Christina is a harpoon boat, captained by Kevin Leonowert. Usually Kevin sticks to hunting the bluefin by harpoon in the warm months, but this year he reverts to his secondary technique — the rod and reel. Whether it’s luck or natural skill, Kevin reels in the season’s biggest fish — a 500 kilogram bluefin!
Kevin Leonowert, Captain
Leonowert is somewhat unusual among Gloucester’s (in north eastern US) professional fishermen in that he does rod-and-reel fishing and the more exacting, high-stakes method of harpooning. “My season for harpooning starts in early June, and goes to mid-July,” he explains. “During that time, we’re covering a lot of distance. We might be in the Gulf of Maine in the morning, and in the evening we’ll be off Cape Cod. It’s a lot of traveling, a lot of coping with different weather conditions. Sometimes we’re 170 kilometres offshore, no contact, on our own.” As Leonowert explains it, stalking bluefin and getting in position to spear them with a single deft shot is a painstaking, methodical process. He meticulously charts every spot where he’s harpooned bluefin, and starts each June in the exact same spot where he began 15 years ago, and then works through his list. Behind this, he explains, there is certain logic: Bluefin, which have remarkable navigational skills, are also creatures of habit that return to the same spots over and over as well. “We get a shot at them during the Canadian migration,” he explains. “And then, in the fall, we get another shot at them on the return, with rod and reel. But harpoon is my real love. With the hook, you catch a lot of little fish. With the harpoon, we drive up and look at them. It’s a visual type of fishing. We size them before we strike. We’re concentrating on certain times of day when they come up to the surface — we call that ‘showtime.’ We try to sneak up on them. Harpooning is highly technical. You either didn’t get close enough, or you threw too early, or you waited too long. Half of it is physical talent, and the other half is in your head. It’s like you’re in the batter’s box, except that you don’t get three strikes.” The appeal of that extreme challenge is what keeps him in the game.
Scott Prentiss, First Mate
Scott Prentiss grew up in Gloucester, Massachusetts. A licensed captain, he has been fishing in the waters around Cape Ann for most of his life. He has done a lot of different types of fishing over the years, including striped bass, cod and haddock, but once he started going after the giant bluefin, there was no turning back. What nonfishermen don’t understand about bluefin, Prentiss explains, is that “they’re not like any other fish. They’ve usually been swimming around for a long time and have been hooked before, maybe even multiple times. A bluefin’s odds of getting away are better than your odds of catching it.” But Prentiss doesn’t really expect the rest of humanity to understand what, essentially, is a secret world, one that’s open only to those with the right skills. “Until you catch a giant, you can’t really understand it. The thrill of the chase, how fast the fish swims, how it reacts to your moves. They pull the boat sideways! There’s a limit to how much I can explain to someone. To really know, you have to experience it.”
Gregory Chorebanian, Captain/Deck Boss
At first glance, Chorebanian may not seem like a typical member of the Gloucester fleet — he doesn’t drink, smoke or curse, but without a doubt he is one of the area’s premier fishermen. He has more than 30 years’ experience, is licensed to run 90.7 tonne vessels from the Canadian border all the way down to Florida, and even captains the Christina when owner Kevin Leonowert is not on board. Chorebanian caught his first bluefin tuna in 1979: “It was the biggest fish I’ve ever caught, a 480.8 kilogram monstah.” He goes on to explain how fishing was much different back then: “Instead of using a rod and reel to land the fish, we used up to 183 metres of line and our bare hands. It was much more dangerous, much easier to lose a finger, or worse get caught up in the line and be pulled under.”
He got his start in contract manufacturing, where the company he owned made specialty parts used in the construction of the Louvre, aerospace engineering and hip replacement pieces. But the small business wasn’t where his heart was. “My whole career, all I wanted to do was be a commercial fisherman, and I was fortunate enough to sell my business and have the finances to make my dream come true.” Now retired, he spends about 200 days a year on the water. In the summers he’s in New England fishing for bluefin, and in the winters he heads to the Florida Keys for swordfish, sailfish and blackfin tuna. Chorebanian has been married for 43 years, and spends his free time teaching his four grandchildren to fish.
Blair Denman, Deckhand
Denman, who has lived in the Gloucester area since childhood, has been a long time fisherman. He got his first taste of bluefin fishing when he worked for Bill Monte as a deckhand in the late 1980s. “It’s just totally addictive, an adrenalin rush,” he explains. But rather than become a full-time fisherman, Denman decided to build a business on land that paid the bills and still enabled him to satisfy his passion for fishing. In 1995, he founded Vision Acoustics, a Danvers, Massachusetts-based supplier and installer of high-end home theatre systems and automation technology for “smart” houses. He’s built the company to the point that during the fishing season, his employees can service customers while he gets out on the water. “I make enough money in fishing to justify doing it,” he explains. “But it’s really a labour of love.” He has his own smaller fishing boat, the Twin Lights II, on which he does rod-and-reel fishing for bluefin and bass. He combines that with working as a deckhand on the Christina for his friend, Captain-Owner Kevin Leonowert, an arrangement that he describes as more like a laid-back partnership than a hired-hand situation.