What a catch! There’s fun to be had on a charter fishing trip
Article from the Block Island Summer Times August Extra, 2003 by Pippa Jack
When I was a little kid, my uncle took me fishing for blue fish in the open sea outside the Great Salt Pond. I caught one, and it was great.
When Matt King was a little kid, his dad took him fishing for all kinds of fish in all kinds of waters around Rhode Island. He caught lots, and as anyone around the docks at Champlain’s Marina can tell you, he’s still catching them now.
These days its how he makes a living.
One sunny July day, I boarded King’s charter boat to see if I could catch another fish. I did, and it was great – some of the best of what Block Island has to offer. And in the process I was reminded that if, like King, you’ve found a job you really love, you get to be a kid every day.
Give a man a fish
The satisfactions of fishing need no introduction: the sea, the long vistas, the excuse to do nothing. Then, if you’re lucky, the fish; the excitement, the fight, and later on, of course, the feasting. Bragging rights are a given.
If, like me, you don’t have a clue what you’re doing with a rod and a reel, booking a charter fishing trip can give you a window into this salty world.
There are about 10 charter boats operating out of New and Old harbors. Some of the more established companies include Bill Gould’s G. Willie Makit, Mitch Chagnon on Sakarak, Steve Miller’s Storm Petrel, and Paul Caval’s Kahuna. For a list of who’s available and how many people they can accommodate, Chris Willi at Block Island Fishworks (466-5392) is a dependable source, or try Oceans and Ponds (466-5131).
What you fish for depends on the time of year and, to a large extent, what your interested in, Willi says. A family with small children might prefer to stick to the calmer confines of the Great Salt Pond and channel, where there’s bottom fishing for fluke, tautog and scup. All three are good eating. Inshore fishing – within a mile or two of the shore line – offers a chance at bluefish, bonito, false albacore and the glory fish for many here, the striped bass. Further out, serious sports anglers can go for tuna, shark and white marlin.
Fishing restrictions mean striped bass, rare a few years ago, have made a spectacular come back, and reports of 40-plus-pound fish have become almost routine.
What floats his boat
Determined to net ourselves one of these beauties, myself and a friend head to sea on the Hula Girl, in her first season this year. Willie recommends the boat, both for fishing and for the atmosphere on board: “They always come back happy,” he says of customers he sends the way of Captain Matt King. “It’s a fun trip.”
A native Rhode Islander, King is no stranger to the waters around Block Island; he’s been fishing here since he was 3. Twelve years ago the warm waters of the Pacific lured him to Hawaii, where he worked as a chef before a call from a friend brought him back north, to the kitchen of Eli’s on Chapel Street.
After two years, King was restless and toying with the idea of leaving the island and returning to Hawaii. But a conversation with charter captain Steve Miller made him wonder if it wasn’t so much that he was on the wrong island as that he should reconsider his career.
King decided to follow his heart and turn a lifelong hobby into a job. Hula Girl, a 22-foot Shamrock, is the result.
Captained by King and with Lindsay Kane, fresh from Hawaii, as first mate, the boat is a happy convergence of high-tech equipment, laid-back music, a water-obsessed dog and plenty of luck.
That’s right, luck. “I’d rather have luck than skill,” King says, as we motor to a favorite fishing spot, a hollow in the ocean floor where big stripers congregate. “You can do everything right, know everything you need to, and still sometimes the fish don’t bite. With a bit of luck, even if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to, you come home with a fish.”
Shooting fish in a barrel
Lately it seems, local anglers have had plenty of luck to go around. But fishing is never a sure thing.
King says one of the few stresses of his job is that he wants to make sure his customers experience the thrill of reeling in a fish. “There can be a lot of pressure to get the first one in the boat,” says King. “Once we get the first one, we can have fun.”
It’s fun out here anyway, the boat gently rocking as we troll offshore. We sunbathe and demand translations for the Hawaiian words the two occasionally use. The boat is stocked with beer and Gatorade (open the wrong cooler and you’ll get a shock; there’s bait on ice too) and for snacks – what else? – there are Goldfish crackers.
For the two man crew, however, there’s little doubt what Hula Girl is here for. They are all business, watching the instruments that show them the sea floor, scanning for diving birds and other signs of activity below. King is looking for the right depth and angle at which to present the bait. He knows the fish are down there, he’s had luck before with the worm-and-lure combo we’re using; he just needs to tempt them into taking a bite.
All eyes are on the tips of the two rods at the rear of the boat. There’s barely time to wonder if we’ll get lucky before a tip dips violently and wire starts stripping off the reel. Something has taken the bait.
Hanapa is Hawaiian for “On the hook!” Over the next couple of hours, that’s the theme, as we hook fish after fish, sometimes two at a time. They are stripers and blues; King knows which are which with a quick glance a t the rod as soon as they strike.
The pressure is off and the music is turned up. After hauling in a 20-pound bass, my arms feel shaky and I volunteer for the smaller bluefish – my favorite fish to eat, and still a spirited fighter. But it’s mostly stripers that keep hitting, five in all. King lets slip that Kane – an experienced Hawaiian captain who’s caught 14-foot marlin – has never caught a striped bass, so he reels in the last one, making it look like child’s play.
The big cooler quakes with flopping fish. It’s time to head home.
Hook, line and sinker
We didn’t catch a 40-pounder, but nonetheless, we have a surfeit of fish – too much for us to use, even though we’re planning a cookout for 18. King happily agrees to take the rest for the barbecues he regularly holds on the docks.
Heading back into the pond, shore anglers watch us. There’s something about their eyes, and those of the passengers on the Hi-speed ferry that’s cruising past: We all dive for the cooler: In a gesture that’s almost tribal, two of us display the largest fish, one in each hand, giggling to the claps and calls of onlookers. It’s fun to act like a kid.
“I love coming to work every day,” King says. “It’s a great day out on the water – catching fish is kind of like a bonus.”
Back at Champlain’s the pair gets ready for an afternoon trip, hosing blood and scales off the inside of the boat while the dog, Zazen, happily snaps at the spray.
Then, an unexpected treat; the Hula Girl, no stranger to a good time, carries soy sauce and wasabi on board. Kane slices up the choicest meat and we eat sashimi then and there on the docks, the best lunch I’ve had all summer.
Fish to fry
Colder that average water temperatures mean that the striped bass, which appear from early spring to late fall but get less plentiful if the water’s warm, appear likely to stick around in large numbers this summer.
Hula Girl will continue to go for stripers as long as they’re biting, King says, although he’s also looking forward to running offshore trips for tuna and other sportfish if there’s a demand.
King says his philosophy of fishing isn’t so different from that of his old job: “It takes a lot to get a customer to walk into a restaurant,” he said. “once we’ve got you, we might as well send you home happy.”
That he did, with a final gift: tips on how to cook the fish. With a little help from the former chef, we managed a barbecue that one guest – hey, I believe him – said was the best he’d ever tasted.
If your thinking about going out on a charter, King recommends setting aside half a day for the trip. Four hours on the Hula Charter, which can accommodate up to four for a fishing trip, costs $350. King can also take up to six for a shorter sightseeing cruise; he says sunsets are a good time to go. He can be reached at 263-3474 (COD-FISH).