Carl Beal with the tuna he caught that beat out Ted Williams.

NEWBURY, MA – Tuna fishing has been thrust into the limelight by the hit TV show “Wicked Tuna,” which portrays several fishermen from Gloucester, Massachusetts in their quest to hook up to these massive fish. However, there was another era that is slipping away from the memories of those on the North Shore of Massachusetts aptly named “Tuna, When it Wasn’t Wicked.” This refers to those fishermen who went handlining for these monster fish, that could weigh more than a 1,000 pounds. One of these fishermen was Carlton “Carly” Beal, Jr. of Newbury.

Before I met Carl, I wondered if he had ties to Beals Island, well that was answered when I walked through the door and he asked me “Who did I know on Beals Island.” Carl, Sr. was born on Beals Island on 22 August 1910 and his father was Oscar and his mother Abbie. Carl, Jr. added, “My father’s brother (Clifford) joined the Coast Guard first. Two years later my father did. Ironically, one was stationed on Plum Island and one in Salisbury. They both got out of the Coast Guard and teamed up first with a guy from Black Rocks but that was a terrible place to get a boat in and out of. So, they came to Plum Island and Al Kezer had bought three small plots of land and had all of these skiffs he was renting. Al and Mary needed people for their party boats, so, Cliff and my dad were there 4 or 5 years. Al was never was around. Mary was trying to do the job. There was a stucco house right next to the Kezer land. It was owned by a doctor named Mosely. He was there enjoying his summers all of the sudden it became a mecca for fishing. He wanted to get out. Clifford said we would like to buy his home, gave him a price. They didn’t have a big batch of money, they had to go to a bank and that was during the Depression, and the banks weren’t loaning money to small businesses. They couldn’t get a loan anywhere. Down on the beach was about six families and one of them was Malcolm Hudson and his father. They had a skiff with the same gear and were doing sand eels for the fishermen. They had the money to buy that place and that became Hudson’s. My father and his brother were fortunate enough that there was another building built down beyond the clam flat that a guy built as an ice cream stand. At one end there was some room so my father and Clifford they rented it for their business. They were taking out parties for a few years and they had a pretty good amount of people come because they knew they could get on a good boat. However, the guy that owned the ice cream decided he wanted to go with a restaurant. Cliff and his family moved to Rhode Island and left my Dad alone so he had to start going down to the parking lot selling ticket, or once Hudson and Kezer loaded their boats, he get the overflow. He always had a party so I was there for some of that. I loved being on the boats.”

When asked about the boats his father owned, it was thought one of the early ones could have been a Frost. However, the only one he really remembered was DORIS E., which he thought was built by Alvin Beal.

Carl Jr., who was born in 1934 and lived on Plum Island until he was 7. However in the winter he was going to Beals Island to live with his grandparents for the winter until he was about 4. The family moved into Newburyport nearer Carl’s school. He worked with his father and went to school at the local high school. When he graduated from high school he joined the Army so he could get the GI Bill and at the same time married his wife Ginny. He then went to Springfield College for physical education. He got his Masters at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and he taught there for 9 years and then he taught at Northern Essex Community College for 25. However, most of his career was doing administration work. He retired in 1996. He moved away from the area in 1957, but returned in 1971. When he returned he bought a boat before he bought a house. The boat was a 24-foot Marblehead, which was built in Biddeford. He stated she was a solid boat not fast and that he caught more tuna on that boat than any other. He added that he mostly fished right in Ipswich Bay, but he did go to Jefferies or Provincetown once in awhile.

In describing life back in the 1950s outhouses were mentioned. Carl added, “I have the distinction of burning down my outhouse. I didn’t mean it. My aunt was taking care of me and they were playing cribbage. There was a book of matches that was amazing for a boy and I just wanted to light it. I went in the outhouse and you know how there is paper everywhere. I tried to light it, but it didn’t light and then that paper blew up. I could not put it out. I ran out and before you know it, the whole thing was burned down.”

Another story was when he and his father took four young men out fishing. Carl, Jr. said, “We got down to the dock and it was foggy and usually in the summer the fog clears up so we decided were going tuna fishing. When we started down towards the dock these four young guys come up and asked if we were going out for tuna? We told them we were and they asked if they could go to. My father says, “Well, I will have to think about it.” On his way to get the boat he says, “What do you think about taking those Greenhorns out?” I said, “They got their heart set on going tuna fishing, I will make sure they know what to do and I will give them jobs cutting bait or something.” They were dressed in short sleeve shirts and it was a foggy and as soon as we got outside it was cold. They were in the cabin, but going down river they said, “How does your dad know how to get out of here?” I said, “He’s just a good skipper. He can smell his way out of the river.” Well, we had a card with all the buoys so we followed the compass out. When we were outside they were cold and in the cabin and I told them, “Boys if you feel sick go vomit over the side. I don’t want to clean up any messes.” All of a sudden my father stops the boat and he said “I smell diesel fuel.” We followed the smell and found it was Arthur Woodward from Rings Island. He says, “You won’t believe it, there is tuna all along my net eating the small fish that come out. I am going to leave, get right in this spot and he threw a bucket of bait. Well, we get there and we were really wondering how many fish are still here? All of a sudden a big fish took a line. Those guys were flabbergasted. I said, “Just watch what we do and help us out. I am sure we will get another one and you four can help us out. They were so tired when we were done. They didn’t look like they were Greenhorns any more. They were all disheveled and smelly, but happy as a clam. We had 9 fish caught and 6 lost. When those guys got ready to leave, they couldn’t thank us enough. One guy said, “I had the best day of my life.”

Carl, Jr. has numerous stories from his years fishing and fortunately he has been writing them down.

Summer of 1949

My Ted Williams Story

By Carl Beal, Jr.

It was an interesting summer, 1949. My father still had a small fishing business in which I was an integral part. I had just turned 15 years old and was heading into my freshmen year of high school at Newburyport.

Fishing was very much a part of my life and I enjoyed every minute aboard the boat and on the water. My Dad depended on me with our fishing parties that we took out from both Newburyport and Plum Island. We took half-day mackerel charters out from the Island and full-day charters from Newburyport. Business was brisk on the weekends but was slow during the week. It was during the slow times that we went fishing for giant Bluefin tuna off Plum Island and Ipswich Bay. These fishing trips were the most exciting and I always looked forward to them with great anticipation. It was during one of these tuna fishing days in August that something special happened. The famous Red Sox slugger, Ted Williams, was going to be coming to Newburyport to try his luck at catching a giant tuna on a local sport fishing boat with rod and reel. This wasn’t the first time that the great Ted Williams came to the area for a fishing trip during an off day from the ballpark. He had made the trip a year ago to Plum Island but I was not aware and didn’t get to see him.

This time, however, he was leaving from the same dock where we moored our boat in Newburyport and my chances of seeing him, and hopefully getting his autograph, was, I thought a real possibility.

I was an avid fan of the Red Sox and especially Ted Williams. But my only connection to him and the Red Sox came via radio, as we didn’t have a television until my junior year in high school.

However, I did get to Fenway Park once to see him play. An uncle, Paul Gerry, took me to a Red Sox game when I was fourteen and I witnessed Ted Williams hit a homer over the right field bullpen.

I loved to play baseball and did every chance I had. But my summers were taken up on the fishing boat.

Consequently, my supply of baseballs, were in bad shape. The best I could find was a partially taped ball with a ripped cover. But it had to be signed by Ted Williams.

That morning I wanted my Dad to get to the dock early so that I could get my baseball signed by Ted. However, his boat crew also wanted an early start. No doubt to avoid distracters such as myself and to arrive early at the tuna grounds. So I had missed my first opportunity at seeing my baseball hero.

It wasn’t long before we were also on our way to the area where the giant Bluefin tuna came to feed when they were around. My great hope was that my Dad would be able to set up close to the boat that Ted was fishing from and I could witness him land a giant tuna.

As we entered the fleet of about 40 boats I was looking eagerly for the sport fishing boat, the Flora D IV, belonging to the DuGrenier family who owned a vending company in Merrimac, MA. They had somehow earned the honor to have the celebrity charter their boat that day.

As we came in through the fleet we observed that there were a few fish tied up to some of the boats, so we knew there were tuna around.

My Dad found an opening among the moored boats and anchored up as close as he could to the DuGrenier boat. Common courtesy dictates how close one should be in the event of a hook up.

It was a beautiful day, calm seas and a light breeze from the southwest as we set out several hand lines at different depths and began chumming cut bait to hopefully attract tuna to our lines.

Each line had six hundred feet of 9 thread manila rope coiled in a bushel basket. The terminal end of the line is made up of 20 feet of parachute line dyed green with a ten foot wire cable leader and a No. 10 or 12 sized hook. For hook bait whole mackerel, herring or whiting is preferred by giant tuna and live bait is even better.

Now we wait and cut bait. My Dad and his friend Orin Janvrin and myself are the crew this day. My focus, of course, has been on the boat with Ted Williams on board. They have two rods in rod holders on the stern connected to out riggers to keep the lines away from the boat with two other rods at mid-ship fishing straight down. Their crew is also dropping chum into the water to form a chum line.

The most exciting and thrilling part of tuna fishing is the hook up. When the fish strikes he usually takes off with the bait and is moving his giant body of several hundred pounds through the water at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. There is no way you can stop a fish of this size and speed, you must let him run until he tires himself.

Except for the usual chatter over the CB radios there is quietness over the fleet. The fishermen are talking to each other about the lack of activity and that perhaps the fish have moved on.

Then it happened, a loud yell of, “Strike!! Strike!!” from the Flora D IV, the DuGrenier boat. Ted Williams had a hook up. The initial activity was a mad scramble to get the other lines in, let go of the mooring, start the engine, get Ted harnessed into the chair all the while the line is screaming off the rod and reel at a rapid pace. Although there are several hundred feet of nylon twine on the reel you must get the boat moving in the direction of the fish as soon as possible before the reel is stripped of line.

The crew on Ted’s boat was well trained and seemed to have everything under control as all eyes watched the boat leave the fleet with Ted in the chair. You could see him bending forward and then back, one hand on the middle of the rod pulling up and then letting the rod dip down while reeling in frantically trying to gain some of the line back that was taken on the initial run.

This would be a battle that could last hours depending on the size of the fish and the skill of the crew and of course the strength and endurance of the fisherman himself. Now the question remained would they bring that fish in or would it get away. Many more rod and reel fish are lost compared to those hooked on handlines. There was a finesse involved with rod and reel fishing, mainly because of the shy gear being used and the brute strength of a Bluefin tuna.

This was the first fish hooked up for quite some time. Now there was some hope that perhaps there would be a surge of activity within the fleet and CB radios confirmed that one or two more boats were working on fish. However, my attention was still on my hero and his battle with a Bluefin, which was taking place about a quarter of a mile away.

I watch as his boat made large circles trying to keep up with the fish as he changed direction and occasionally came to the surface with a great splash. Then I could tell that the tuna went deep and kept the boat backing down on the fish that was taking out more line. It was a classic seesaw struggle between man and fish.

It was a little over an hour that a lot of yelling and celebrating on the DuGrenier boat indicated that Ted had landed his tuna. As they tied up their fish and headed back to the fleet and to their mooring a small flag was raised on an outrigger to show they had landed a tuna.

As they picked up their mooring ball and began getting ready to reset the lines someone in a nearby boat started to clap for Ted. As the clapping caught on in the surrounding boats, CBs blared out congratulatory comments as well. Ted, in a rare gesture, took off his cap and waved to his fishing fans.

Now, my day had been complete. I wanted more than anything to witness Ted Williams catch the ultimate sport fish, a giant Bluefin tuna. But what happened next was like the ‘frosting on the cake.’ My Dad woke me from my daydream of wishing that I had been on the same boat as Ted, as he yelled out, ‘There it goes!’ One of our hand lines had snapped it tie line in front of me and was peeling out of boat. We had a fish on and a surge of adrenaline began racing through my veins as I grabbed the line. What a day this was turning out to be.

Earlier in the summer, my father has promised me that for my birthday I could have my wish to pull a tuna in all by myself. Even though my birthday was a few weeks back on July 17, I hadn’t had the opportunity to get my wish. This was the day I wanted it.

Normally when handling giant tuna the job of pulling on the fish is a shared even with others on board. It is a demanding feat taking strength, energy and endurance to the limit. Only a naïve fifteen year old could think he was up to the task.

As the line was running out through my gloves I had to be aware of how much line was left in the basket. If, by chance, the tuna would empty the basket of lie we would want to hook another line on to it. It was the preferred method, rather than letting the fish go out on a keg and then chasing after it.

Even at the young age of fifteen, I did have plenty of experience with tuna fishing. I knew that when a tuna took off fast and ran for four or five hundred feet he would run his oxygen level down and have to stop or slow down to get his endurance back. The same as a sprinter would need to do in a race.

It is at the time that there is a good chance to turn the fish around and get him coming back toward the boat. It is not as easy as it might seem as a six or seven hundred pound tuna in his own environment can overpower a one hundred and fifty pound boy at will.

His initial run took almost the whole basket of line before I could feel his momentum change so that I could get his head turned. Now it is very important that when the line is being retrieved and pulled into the boat that someone coil the line back into the basket. The line must not be allowed to accumulate on the deck. This could be dangerous as a misstep into a coil of rope could mean a person being hauled overboard and drowned.

As I worked the tuna, letting him run and tire, then pulling him back toward the boat I noticed that Ted Williams was fixated on our boat. He watched with great interest, as this method of tuna fishing was unfamiliar to him and he seemed intrigued and somewhat fascinated by what he was seeing. This was more like Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and The Sea’ the epic battle of man versus big fish with a hand line.

The fact that I knew Ted was watching me gave me the motivation to spur me on even when I could feel exhaustion beginning to consume and drain me of strength. I had held the line across my body tight enough that the tuna had been pulling the boat around in a circle and that had been the trick that did him in.

The fish came up alongside the boat with little fight left and right away my Dad put a gaff in his mouth and got his head out of water. I reached down and put a tie line through his gills. We tied him to a stern cleat and I collapsed across the stern completely spent. But for a blast from a boat horn, I could have gone to sleep right then and there.

The horn blast came from the Flora D IV, and was a tribute to my catch. Then Ted, pointing toward me, started clapping which triggered a response from other nearby boats. At that moment I was on cloud nine.

The trip back to the dock in Newburyport seemed to take forever. Ted’s boat had left the fleet before ours and I wanted to get back as soon as possible to get that autograph that I had missed earlier that morning. When we pulled up to the dock there were a crowd of people waiting for Ted Williams to sign autographs and to take his picture.

My tuna was hoisted up from our boat and put on the dock scales and weighed then laid next to Ted’s fish. Soon after the hoist was used to lift Ted’s fish up by the tail and have him pose with his catch for photos.

Next, Ted began signing his autograph on balls, bats, gloves and anything else fans had available. When it was my turn I handed Ted my taped up baseball for his signature. He looked at my ball, and then at me, smiled and as he sighed it said, “Say, you did a great job on that tuna today young man. How much did it weigh?” I told him it weighed 749 lbs. He smiled a big grin and said, “Well kid, you beat me.”

After he finished signing autographs, I watched him walk over to the Daily News photographer, Bill Coltin, who had taken his picture. I couldn’t tell what he was saying but he gestured toward my fish and then to me. The next thing I knew Mr. Coltin came over to me and told me that Ted Williams though that I should also have my picture taken with my fish. As I was standing there next to my tuna, waiting for Mr. Coltin to take my picture, Ted gave me a wink and a nod of his head.

Now, I don’t recall what ever happened to that autographed ball signed by Ted. However, I still have that photo of the first tuna I caught all by myself at age 15 during the summer of ’49. Thanks to Ted Williams for an unforgettable memory.