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This day, he and Hale finally reached the northern edge of Stellwagen, another Hodgkins landmark. In July of 1959 he was running at 10 knots when a 50-foot finback whale came up under his bow, lifting his 38-foot boat four feet in the air. He told a reporter, "It was the most harrowing experience of my life."
The LuAnn was not the first boat to arrive at Stellwagen; 75 others could be seen. It looked like the rowboat pond in Central Park on July 4, which was fitting, because at least 25 of the boats were from the New York area, up for the summer, owned by wealthy men. Among the old-time New England fishermen there had been occasional mild resentment of these visitors, of the crowded conditions they had helped to create. All the boats, both rod and reel and commercial handline, were chumming with cut fish, dangling their baits 20 to 150 feet down, waiting. But Hodgkins, who is color-blind, cannot see the blue and silver flashes of tuna in deep water very well. Anyway, he prefers to troll. So he sat on his flying bridge, looking backward, outside the crush of boats, waiting for a tuna to crash on one of four skipping strings of squid. And he listened to the radio constantly. Others were busy watching the sonar, marking an occasional tuna, deep beneath the boats. But nobody was catching anything, and the airwaves were full of comedians. "I'm mockin' plenty," said a Gloucester man, mimicking a New York accent.
"I'm maakin too," replied one of the New Yorkers in a Bostonian accent.
"Guess what?" came a voice from another boat.
"I just had a roast beef sandwich."
"How many fish you got on board?" someone asked.
"Three," came the reply. "The skipper, the mate and me."
Some commercial handliners were fishing as many as a dozen lines. The ocean was white in places with chunks of chum, and the chances of a fish hitting any one chunk, with a hook in it, were slim. But five tuna were caught on Stellwagen that day, each more than 800 pounds. They were brought to Gloucester and sold for $1 per pound. Fish of that size are so impressive that it was difficult for anyone, seeing them, to imagine the fishery was in trouble.
That evening Ellis Hodgkins' phone rang and the caller said, "Hey, I'm calling from the booth on T Wharf, about the tuna charters." Hodgkins stepped out onto the porch with the phone and said, "Well, here I am. Why don't you hang up and talk to me?" Then he told the caller about the 75 boats on Stellwagen, and the five fish. The caller said no thanks; Hodgkins knew that he would. He has been discouraging callers for 10 years. He wants his customers to have a much better chance than five in 75. He had eight paying customers this year. They had insisted on going out, but none of them caught a tuna, and there were no repeaters.