A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

A conversation and a nip with an old stoic

Capt. Jim Nunes is one of the last of the old-time Cuttyhunk, Mass., fishing guides.

The foundry that for several generations forged these gruff stoics poured an original with Jim Nunes. He is tough, smart, hard-working, a bit hard-headed, perhaps. Independent and honest. A straight-shooter.

He came of age when it was still OK for charter skippers to give their clients hell if they felt they deserved it. Early on, Capt. Nunes culled the keepers from the throwbacks. “I was tough on them. I was,” he says. “I weeded them out. I had all good fishermen. Once I had them, I took care of them. I was good to them, and they were good to me.” He’s had some clients for 40 years.

Jimmy turns 80 this fall. His legs hurt and he wonders aloud sometimes how long he can keep at it. He has been guiding for almost 50 years. When it breezes up in the rips where he makes his living catching striped bass, these fast, rock-strewn waters can be a handful.

I first met the skipper almost 20 years ago on my first visit to the island. We have remained friends through the many seasons. I visited him on the island last Friday, where we sat outside in the lee of his guide shack on the Fish Dock and caught up on the news of the past winter, talked about his years on the water, swapped a few lies.

I am writing a profile of Jimmy for a new publication called Anglers Journal, which the Active Interest Media Marine Group is publishing later this summer. On this trip I was accompanied by photographer Jody Dole, who took the images that appear here.

The pace last week was still slow and decidedly off-season. The skipper didn’t have a party, and no one was in much of a hurry.

“I tell you, boy, it’s not like it used to be,” he said. In that one sentence the old skipper covered a fair piece of ground — from island life to charter fishing to the greater world beyond this westernmost high spot in the Elizabeth Island chain.

One thing that hasn’t changed much over the years is the striped bass, which continue to draw anglers to this unique little island and bestow it with its distinctively New England fishing cache. “With striped bass, you learn something every day,” Jim said.

The guide used to fish strictly nights for the nocturnal striped bass, navigating with a compass and a watch, working the lively Sow and Pigs Reef by “sight and by feel on black, black nights. If the young guys had to go up there with no electronics, they’d be hurting.” With the advance of time, he now fishes just during daylight hours.

I have admired Capt. Nunes’ boat since my first visit to the island. The 24-1/2-foot, black-hulled Rudy J is the last of the traditional wooden bass boats working these swift, storied waters.

She is the nautical equivalent of a piece of Shaker furniture — simple and functional, elegant in her purposefulness. The Enoch Winslow-built boat is low-sided, seaworthy and handsome. “She’s some boat,” her longtime owner is fond of saying. “It would lay in those rips, boy. It wouldn’t move. It would just lay there.”

The 6,000-pound Rudy J was conceived for the boisterous waters off Cuttyhunk and its environs. Powered by a 210-hp Crusader gasoline engine, she has a full keel, wide covering boards, fore and aft tiller steering, a low spray deflector and two aft-facing seats for charter guests. She is easy to look at.

The captain tells a funny story about an old client who promised him a half-gallon of Crown Royal whiskey in a special wooden cradle if Jim could put him into a 50-pound striper, which, of course, the skipper did. Standing in his fish shack several days ago, where a mostly empty bottle of Crown Royal rests in its cradle, Jim asks: “Want a shot?”

Jody and I oblige. The big man pours a little nip into three plastic cups, and we toast the good captain’s health.

“Let’s hope we’re all here next year,” he said.

Comments

6 comments on “A conversation and a nip with an old stoic

  1. Jennifer Mondora

    Hi Guys,
    Love to read of people who have done it well and are still doing out there doing it. Hope to get a copy of the article in the future. We are about to go to a funeral of one of Cairns (Queensland – Australia) old salts, Les Faithful.

    He was one of the best live bait fishers for our Icon fish -the barramundi – in the whole country but particularly in this area. I love to see people like him showing the young ones and taking people out of the old age peoples home out onto the water. These types of people always seem to put so much back. He will be documented but after he has gone…which is a shame.

    Good Luck and Good Fishing to the “Captain” and may there be another bottle full in that cradle to keep him warm.
    Jennifer Mondora

  2. Dave Enders

    My friends Joe Fiocchi, Bill Childs and I will be fishing with Jim this September for the 39th straight year. We started with Jim when he was “cranky” and loved every minute of it. We survived his “cut” so far and hope to fish with him as long as he wants to fish. Jim is a REAL gentleman and my life has been better for knowing him!

  3. John Tabor

    I’m a summer Cuttyhunk resident and four friends and I have fished with Jimmy for 20 years. One year, Jimmy dropped us off in Padanaram and a new party was there to meet him. The host introduced his guests, including a Colonel in the U.S. Army. Jimmy looked at him and said, “You? You’re too f*****g short to be a colonel.” We could tell who Jim was going to “break in” that trip! If you go with Jimmy, you catch fish…and like Dave says, he is class all the way and we are all better for knowing him.

  4. Alex Nash

    Hello,

    I have been working on a genealogy of my Mothers ancestors when I came across the picture of your Winslow boat. My Mother’s maiden name was Marion Tabor Winslow. One of her Brothers was Enoch Winslow the Mattapoisett wooden bass boat builder. I can remember visiting his shop many times as a youngster. I would really like to include some photos of your boat in my genealogy.

    Cheers,

    Alex Nash

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