“This is usually where the kids start screaming ‘Wahoo!’” Captain Bruce says with a laugh as he pushes the throttle and we whir out past the breakwater and into the open ocean. “Hold on!” he hollers, as we feel the salty ocean air hit our skin.
We’re aboard the Libreti Rose II with Captain Bruce Hebert. He points to the fish finder and we see little blips dotting across the screen, then the raised sea floor come into view as we approach a spot where the bait fish like to congregate.
“Here, grab a rod,” Capt. Bruce says as he hands us each a pole strung up with five fishing lures. (I’ve never seen a setup like this). “Sometimes you’ll get a bite on all of them!” he says as he shows us how to carefully cast our line and then jigger for mackerel and pollock. He takes a lot of families out fishing and says it’s awesome to watch the kids’ eyes light up when they hook one. “It’s a lot of fun.”
We reach a spot which Capt. Bruce says they call the “Coast Guard buoy” because, during President George H.W. Bush’s years in office, a Coast Guard destroyer, fully armed, was stationed here just off Walker’s Point, the Bush family summer home. “Bush 41 was a ‘War President,'” Capt. Bruce reminds us. “And so was his son, George W.” Both Bushes were in office when the United States was involved in armed conflicts, so their level of protection extended beyond the Secret Service. Bush senior retains Secret Service protection for life here in Kennebunkport, and wherever he goes.
Recently, the former president and his crew made an impromptu special appearance at the 2nd annual Fishing for Freedom event. The Libreti Rose II and a fleet of local fishing charters took 40 local veterans out on the water, along with the Wounded Heroes Program of Maine and Cabela’s, then treated them to a lobster bake on the Nonantum’s lawn – all complimentary for vets as a thank you for their service. When the crews spotted the president’s boat, the Fidelity IV, with 91-year old George H.W. seated at the helm waving, they went wild. Bush 41 and his Secret Service crew led the boat parade out the river, past the breakwater and a giant American flag waving in the wind atop the local fire department’s ladder truck.
As we reminisce about that great day, I suddenly feel a tug on my line. “Reel ’em in!” Capt. Bruce says. “But don’t ever touch the lures,” he warns as he shows some of the battle scars he’s gotten over the years. He unhooks a string of shiny, flapping mackerel and tosses them into the tank where they swim in circles. “The seawater circulates so they get oxygen,” he explains. We want the bait fish to be live and frisky – the better to catch striped bass with. “And we’ll give a few to Captain Bob. He’ll be thrilled,” says Capt. Bruce of his dock-mate on the Rugosa Lobster Tours, which also depart from The Nonantum’s marina. Capt. Bob uses the bait fish in his lobster traps, which he hauls up to show families live Maine lobsters and teach them about lobster biology and our local fishing industry.
The flapping fish on deck attract a curious seagull just off the port side. “That must be Shelley!” says Capt. Bruce. He waves a mackerel in the air and waits for the bird to approach. “My pet seagull… Nope, that’s not her,” he says, as we look at him quizzically. He tells us how one day he saw a seagull with a hook stuck in her beak. “She couldn’t open her mouth or eat. She was starving and near death. Her feathers were all matted. I grabbed her and carefully pulled the hook out of her beak. Now she eats out my hand almost every day.”
Capt. Bruce knows his wildlife and the waters around here. He’s a Registered Maine Guide and a U.S. Coast Guard Master Captain. He’s been out on the water for over 40 years, first as a commercial fisherman in Brant Rock, Green Harbor, Massachusetts. Then a few years ago he was featured on the National Geographic Channel show “Wicked Tuna.”
“But what I do here isn’t like what they do on ‘Wicked Tuna,'” he clarifies. “That’s offshore fishing, where you could be steaming out for 2 hours just to get to a fishing spot. I do inshore trips, so we’re out here in just a few minutes and fishing right alongside the rocks or occasionally in the river.”
The marine radio goes off while he’s talking. “Captain Bruce, come in, Bruce. Where are you?” we hear.
“That’s another captain trying to find out where the fish are,” he says. “Should I tell him?” he laughs. Then he turns our engine back on and we motor over to a secret spot where we’ll cast our lines for the big ones.
Stripers, or striped bass, have to be at least 28 inches to be what Mainers call a “keepah” (aka keeper). Capt. Bruce hands us a different rod with a small colored balloon attached to it. “Keep your eye on that balloon,” he says, as he puts one of the bait fish on the line and casts it off toward the rocks. We watch as the balloon moves right then left, as the bait fish swims around. Then it darts around. “He’s getting nervous. He’s being chased,” says Capt. Bruce. “As soon as that balloon goes down, you’ll know you’ve hooked a striper. Reel it in, then wait… let the tip of the rod bend, then reel down, then wait…”
Reeling in a big striper is a bit of a dance between man and fish. You don’t want to haul in too fast too quickly, or you’ll snap the line. It takes a bit of patience, and Bruce’s steady guidance. If you do catch one that’s over 29″ — after you’ve measured it and taken the obligatory pictures with your prized catch — Capt. Bruce will filet it up for you when you get back to the dock (talk about fresh seafood!) He can even give it to the Nonantum’s kitchen crew to cook it up for you for dinner that night (for a fee). Or you can bring it home. The best way to cook up a striper? “In tinfoil on the grill, with some butter and onions,” Capt. Bruce says. “Simple and delicious.”
His eyes are as bright blue as the Gulf Coast, Florida waters he talks about spending his winters in. “But I would never do there what I do here,” he says. “In Maine, I can run two to three charters a day all summer long. It’s busy. By the end of October, I’m ready to take the winter off.”
We see dark clouds rolling up the river and decide it’s time to head in. Even with overcast skies, though, we agree that any day out on the water is a good day.
For more info, visit www.libretirose.com. To book your private charter for up to 4 passengers, please call 207-432-4349. (Reservations must be made over the phone, as Captain Bruce has a few questions he needs to go over with each party to ensure an enjoyable charter for all). All trips must be scheduled in advance, and all trips are private 2, 3, or 4-hour charters. All bait and tackle provided; no fishing license necessary. If you have a group of more than six, Capt. Bruce can partner with another boat to bring out larger groups. Call for details.
~By Nicki Noble Bean