I can remember the time and place like it was just yesterday. It was February 1995 following my first charter season of 94. I was working 3rd shift as a computer machinist and being a charter captain was only a seasonal way to pick up some extra gas money for Tuna Fishing. My first charter season I could almost count on my fingers how many charters I ran. Now I run that many in a week.
I had just woke up around 11:00AM after a 3 hour nap. The phone rang. The guy on the other end with a light, but pronounced New York accent said “My name is Pete Luca and I want to book 6 half-day charters for the 3rd week of June”. I almost dropped the phone. He didn’t ask me any questions about what I do or how I do it. Not only did I not expect someone to call and book six charters with me “the rookie” with only one year as a captain under my fighting belt, but there was 2 feet of snow on the ground and not even I was thinking about fishing.
It was during that summer when I met Pete, that I met a person that would not only become a great customer, but more importantly a great friend. Pete was very rare breed of a “mans man” as tough as nails, but yet could be the nicest guy you could ever meet. Even at 70+ years old he was built like a bull. When Pete started each years fishing trips, he would come down to the boat give me a firm handshake and say “how you doing” like every other customer that comes aboard. He would then get all his gear onboard including his own fishing rod, help his guests get onboard and we would push off the dock. Once everyone else had sat down then he would come back and say to me AGAIN. “How you doing”? But, it was just different. You could tell he truly cared how people were.
After that first year Pete started booking more and more trips. He did some full and some half day trips, he did night trips, he did split trips where we would go 4 hours in the morning and then four hours in the evening. We fished the ocean 5-6 miles out for Striped Bass on unknown ledges, we fished the beach, we fished the river, we fished the Dam, Hell we even fished tied right to my dock at the Saco Yacht Club a few times. We tried it all. We caught a lot of fish. It didn’t matter where we fished, we found fish. He fished hard too. There were days that it was raining, windy, cold, raw, foggy and no fish were biting. Do you think he would even consider giving up a few hours early??? Not a chance.
Each season we learned more techniques and more great spots. Pete and I learned a lot about fishing together. It was with Pete that I discovered many of my “bread and butter” fishing spots that I use today. It was a great way for me, each season to get into the rhythm of what the Stripers were doing before the full force of the tourist season started in July. Although he would never admit it, Pete knew as much about Striper fishing as I did. Pete grew up fishing on Long Island Sound. He fished hard, and he fished well. Each fish Pete caught was better then the last one. It didn’t matter the size.
At times when the fishing got slow and I was running out of ideas, I would ask Pete which spot he would like to try. He always would answer the exact same sly way. “Wherever the fish are biting”. He would never give me a break.
Pete would only bring one or two guests. That left a lot more room on the boat to fish. Pete enjoyed watching his guests catch fish as much as he enjoyed catching them himself. In the early years he brought his friend Eddie for a few trips, then his daughter Pam and her husband Craig for a trip, a couple years I even got to meet his grandson’s Jason and Steve, and EVERY year he brought his good friend Ronnie. Many years Pete would book the last day of his week for just himself. He and I would go out and give it hell. Unlike a typical charter, he would fish, and I would fish. We would have a great time fishing, talking politics, talking about life, and talking about fishing. Pete would always ask about my family, my daughter, or my girlfriend. Always remembering them by name. I remember one year it was so rough out on Saco Bay that Pete and I were the only ones out. The Bluefish had moved in early and bait was scarce the entire week Pete was here. We saw some birds working the surface down towards the Old Orchard Beach Pier. We pounded our way to the spot where the birds were and started catching Mackerel 4-5 at a time. We couldn’t stand up in the boat, but we found something solid to lean against and picked up 50-60 Mackerel in less then 30 minutes. We also drifted at least 4 miles in the same amount of time, in the strong 30mph NW wind. After that with the livewell full it was Stripermania. We landed at least 40 BIG Stripers in just the last few hours of this trip. It was almost too easy.
Pete loved to fish. Probably more then anyone that I know. He loved fishing when the fishing was good and he loved fishing when the fishing was bad. As much time as I spent with Pete, I never saw him get agitated, unless a Seagull would steal his hard earned bait. He would yell at the seagull, make hissing noises, whistle, he would try anything to scare the bird. None of it ever worked. Not once. He knew that, yet every year he would be yelling at seagulls over and over. He was a true fishermen as he could tell some great “tales” of his fishing adventures. Each and every season Pete would remind me about the big Striper that was “so big”, but got away. It was in his first couple of years fishing with me. It was on the old boat so probably around 1996 or 97. We were fishing this spot we just discovered that was red hot. I think Eddie was with us, but it may have been Ronnie. We caught a lot of fish and we were catching them fast. The one that Pete lost I estimate to have been around the 40 inch mark. A great fish no question. Pete actually fought the fish for 10-15 minutes. The Striper gave him a hell of a fight before the Striper found a lobster rope to get wrapped around. I could see this happening, and was trying to get the anchor pulled as fast as possible, but it was too late. The Striper managed to part the 20 pound test line as it sawed back and forth on the lobster rope. It was because of that incident that I now keep a float tied to the end of my anchor rope and simply throw the entire line overboard rather then try to haul the anchor. Now, if Pete was telling this story today, It would go a little different. He would tell you that he fought the fish nearly an hour. The Striper wrapped around the lobster buoy and dragged it 40-50 yards, before pulling the buoy under water never to be seen again. It pulled the boat at least 10 mph, and the the fish would have been a 60 inch plus Striped Bass weighing well over 50 pounds. Like I said, Pete was a true fisherman.
It was in the Spring of 2004 when Pete was booking “his week” that he told me they found cancer. The treatment had gone well and Pete was feeling good, although slightly weaker then normal. When he came onboard in June of 2004 Pete looked the same as always. Strong, happy, smiling, and ready to catch some fish. Everything was the same. He may of not been 100%, but at 70 years old he could put a lot of men half his age to shame. We had a decent week. We didn’t catch quite as many fish as the previous year, but that is fishing. We had a great time and looked forward to this season.
Last December, I received my Christmas card from Pete like he would send every year. As usual, he told me about how cold it was at his Northern Vermont lakeside Log Cabin. He would tell me the thickness of the ice on the lake. He told me how he plans to try out some new fishing reel, or rod, or line that he heard was .000001” smaller diameter then what he normally uses, and how he thought it may give him an added edge.
Pete passed away in late February of 2005. Other then myself nobody has spent as much time aboard the Trina Lyn, as Pete Luca. When the third week of June rolls around this year, it will not matter how many other customers fill in that week. To me, there will be something missing.
The World would be a much better place with a few more guys like Peter Luca around! – Captain Todd ( Written on March 30, 2005)