Offshore: Bigger and More

The Nor’easter leaves the dock in Kennebunkport. Photo courtesy Shelley Fleming-Wigglesworth

By Shelley Fleming-Wigglesworth
For Points East

It’s 7 a.m., the sun is coming out from behind the clouds, and the sea is calm. Ten people of all ages, and from all walks of life, are gathered at the dock at Performance Marine, in Kennebunk’s Lower Village. They are waiting to board the f/v Nor’easter for a day of deep-sea fishing for cod, haddock, pollack, hake, cusk and more off the coast of Maine.

The passengers are in the good hands of Capt. Michael J. Perkins, who, with over 40 years of seagoing experience, is a multi-generational fisherman from the Perkins fishing family from Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine.

The Perkins family has been fishing New England waters for more than two centuries. Capt. Perkins’s mate, Mike Harlow, is a veteran fisherman, and a former marine biology teacher, who has worked on and off with Perkins for the better part of two decades. The two men greet passengers and we settle down in the roomy and clean 42-foot Bruno & Stillman fishboat that was completely retrofitted in 2006. The vessel meets or exceeds all relevant U.S. Coast Guard safety standards and specifications. She is comfortable and seaworthy.

We were soon bound for Jeffreys Ledge, at the southwestern corner of the Gulf of Maine, a roughly two-hour trip to the ultra-productive fishing grounds there. “I’ve been doing charters on this boat for 11 years, on my other boat for 19,” Perkins mused as we chalked up the miles.

Guests on the Nor’easter are provided with everything they need for a hassle-free day of fishing. Rods, reels and all gear, including handmade jigs, are available. A bathroom – or more correctly – head, is aboard, of course, and there’s plenty of seating for up to 24 passengers. “All you need to do is show up with a lunch and drinks and be ready to fish: We’ll take care of the rest,” Perkins said.

Before 10 a.m we’ve reached our destination, where we’re looking at depths of 200-300 feet. Perkins and Harlow began instructing the anglers about how to drop lines to fish with the handmade jigs, which the captain made himself. No bait is used at all, which comes as a surprise to some of the guests. “Bait will attract more dogfish (small sharks), and those fish are a pain,” Perkins explained. “The jigs alone work great.” And he was right.

Once the lines were in the water, the fish immediately began biting. “This is unreal,” said Guillaume Jacob of Montreal. “I wasn’t sure we we’d catch anything all day, and I’ve already caught three.” Mate Harlow took a sizable pollack of the hook for him, measured it and tossed it in the cooler. Jacob dropped his line again and, within minutes, was hooked up with another fish.

Adam Fleming and his then 12-year-old son Caleb, of nearby Biddeford, Maine, chose the bow of the boat for their fishing spot, and they, too, were pleased as they brought up several keeper pollack and their limit of cod [legal in 2017]. “This is our first deep-sea fishing trip,” Adam said, “and we’re having an awesome time. There’s nothing like it – being out here in the open water is great.”

At about midday, after a few hours of steady fishing, a large shadowy presence could be seen wending its way ominously to the surface. It was a blue shark intent upon snatching the fish being reeled in. Harlow estimated the shark at about 10 feet in length “Get the lines out of the water,” Perkins hollered, and we all did in a hurry.

A heavy chain with a large baited hook was then dropped in range of the beast in hopes of hooking it so it could be hauled up closer for the passengers to see it out of the water. Much to the delight of those onboard, the shark bit, and excitement peaked. A few of the passengers experienced the sheer weight of the creature by helping the captain haul it up for photos.

“Wow, that is one powerful creature,” said Justin Hicks, of Billerica, Mass.

“That shark was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” Caleb Fleming excitedly added.

After the shark excitement was over, normal fishing resumed. During the four-hour fishing period, the coolers had become packed full of fish; everyone aboard had landed keeper-size fish. At around 2 p.m., Perkins announced, “We’re about out of time; let’s bring the lines in.”

As we steamed back to Kennebunkport, Harlow filleted the fish and packaged the catches in large Ziplock bags for customers to take home to eat that evening or to freeze for later. On the way in, Caroline Des Rosiers, also of Montreal, said, “Fishing was more fun than I ever expected. I can’t wait to show my dad the pictures of all the fish.”

Des Rosier’s sister, Marie-Pascale Des Rosiers, agreed, saying, “We loved it, and our dad will definitely be so jealous.”

“It was a beautiful day, the weather was great, and there were plenty of fish to catch,” added Richard Cataldo, of Nashua, N.H. “It was a great experience.”

“Fishing on the Nor’easter with both Mikes was amazing,” angler Rich Jankauskas enthused. “They worked hard to make sure we all had a good time and had plenty of fish on the ends of our lines.”

“This was my first time deep-sea fishing, but I will definitely be back on this boat to fish,” one sport bubbled. “Everyone should give it a try. There’s nothing like eating fresh fish you’ve caught yourself. An experience like this could change your life.”

Shelley Fleming-Wigglesworth is a freelance journalist from Maine specializing in at-sea stories and maritime and commercial-fishing news.