Charleston Boat Show prepares for Friday opening

A crew from Hall Marine carries a display for a Boston Whaler to its spot in preparation of the weekends Charleston Boat Show. The display shows potential buyers how the Whaler is built not to sink. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

Although I keep a 13-foot Boston Whaler Sport up on Nantucket, where various Gilbreths have vacationed for generations, this time of year it’s usually necessary to find a bigger craft to go after sporting game fish such as striped bass that are seeking out the cooler waters of the Atlantic — waters that aren’t necessarily hospitable to boats not much bigger than a peanut shell.

Which is not to say that the Whaler isn’t a good fishing boat inside the harbor or on the western linear shores of Coatue as they reach up northward toward Great Point. It’s fantastic, and I wouldn’t trade her for anything.

It’s just that during July you need to get out a bit to find the bigger fish. In the meantime there’s always smaller bottom fish and even the occasional “keeper” striper within the harbor, but the latter are pretty scarce until the waters start cooling off again. Of course it’s always entertaining when the small to medium-sized bluefish cruise along Coatue.

The Whaler is just a great boat to have up here and absolutely perfect for youngsters who want to have fun and learn something about basic seamanship. I’m still learning evidently, because it’s the same boat I’ve had since 1974, which I bought at the age of 18 with a 33 hp Evinrude and an accompanying trailer for the grand total of $800.

A 1970 classic, the hull still has its original sky blue clear coating and varnished woodwork. That old Evinrude finally blew a gasket about 10 years ago, only to be replaced with a 40 hp Yamaha 4-stroke, so now she’s hotter than ever and almost too hot to handle to tell the truth — particularly when certain unnamed folk get behind the wheel.

They say it’s bad luck to change a boat’s name, and “she” was actually given the name of a “he”, Billy Jack as it were, which is still the case. I never really got the story behind that but assume it had something to do with a famous movie character of that era.

So it has become our tradition to get somewhat offshore once a season with our friends at Cap’t Tom’s Charters, which Cap’t Tom Mleczko founded in 1973 (a year before I found the Billy Jack.) Tom knew his passion was the waters surrounding Nantucket and the outstanding seasonal fishing, thus making the transition from his earlier life as a middle school teacher bittersweet but ultimately inevitable.

Now in his early 70s, we haven’t seen much of Tom recently, he having electively backed off some and let others run the show, but he’s had something of an epiphany and knows he’s got too much energy to sit around. Thus, we were delighted to find him back at the wheel.

And let me tell you something, he still likes to teach. His newest mate, a rising college sophomore and grandson of a close friend, got a fair dose of good-natured reprimands, corrections and, yes, instructive encouragement.

At one point we hit larger than expected waves just to the west of Muskeget (one of the two smaller Nantucket islands) while chasing schools of striped bass and loose tackle went flying everywhere. Cap’t Tom, arching an eyebrow, pointed out that that’s why we keep stuff like that contained. “And by the way,” he pointed out, “you need to mop that portion of the deck and wipe down the control panel.”

“On it, Tom,” said the mate, right before one of the lines got fouled up underneath the boat. “Tom — we got a problem,” he shouted, at which point the skipper plunged the tip of the rod into the water like a divining stick and somehow untangled the mess in a display of underwater magic.

Meanwhile we kept chasing the striped bass around — and catching them in addition to some bluefish that had just come in with the warmer climate — but none of the bass were “legal” — i.e. at least 28” in length. Tom, with his trademark hospitality and engaging demeanor, entertained us with tales of great white shark and whale sightings over the years in addition to a variety of maritime adventures (or misadventures), all of which had happy endings.

Finally, after catching a lot of fish but keeping none (we’re not too keen on eating bluefish unfortunately — although love a good smoked mousse), the captain announced the five-minute warning and it was clear that he was marveling with youthful enthusiasm at the spectacular fishing and climate that are uniquely Nantucket. It had truly been an amazing morning.

Suddenly, a clearly larger striped bass lunged at one of the lures, and it was pretty obvious that this was going to be the one. Tom knew it too, and now the pressure was on the mate not to blow getting the fish aboard the boat. Gaffing wasn’t an option, and we weren’t using leaders because it was a bright calm day overall and the fish were seeing them and getting spooked.

“You want me to grab him or can you do it?” Tom asked the mate. “You know what? You’ll do it and you’ll do it well. Now wait till he’s ready and don’t grab that line too hard.” And with those orders the mate reached inside the fish’s mouth (one wouldn’t do that with a bluefish) and got him aboard.

Just as time ran out. At 29.5”, we had a winner.

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at