Over the course of his long career spent hauling up lobster, fishing for scallops, raking mussels and digging for clams off the coast of Stonington, Leroy Weed has seen it all. He’s seen lobsters in a rainbow of colors. He’s been onboard a boat that’s sunk (extra scary, because he says he can’t swim). He’s fallen through the ice in the dead of winter — twice.
And yet, Weed, 79, says the ocean still holds plenty of surprises for him — even after 70 years out on the water, ever since he started hand-hauling traps with his father when he was 8 years old.
“Every day is different,” said the gregarious, quick-witted Weed, a lifelong fisherman and resident of Stonington. “You never know what you’re gonna come across when you go out.”
Last summer, Weed put that expertise to use when he joined the staff of the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries. He spent the summer as the resident specialist at the organization’s Discovery Wharf in Stonington Harbor, where he educated visitors about the various creatures on display at the touch tank. He was the ideal public face for the center, offering salty tales of his life on the sea alongside important information on Maine fisheries and marine life.
This summer, with the touch tank closed due to the pandemic, the center wanted to make sure Weed still had a chance to connect with people who want to learn more about Maine’s coastal waters and working waterfronts. They approached Weed with a novel idea — to star in a weekly series of YouTube videos called “Ask Leroy!”, in which people call (224-58-LEROY) or email with questions, and Weed answers them.
“I’ll do some chin-wagging with anyone,” said Weed, who has a thick Maine accent. “Now they’re making a movie of it.”
Tate Yoder, a Penobscot native and 2020 graduate of the University of Maine with a degree in new media, is the one behind the camera for each taping, and later edits the videos and puts them online. Most of the time, it’s just Yoder asking Weed the questions, and Weed answering them — while also providing some colorful anecdotes and plenty of jokes.
“We took this really simple idea of Leroy sharing stories and added an engagement component to allow our audience to call in with their questions for Leroy,” Yoder said. “The more questions he answers, the more questions we get. The conversation is endless, and I think we’re just getting started with this.”
Since launching in June, Yoder has filmed 10 “Ask Leroy!” videos, with questions from people from all over the country, ranging from how lobster boats and traps work, to the differences between species of crabs, and how to cook a proper seafood chowder.
Clockwise from left: Cameraman Tate Yoder and fisherman Leroy Weed film an episode of “Ask Leroy!” in Stonington on Sept 1.; Leroy Weed; Tate Yoder. Credit: Natalie Williams | BDN
When asked how he feels about being a newly minted YouTube star, Weed shrugged. He’s a natural on camera, but he leaves all that stuff about clicks and views and algorithms to the younger folk.
“I don’t have an internet,” he said. “I still use a rotary phone. I don’t care about that kind of thing. If it makes people happy, then I’m happy.”
Weed is no stranger to educating people from away about Maine oceans. He’s a natural storyteller, having been featured at Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries’ annual “Tall Tales, Fish Tails, & Damn Lies” event at the Stonington Opera House. And for nearly as long as he’s been fishing, he’s also taken groups from all over the country out on his boats to show them how to haul traps and and experience the industry — and a way of life unique to Maine — firsthand.
“I don’t know anything about growing corn or castrating a bull. Why would somebody in Indiana know anything about lobsters?” Weed said. “And kids love it. They want to know everything about what’s out there. If we can let people know about what we do, we can keep people coming back.”
Weed is one of 10 children, and was born in the house in Stonington where he and his wife, Dorothy, still live. Growing up, he said, cars were rare, and everybody traveled by boat. When he started fishing, he and his family worked dawn to dusk on their little boat, (a “putt-putt,” as he calls it). When they weren’t fishing, they’d raise livestock, pick berries and apples, and hunt.
He still wakes up just before the sun comes up, and he still knows how to repair a barn and build a lobster trap. He’s seen good years, when prices were high and catches were plentiful, and he’s been through tough years, like 2020, when prices have plummeted because of lower demand.
“We’re resilient people. We know how to take care of ourselves and make do with what we’ve got,” Weed said. “You get good years and bad years.”
He might be pushing 80, but Weed works just as hard today as he did in years prior, even after surviving two heart attacks. He’s still got hundreds of traps out, and goes out several days a week on his boat, the F/V Endurance. He also works at Greenhead Lobster, a seafood retailer and wholesaler in Stonington, in addition to his work with Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries.
“You don’t retire in this business,” he said. “You just slow down a little. I told my wife, ‘I’m not gonna sit in that big recliner and wait to die.’ You’ve got to keep busy.”