If you want to understand how sausage is made — or, in this case, how lobster is caught — look no further than the Bottom Line.
From their home port of Corea Harbor, Captain Dan Rodgers and his wife, Melissa, do just that. Aboard their 46-foot vessel, the couple show the Downeast region’s wildly beautiful coastal scenery and how lobsters are caught off the Schoodic Peninsula. As part of the package, each of the Bottom Line’s passengers gets their very own freshly caught lobster. They can take the shellfish and have them cooked at Lunch on the Wharf, a scenic takeout overlooking Corea Harbor, upon their return to shore.
“They’ll steam it up for you and then you can buy sides and eat it over on the wharf,” Melissa says.
Called Catch Your Dinner Lobster Tours, the two-hour boat rides depart from the Francis Pound Road wharf, where passengers board the Bottom Line. At the helm is Dan, who grew up in Corea and has been fishing from the Schoodic Peninsula’s easternmost village since he was 10.
From the harbor, the Bottom Line heads out 5 miles to Petit Manan Island. Standing on the clean, spacious vessel’s deck is like riding the subway. Folding camp chairs are provided to sit down. A picturesque view of Acadia National Park’s Cadillac Mountain unfolds to the west.
Along the way out, Melissa notes points of interest and answers any questions as the distant Petit Manan Lighthouse gets closer. Idling off the treeless isle, passengers learn that the 123-foot automated beacon is the second tallest in Maine. The automated tower remains a navigational aid, warning mariners of the area’s treacherous ledges. Coast Guardsman Jim Woods was the last officer in charge of the beacon, which was automated in 1972.
Now, “Titm’nan,” as the island is called locally, is the home of Atlantic puffins. The orange-beaked seabirds return to mate and nest on the remote island protected within the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Eiders, guillemots, razorbills are among the other birds that nest there too.
During nesting season from April to August, Petit Manan is off limits to the public seeking to step ashore. But the Bottom Line puts in close enough to see the flocks — called circuses — of the clownish-eyed puffins as well as harbor seals bobbing up and down in the waters and basking in the sun on the rocks. (If you’re bringing a camera, don’t forget a zoom lens!).
Heading back toward Corea, the Bottom Line draws up to one of the captain’s bright yellow and black buoys, which look like giant bumblebees from the distance, marking the location of his “lobster pots” or wire traps lying on the ocean floor.
“It’s easy for tourists to buy a lobster,” Dan said. “But they have no idea how much goes into it.”
Authenticity is what makes this tour so special. It’s an intimate experience differing from much larger tour boats staffed with a naturalist speaking through a microphone.
Dan’s spacious Wesmac-built boat is the same vessel that he uses to harvest his 800 lobster traps some 30 miles offshore in federal waters and inshore in state waters. Depending on the season, an able-bodied crew of two or three helps him.
“It’s a commercial boat first,” says the 45-year-old fisherman, who also is a diver.
In and around Bar, Sheep and other tiny islands, shielding Corea from the open North Atlantic, Dan guides the Bottom Line through a sea of brightly colored buoys. Each lobster fisherman uses a different color combination to distinguish the Styrofoam buoys.
Floating on the water, each buoy is connected by rope to a lobster trap on the sea floor. Each wire cage contains chambers. Lured inside by a twine bag, packed with herring or mackerel, lobsters enter via the trap’s entrance or “head.” They then proceed into the “parlor,” where they remain until the trap is hauled out of the water.
Approaching a buoy, Dan uses a gaff hook to grab it. He then operates the Bottom Line’s hydraulic pot hauler to pull up one of his 4-foot-long traps from the sea floor. Before long, a trap emerges from the water and is set squarely on the boat’s wash board. The trap, brimming with lobsters and crabs, is just inches away from you.
“When I started, I didn’t have any of this,” Dan said, referring to the hydraulic hauler and other sophisticated gear and gadgets on board. “I pulled [up] the traps by hand.”
Removing the lobsters from the trap, the captain uses a gauge to measure the size of each crustacean. If it’s too small — “the future of the industry” — or too large — “broodstock” – the shellfish goes back into the water. If it is the right size (between 3.25 and 5 inches from behind the lobster’s eye to the edge of its shell), it becomes the Bottom Line’s latest passenger.
On a typical day, Dan wakes up at 2:30 a.m. to head out and haul about 400 traps before the first boat tour at noon. On those days, the Rodgerses do two tours. On the days he doesn’t haul, they do three or four.
“The whole commercial part of this is what has attracted a lot of people to us,” Melissa said. “Because you’re going with someone who actually does this.”
The Rodgerses’ children have caught the fishing bug, too. All three possess Maine lobster licenses, which aren’t easy to obtain.
“We let the kids in because there’s almost a 10-year wait for adults to get [a license] in our zone,” Dan said.
Dan doesn’t come from a long line of fishermen, Melissa does. Her father is almost 70 and still lobstering. Fishing at that age is pretty common.
“You don’t retire. You go until you can no longer physically do it,” Melissa explained.
Returning to the wharf, The Bottom Line’s passengers step ashore. Each gets their party favor.