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johnnyd

eG foodblog: johnnyd - Dining Downeast II

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After Jeff removes (hopefully) any of the World's Favorite Crustacean from his trap he slides it along the washrail to Jim, who takes out the bait bag - which is usually empty, but might still have a herring spine or two - and replaces it with a freshly-filled bag and a sow's ear.

Jeff was up until 11pm the night before drilling 3/8inch holes into the ears so Jim would have no difficulty pairing the two bait on the same line.

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When that's done, Jim closes the parlor door, and slides the trap aft to the transom for redeployment.

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Once all four traps are re-set, Jeff steers his boat to a spot he thinks has "good ground", and tosses the first bouy out in the water, holding the first trap of the string on the washrail until he's ready. He looks intently at the depth-finder, then at the surrounding proximity to islands or visible shoals, then back to the depth-finder, and when it feels just so, the trap splashes into the water. As I watched him do this, it reminded me of a water diviner I saw once. We are dowsing for lobsters here, I thought.

As he motors slowly forward, there is a coil of pot warp feeding over the transom and into the water, drawn by the water-borne trap as it settles on the bottom. In short order the next trap gets pulled off the transom and more rope feeds gently over the side. It's like those cowboys who trap crab off Alaska on the Discovery channel - only much, much less dangerous. To be clear, it is dangerous. Just like the TV show, if your ankle gets tangled in that warp-feed, you are going to get pulled in the water. The difference here is that Jeff would throw the engine hard in reverse, throw you a life-ring (assuming you are still on the surface), then grab the line and start hydro-hauling you out of the water and back in the boat. Once you've wrapped up your bruised or bleeding ankle, you light a cigarette and listen to everyone laugh and trash-talk your sorry ass. If it happens to you on a crab fishing boat off Alaska where things are ten times the scale of operation I would expect far worse consequences.

Anyway, suffice to say we kept an eye on the deck when the trap-strings went back in the water. Once the last trap slips off the boat and disappears, Jeff let's the end-bouy loose and there they float until he comes back in a few days to see if he's caught anything. After this trip he doesn't plan on returning for a week, thus the combination herring & sow's ear bait strategy.


Edited by johnnyd (log)

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Pig's ear is common in Chinese cuisine.

How does one keep track of ones traps? Do fishermen have territories? Is poaching another fisherman's traps common?

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When Jeff finds a lobster in his traps he measures it using a special gauge. A legal lobster in the State of Maine has a carapace or body shell length that measures between 3 1/4 inches and 5 inches. The measurement is made between the extreme rear of the eye socket to the end of the carapace. This one's a "keeper".

Anything smaller, or larger, must be thrown back in the water to either grow to size or contribute to the breeding of more lobsters.

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Rubber bands (with the wholesalers license number) keep lobsters from attacking each other in their holding pounds.

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As the morning drifts into afternoon we settle into a rhythm. Each quartet of traps is separated by a little squirt of distance in between, all within sight of the inner islands of Casco Bay.

I have been busy filling bait bags with beautiful, smelly, salted herring. When Jim sets the traps on the transom, I spray them with white vinegar to try to keep vegetative growth from attaching to the trap grid. The miniature kelp growth draws nutrients from the bait. Then as we mosey over to the next string, I'm back to bait bagging.

The first bags were tidy layers of fish, their tails sticking out of top. "This will tempt a few into the parlors," I said to myself. But at this point in the day I'm thrusting my gloves into a dark stew of fish parts and fist a handful into the little nets, then yank the sucker closed. I wanted to take more pictures but my gloves were so frrreakin' gross and hard to pull off and put back on it just wasn't going to happen.

Hours went by. I began thinking to myself how far Jeff had come since his Captain Splash days. Even though he always said he was selling the boat and getting out of the business I just knew he loved lobstering too much to go through with it. Besides, we had all agreed during a break that morning that we were the luckiest guys on the planet.

When we stopped for a sandwich ( Mrs. johnnyd made a pile of smoked ham & swiss on marble rye), we didn't notice that it was raining... raining pretty hard. We all knew that the forecast called for it [did anyone listen?] but what's a little rain in the summertime?

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Oooooooh, crap! :blink:

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Great writing, excellent cliffhanger pacing of your story, and how do you manage to get those pictures while working?

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I'm loving this, Johnny.

My parents have a house in the west of Ireland (the other side of the pond to you) and their neighbour is a lobster fisherman. His name is Johnny...

He's brought us back some delicious little beasties from his haul...

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After lunch we gamely pulled a couple trap strings and got drenched doing it. We had two slickers between us so the Captain toughed it out in his T-shirt. We still had sixty traps to do.

Then we heard thunder, l-o-u-d thunder.

We looked at each other and Jeff said, "Well, I think we should go in now," Understatement of the year. " Maybe I can get out tomorrow and finish up with my Dad," Just then we saw lightning but it was raining so hard we couldn't see where it was coming from. We all switched into clean-up mode and stowed everything in a hurry - neatness was suddenly not important anymore. Jim was not smiling anymore.

Neither was Jeff...

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We motored as fast as we could.

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Jeff's motor is a 1970 Chevy 252 straight-six, one year older than he is. We huddled under the roof hoping that it would make it into Portland harbor without conking out. That, and the battery, the bilge pumps, etc.etc. We were soaked to the bone.

More lightning. This time the thunder came from Portland, dead ahead. We were going right into it. At this time I began to think about if it was really, really possible to actually get hit by lightning. Well, we were the tallest thing between Clapboard and Mackworth Islands - an area of about three square miles. Hmmm...

What if we were hit by lightning? We would probably get knocked right out of our boots and into the water. The boat would be found later, a floating, charred wreck. Would they find my camera? A record of my final hours? Would Mrs. johnnyd remember to post my last pictures on eGullet??? At this point there is a tremendous flash of light and a click-clackety-BOOM that prompts me to claw open my camera case and take this ridiculous picture:

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It's Jeff's GPS monitor showing our position. It's covered in herring spooge. I figure if someone finds the camera, they'll know where we were when we lost consciousness...

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Finally, Mackworth Island was to our starboard aft and Munjoy Hill began to loom dead ahead (Munjoy Hill is the eastern "promenade" part of Portland's peninsula - more on Portland later, I promise!).

Jeff suddenly got on his phone and through the roaring din of the Chevy at full throttle I could make out "Flash your lights now," and suddenly two little beacons flashed on and off, on and off, from the part of the Eastern Prom where, on a better day, you can pull over and watch the boats go by in the Bay. It was his Dad's car.

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At last, we tie up to the dealer and prepare the lobsters for sale. Seconds after I shot that picture, I swear, a lightning bolt hit one of those buildings in the background.

I don't know this fellow's name but I couldn't decide whether he was amused at our sodden state or amused that we were out there at all in that torrent. All I know is that he was amused.

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We all agreed the vessel above is a fine choice for the next time we head out.

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Whew, grrrrreat stuff.

Lightning blows.


Edited by markemorse (log)

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We sell 52 lobsters at $4.10 per pound and keep eight for ourselves. Jeff made $213.20 but paid Jim $100, bought $125 worth of salted herring, $115 worth of sow's ears and paid forty bucks in gas. Granted, the bait expense actually goes to the next harvest result, but still... :hmmm: Those sixty traps we left will help out, I hope.

Not wearing a single dry thread of clothing, we went to our favorite bar and had a few beers. As you may imagine, the story got woolier the more pints of ale that got poured and consumed. You guys get pictures - the straight dealio - and, thank you, dear readers, for accomodating this completely unplanned chronicle of Terror and Bravery... okay, Luck and Stupidity is probably more like it.

Portland, Maine got two and a quarter inches of rain in three hours. :blink: Another one of those storms is forecast for Wednesday.

I think I'll stay on shore this time.

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So out of this lot - about half of the day's haul...

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...johnnyd gets these handsome critters,

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... who go into this pot of bubbling pale ale to steam,

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and then into an ice-water bath for later,

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While that was going on, the single-clawed fellow decided he'd had enough and started climbing off the plate onto the cutting table:

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sending Mrs. johnnyd into shriek mode!

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Sorry, dear, but after what I'd been through it was highly entertaining.

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Somebody create a movie title here - C'mon, it's begging for it! :biggrin:

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Sorry, dear, but after what I'd been through it was highly entertaining.

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Somebody create a movie title here - C'mon, it's begging for it! :biggrin:

Not a movie title, but how about the line from Bogey:

"Here's looking at YOU, Kid" :wink:

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"Bugs" is right - if you do any diving around the cold waters of New England, Johnny will attest that they look really insect like as they splurt their way around under water. They kind of curl up and then sproing free to get motion - I loves to eat them, but they are not pretty in their habitat!

Johnny - hope you comment on how the locals felt about the soap opera that preceded the Whole Foods that opened up there this winter. After banning the sales of lobstahs everywhere else in the country, they did allow them to be sold in Portland, but only after installing some kind of freakin expensive tank and special plastic holders to keep them from stressing each other out.

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Movie Title:

"Eat me, and die!"

I have a serious and very unfortunate allergy to shellfish.

I still love your blog, cause I love, love the ocean. :wub:

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I steamed the other two lobsters. We had to use hamburger rolls for this classic roll, but one has to adapt, yes?, I am starving after so huge a day anyway.

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I used the tomalley as a spread

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then poured melted butter over the lobster roll-base and capped it. It was awesome.

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That's a lobster roll, baby :wink:

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oh my god, that looks so good!

Can I have one for breakfast?

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That's one hell of a freakin' awesome lobster roll. Though it had better be, given what you went through to get its contents. :laugh:

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Great pictures johnnyd, excellent blog. I'm really missing Maine lobster now!

Any chance that you will be going diving for sea urchins? And yes, I'm really missing that excellent uni sushi in the Japanese restaurant that you recommended in Portland last year.

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Fog, a nemesis to boaters, casts a mysterious and beautiful veil on Maine's coast, especially in the summer. There is a local fellow in our neighborhood that has been standing stones of all sizes on the boulders down on the beach. I don't know who it is but I love it when I come across his work on my daily bike ride. They offer a peaceful reminder of our planet's natural rhythms.

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Boy, I have some catching up to do. All that excitement on monday threw me off my game. That, and the big storm cut off power and I can't get my other desktop to boot properly. :angry:

Any chance that you will be going diving for sea urchins?
I have considered going diving - a friend has a proper underwater camera and I have been trying to charm it away from him for this week - still working on it. Also my chums in the seaweed biz [add link] need a diver to harvest this week. So many cool things to do and no time to do it all - I'll keep you posted.
Are you going to talk about the different regional styles of chow-dah?
My take is that tomatos have no business being even near a chowder, yet I caught myself enjoying a spanish-style seafood bouillabaisse [add link]a few weeks ago so I do have to revisit this.
there's been no coverage on eG of the controversy over the proposed new lobster trap line regs that threaten to kill Maine's lobster industry, or at the very least make it much harder for lobstermen & lobsterwomen to earn a living. Maybe it's too political. Or maybe you can throw some light on the issues within the context of a foodblog.
Thanks, Aaron - this is definitely political and the two sides are at loggerheads. I received a fiery email from someone recently on one side that I will add to a brief discourse on the issue.
I fly into Portland International Jetport once a year, on my way to visit some of my favorite folks on the planet for Thanksgiving. They live in the Bath Historic District, one good solid sneeze from the Bath Iron Works. Once a year I get to revel in the aromas of pine and woodsmoke, and pet big dogs, and indulge in some serious old-fashioned pie-making.
Word!
The reason Maine exists was so Missouri could enter the Union. Prior to 1820, it was part of Massachusetts. But Northerners in Congress were not about to admit another slave state without admitting a free one, so Massachusetts split off Maine.
I didn't know that. The separation from Massachussets is well known (and welcomed... to say the least :wink: ) around here. One plan for our state quarter was the slogan: "183 Massachussets-free years", and an etching of a seagull on the hood of an SUV. It wasn't picked.

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Damned fine looking crustaceans, Johnny. Glad you made it in safe from the storm.

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This is one of the best BLOGs yet, in my opinion. Thank you for participating johnnyd! Though, I do wish for more food photos to go along with the phenomenal contextual photos for the food.

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