STORIES FROM THE WHEELHOUSE OF
CAPTAIN JOHN BOGAN – f/v SHAMROCK
We here at FISHING UNITED.COM are very fortunate to have Captain John Bogan, well known as the owner/operator of three fishing vessels named SHAMROCK out of Point Pleasant Beach New Jersey, who has past along a number of stories he has written over the years.
Captain John and his father Captain Jack Bogan, have witnessed and have been a big part of the fishing industry off the New Jersey coast area since prior to World War II. His stories reflect that of a fishermen who grew up on the deck of his father’s boat and later eventually becoming the captain and owner of his own vessels, also named ‘Shamrock’.
I have had great enjoyment reading his personal stories and seeing the pictures he has sent me of a time when the for-hire fishing industry was in its hey-day.
After Captain John Bogan sold his last Lydia built Shamrock to Captain Russ Benn out of Rhode Island, he eventually semi-retired to the Sunshine state. He still enjoys hearing about the fishing reports coming out off of New Jersey and Long Island. I count myself very lucky to have been introduced to him by an old time fishing friend here in the Bay.
Captain Jack Bogan – fare/business card front of second boat
Back of fare/business care of second boat
“THE CORNFLAKE INCIDENT”
I had the pleasure of fishing with some truly great fishermen at the top of their
game. One such fellow went by the name of the ‘Deacon.’ His name was Joe Pearce.
Few called him Joe. It was always Joey.
My father and Joey’s dad, Norman, were both party boat captains and good
friends. I happened to run into Joey one day when I was walking to town. It was not one
of my finer moments, but in some weird way, it was the beginning of a great friendship.
Every kid likes chocolate and Joey had a whole box and offered me a couple of
pieces. It tasted great and it was on the second piece that a slight smile turned into
runaway laughter. All I could ask was, “What’s so funny?” He didn’t have to answer as
I pulled what appeared to be wings from my mouth. He had given me a chocolate
covered grasshopper. To this day I have no idea what the first piece contained. I vowed
to pay him back.
We both bounced around between commercial fishing and party boat fishing. At
a young age we each realized dealing with some of the people on our father’s boats was
not that easy. There were the drunks and a fair amount of customers who swore they
knew more than the captain and mates. On the commercial boats it was a lot less aggravation, more money, but not always. There were no guarantees you were going to haul back the net and have a huge pay day.
I worked on a skiff and we went out with gill nets. We caught bluefish, weakfish,
and at that time, a lot of striped bass. We caught more bluefish than anything and when
you are getting a measly quarter a pound, you need a net full to turn a buck. The
weakfish or trout garnered more money, but the striped bass returned the most. It was
hard work. Each fish had to be picked out of the net, gutted and put on ice.
Joey decided to get a skiff and said goodbye to the party boat fishing. The power
was a big gas guzzling Oldsmobile engine. Gas, diesel and everything else related, was
cheap compared to today.
The majority of gill net fishing was done in close proximity to the beach. There
were signs to look for to find fish. If you saw diving birds, it was a good bet that
something chased bait to the surface and the gulls and gannets were feeding on the
scraps. Often you would pass over an area that looked as if someone had dumped oil in
the water. There may have been no birds, but you could bet something had happened
there. You could run out a string of nets, think you made a perfect set and get zilch. If
you were close to the beach in shallow water a cherry bomb or an ash can would often
times drive the fish into the net.
For electronics there was not much. Most of the commercial gill netters had CB
radios; some had radar, and a depth recorder or a scope. Today everyone has a ton of
electronics and the scopes or fish finders are all in color.
The finest scope made back then was by Elac and it was a bubble machine.
It showed the depth of water and when you rode over fish they appeared as elongated
bubbles. Joey got so good with the scope he could tell what bluefish, weakfish and the
coveted striped bass looked like. He tried to explain it to me on several occasions, but all
I saw was a bunch of bubbles. He said, “The striper bubble is bigger and seems to burn longer.”
The prime time for the striped bass was usually in September and October. They
would migrate from up north and make their way south along the shoreline. Even back
then there were some sport fishermen that had drawn a line on the water and did not like
any commercial fishermen. They as a group had a strong dislike for gill netters. They
saw us as interlopers catching ‘their’ trophy bass.
One particular fall day Joey and I were off Island Beach State Park. This is an
area about 12 miles south of Manasquan Inlet on the central New Jersey coast. It often
was a hot spot for fishing as it was about halfway between Manasquan Inlet and Barnegat
Inlet and did not get as much fishing pressure. Each time Joey saw a bunch of birds or breaking fish, the sport boats got there first. It was aggravating as we were thinking
about the huge payday that seemed so close at hand. After an hour of boats cutting us
off, shouting obscenities, and making irritating nuisances out of themselves Joey said,
“Watch this.” He moved slowly away from the action and when about a quarter of a mile
from the fleet, he started dumping cornflakes over the side. When the fish took a slight
break, the gulls went in search of food. I never knew it, but sea gulls love cornflakes.
And soon every gull was hitting the water hard where we had just been. We now were
back in the fleet and soon black smoke flew out the exhaust of every boat when they
throttled up to be first to the bonanza of birds.
Joey told me to get the net ready as he had just seen the mother lode of fish on the
bottom. The nets flew off the stern and after two cherry bombs were lit and tossed
inshore of our set we waited. The sports returned from their wild fiasco and assumed the
fish had moved on. It looked like the Dead Sea. The birds, what few there were, were
sitting on the water or flying high above in hope of detecting any movement below them.
After grabbing the buoy attached to the end of our net I could feel the fish pulling.
I knew Joey had been right and we had the mother lode in our nets. All the sports could
do was watch. We became excellent actors when handling the larger fish. It was a great way to further antagonize any person that did not want us on their private ocean.
I may have painted a pretty picture, but even someone who was an expert in deciphering bubbles was not infallible. I’ll never forget two days. On one day we made
a perfect set on sea weed. The other beauty was jelly fish. Let me assure you, that
neither at that time were worth anything at the dock. And jelly fish have to be one of the
worst creatures to get in a net.