ON THE ATLANTIC OCEAN, OFF MOUNT DESERT ROCK, Maine — After pounding through 4- and 5-foot swells on the way out to his favorite shark-fishing spot, Capt. Pete Douvarjo idled back the motor on his 21-foot Parker, “Reel Life,” and said he’d found what he was looking for.
“Right now [the water temperature] is almost 61 degrees,” the Sedgwick charter captain, Registered Maine Guide and owner of Eggemoggin Guide Service announced. “Three or four miles back there it was 57. That’s exactly what we’re looking for … I don’t know if it’s the influence of the Gulf Stream or it’s just a warm little tendril, but in here there’s some warm water, and sharks will be in that area, normally.”
With that, Douvarjo — “Capt. Pete” to friends and clients alike — set about preparing a scrumptious feast for the blue sharks he hoped would join us for lunch.
A bottle of menhaden oil goes in an IV drip bag, then dangled into the Atlantic.
“Want a sniff?” Captain Pete offered, turning his nose up at the pungent odor. “I [let a young client sniff this] last year out here. I thought he was gonna throw up.”
Next up: Chum, in the form of a frozen block of ground-up fish parts and oil, which he deposited into a mesh bag and dangled from the stern.
Then a stout rod outfitted with 100-pound test line, and rigged with a recently caught mackerel, was deployed, an inflated balloon serving as a makeshift bobber.
“Now, it’s a waiting game,” Capt. Pete announced, taking up station at the rear of the boat where he could protect his mackerel from a tenacious flock of bait-stealing birds.
“Those [birds] are shearwaters,” Capt. Pete had said earlier. “Those are our enemy.”
And wait we did.
Perhaps this would be the day when Capt. Pete would establish a new boat record, and hook a truly huge shark. (Note: When your boat is only 21 feet long, and you’re 20 miles out in the Atlantic, “truly huge” is a truly relative term).
“[The biggest] was about 10 feet. We were actually joking about ‘we’ve got to get a bigger boat,’” Capt. Pete explained, dropping a classic shark captain reference that will be familiar to fans of the movie “Jaws.”
“That was a big critter. He was at least 250 pounds. And my client, on this stand-up tuna gear, which is 100-pound test [line], heavy-duty stuff, it took him 45 minutes [to bring the shark to the boat],” he said. “We had the harness on him, the belt on him, and the poor guy was struggling, but [he] kept saying it was fun.”
There’s plenty of fun to be had out on the water, Capt. Pete will tell you. This wasn’t his first job, after all. He knows what it’s like to be stuck ashore, working for others. Thirteen years ago, he scrapped that life, after realizing how fleeting life can be.
“I was a contractor for years and I had a little cancer problem 13 years ago,” Capt. Pete said. “They told me I only had a year to live, and I told my wife, ‘Well, if I’m going to be checking out here soon, I’ve always wanted to get my guide’s license.’ So I went and did it and I bought my first boat — and that’s how it all started.”
Now, 13 years later, Douvarjo is still kicking, and still taking clients out onto the water. Sometimes, they fish for sharks. Other times, he takes folks up on the Penobscot River below Howland to fish for smallmouth bass. Originally, he focused on plentiful striped bass. Then the species became much less plentiful. He had a decision to make.
“What I used to do was the striper thing we had going here, and there was a lot of stripers,” he said. “I could get you out, four or five hours fishing, and catch 20, 30, 40, 50 stripers, every single tide.”
And then he couldn’t.
“The bottom dropped out [on the population that returned to Maine waters each summer],” he explained. “So I kind of struggled for a little while. But instead of giving up, I went and bought a bigger boat and started doing this.”
On a typical day of shark fishing, clients will likely catch and release blue sharks — the predominant species in these waters — and might see other sharks such as porbeagles, threshers and short-finned makos. And it’s not uncommon for whales to show up.
“Last year we had some very close encounters with some very big whales. They came right up to the boat,” Capt. Pete said.
After motoring out to sea for about two hours — pausing for a brief bait-catching stop to catch some mackerel and pollock that we hoped to feed to the sharks — Capt. Pete shut the motor down and began our drift.
Storm petrels — playful birds who walk on water — joined the pesky shearwaters to entertain us. At one point, Capt. Pete swore he had heard a whale blow, but we never spotted it.
We did have some excitement, though. With just a few minutes left before we’d have to begin our return to Sedgwick, a large fin popped above the gentle swells not far behind the boat.
Something was there.
“It’s an ocean-going sunfish,” Capt. Pete said, scurrying to start the motor and move a bit closer.
Also known as “mola mola,” the ocean sunfish can reach weights in excess of 3,000 pounds. This was a little fella — 200 pounds or so, about 5 feet long — but as it basked on the surface, giving an occasional flip of its fins, we weren’t complaining.
After Capt. Pete shut the motor off again, the mola mola drifted past, within inches of the boat. Douvarjo reached down to touch the fish, which lazily rolled away from his hand.
For the captain, who spends a lot of time on the water, the sighting made the trip worthwhile.
“Cool beans,” he exclaimed.
Cool beans indeed. Not that it would have taken a mola mola to really make Capt. Pete’s day, of course.
Douvarjo spent years ashore. Now he’s on the water as much as he cares to be. And he figures that’s a pretty great place to be.
“I love this. I mean, how much fun is this?” he said. “Nothing but Mount Desert Rock and open ocean? It’s just beautiful.”