No retelling of the early years of camping in Acadia would be complete without mention of Captain Blanchard and his boat, “The Seal”. Captain Blanchard, like many “Mainards” in the tourist industry, spent summers in Maine, and his winters in Florida doing more or less the same thing he did in Maine, which was to take parties of tourists on fishing expeditions lasting several hours. During those early years, we were regular customers of his whenever we went to Maine. Need I say that outsmarting a poor lump of a fish is one of the great thrills of life? Sad to say, it is.
I had been introduced to fishing by my friend Howard Levenberg, who it seems, knew all about that stuff, much as he knew a lot about so many other things. During the skunking weekend on the New Jersey shore, he had shown me how to tie a hook to a line, how to cast, and even how to fish for crabs. I don’t think I ever went after crabs, but after that weekend I did fish whenever I had an opportunity and never went on vacation without my fishing gear. Even when back home and not on vacation, I went fishing for fluke or bluefish off the New Jersey shore, and after a while thought myself pretty good at it until that fateful day I went out fishing for blues with my friend, Debbie Taffet, fisherwoman supreme, although she looked just like a normal human being. Blues taste terrible, unless you like the taste of fish oil, but they fight, and are therefore fun to catch. Debbie was incredible. Fish just seemed to jump on her hook. Every time she lowered her line she caught another fish, while I stood next to her in sad and hopeful silence, and spent the day waiting for a nibble. That day, I didn’t catch a single fish. It was a truly humbling experience.
In Maine, however, in those early 70’s, the sea was still teeming with cod. Cod didn’t fight. They lived way deep, down at the bottom, and it took forever to lower the hook to where they lived. It also took an eternity to raise the hook to check on the bait every now and then, but fortunately that didn’t have to get done too often. When a cod was hooked, it felt somewhat like your hook had caught an abandoned car tire at the bottom, and dragging the heavy fish up took a long time.
Of course, there were also stretches when we didn’t catch a thing, or we caught inedible sea robins or sand sharks. Captain Blanchard broke their necks and threw them back into the ocean. The shrieking seagulls followed us wherever we went, and every now and then we’d be surrounded by breaching whales. The huge whales, as they encircled and followed our little boat for a while were an unexpected and thrilling spectacle.
Once ashore, on our rocky beach at Seawall, it was my job to clean, gut and fillet the fish. The children took the guts and fed them to the waiting gulls. Once cleaned and gutted, we ate cod in all its permutations for several days, and it was always delicious. We felt like we were living off the plenty of the sea, and it felt good.
Each summer we’d schedule a trip with Captain Blanchard, but each year the cod catch was smaller, until one year it was completely gone. The sea was dead, over-fished by trawlers and factory ships.