick photo op) and had really cold hands. I can’t wait to go again!
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