The Inside Scoop: This was a toughy for two reasons. First, the idea came from my editor, who sort of had this vision for the story in his head. I really wasn't sure he was on the mark - I thought the fishing spots that he thought were dumpy were actually kind of nice, especially along the Sugar Bowl walkway, which seemed much closer to nature than the city. Second, I already wrote this story, two years ago, when profiling the Alford Street Bridge in Charlestown and Everett, which is an absolute dump. To me, that was really city fishing. Lastly, uber-copy editor Tom Sheehan pointed out that I neglected to find out the truth about the Bulger taps. He was right yet again, though it's a lot easier for him to call Shelley Murphy than for me. Tom must think I'm the lousiest reporter around, which is too bad, because I'm not. But I do make mistakes, and usually, in the copy he reads. PS - Bill Polo shot the photo.
‘Even here, a place so close to the city, there’s a certain serenity just sitting by the water’s edge.’
- Peter Shepardson, of South Boston
Published 10-23-05, City Weekly
In the Sugar Bowl, they find, life is sweet Fishermen tell tales of the rats that scurry along South Boston’s beaches at night and curse the underwater utility cables near the shore, where fishing lines become snagged.
To Castle Island, fishermen flock
By Peter DeMarco
Massport’s Conley Container Terminal, with bells and whistles and diesel fumes from hundreds of trailer trucks, is just a long line cast from Castle Island’s best fishing pier.
Though Boston Harbor’s water is vastly improved, boats still emerge from the water with hulls blackened from floating fuel, or other gunk.
And when jets soar above from the nearby airport, it’s hard to hear yourself talk.
“Whitey Bulger ... would come out here to discuss his business,” says Southie native George Lynch, 61, fishing at high tide last week on the windswept Sugar Bowl walkway that forms an arc around Pleasure Bay. “The FBI men were tapping him, but they couldn’t hear when the planes went overhead. It was too loud.”
(Actually, says the Globe’s Shelley Murphy, it was Boston police and agents for the Drug Enforcement Administration who planted the bug, only to hear jet noise and, of all things, WBZ radio.)
Fishing in South Boston is similarly tricky, but try baiting local anglers into com plaining about their favorite spot, and you won’t get a single bite.
The waters around Castle Island’s Lt. John J. McCorkle Fishing Pier are bountiful with flounder, cod, bluefish, and striped bass entering Boston Inner Harbor. Churning waters in the Sugar Bowl’s two narrow sluiceways confuse fish into thinking shiny plastic lures are meals.
Bag a few stripers, Southie fishermen say, and the imperfections fade away.
Asked whether Deer Island’s giant treatment tanks blotch the vista, Brighton native Jerry Clarke quips, “This water wouldn’t be this clean without them.”
The annoying jets coming and going every few minutes? “That’s progress,” shrugs Roy Spring, a Brockton angler.
But do they really eat the fish they catch in Boston Harbor?
“I’ve never known anyone who got sick from one,” says Donald Macrelli, 50, of Dorchester, who’s fished here his whole life.
There are other places in Boston where it’s feasible to cast a line. The Boston Har bor Association has set up fish cleaning stations for public use at locations such as the Charles River Dam and the cargo port near Black Falcon pier. Tudor Wharf in Charlestown, the Alford Street Bridge on the Charlestown-Everett line and Old Harbor Park in Dorchester also see their share of anglers.
But the fishing in Southie just seems better, locals say. Peter Santini, owner of Everett’s Fishing Finatics bait and tackle shop, remembers driving with his Uncle Nino from Medford to Castle Island all the time while growing up.
“I used to catch lot of flounder starting around St. Patrick’s Day,” he said. “It’s always a good place to pick up a good flounder.”
Spring, 47, who grew up in Roxbury, said he used to take two buses and “walk miles” to the bait shop en route to the fishing pier at the foot of Fort Independence. While he usually fishes in Quincy these days, Spring and his older brother, “Sonny,” return to their favorite Southie spot at least once a year.
“When the fish are running, you’ll see people down here who’ve been here for 15, 20, 30 years,” he said while baiting a line with a clam on Tuesday. “I’ve been here spring, summer, fall, and winter, and I’ve fished at every spot on this pier. As far as fishing goes, this is it around here.”
And, yes, the harbor’s fish are safe to eat, says Mike Armstrong, a senior fisher ies biologist from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. That’s true even when sewage is accidentally dumped into Quincy Bay, as was the case last week at Deer Island.
“There’s no health advisory on any of our salt water fish that occur around Boston,” Armstrong says. “Most of them move in and out routinely. They don’t have time to accumulate a lot of bad stuff.”
Clarke, a Boston exterminator who’s fished the Sugar Bowl his whole life, pulls into the parking lot of Sullivan’s clam shack about 5 p.m. on a recent evening.
He and his longtime fishing buddy, Peter Shepardson, a security and storage data specialist who lives in South Boston, walk about a quarter of a mile into the bay before hopping a fence and dropping their tackle boxes on the rocks.
The sun sets, rain begins to fall, and their fishing spot grows cold and wet. Clarke and Shepardson aren’t catching a thing, save for a floppy skate they throw back. Yet, they don’t seem to mind. They jabber about their greatest catches, how the fish are surely coming down from Maine to find warmer waters, how Boston Harbor really is cleaner than ever.
Boston’s glowing skyscrapers rise in the mist behind them, as do the Conley shipping terminal’s giant cranes.
“Even here, a place so close to the city, there’s a certain serenity just sitting by the water’s edge,” says Shepardson, Clarke nodding in agreement. “And you never know. The biggest fish I ever caught could be next.”
Bonus: So I'm out on the walkway, which is like 1.5 miles long, and was built in 1959 - I wish I could have gotten those facts in the story. Anyway, I'm talking with the George Lynch character and he says to me "I think you're really brave to get braces." I'm stunned - no one's ever said this to me - and sheepishly thank him for the support, telling him I had to get them because my orthodonists warned me I'd grind away my front teeth if I didn't get them. "I sure wish I'd had them," says Lynch, who lifts up his upper lip to show that he has no front teeth. Ouch!