May 3, 2023

Fisherman Friday; Captain Donnie McHenan

It’s been too long since our last fisherman highlight, so we were very pleased when Donnie “Hambone” McHenan invited us over to talk about his time as a lobsterman. Rarely (if ever) called Donald, colloquially known as “Hammy” or “Hambone,” and to the masses, Donnie, shared with us some stories from his decades on the water.

Growing up in downtown Stonington, from childhood (five or six years old), Donnie was drawn to being on the water. “I’d go down and steal a skiff to go around the harbor. My mother would look for me, eventually find me, and go tie me to the apple tree. Well, I’d stay out there for a while, then wiggle that rope enough to loosen it up, and down to the shore I went! She finally gave up. I always loved the water.”

Donnie’s father was often away from home, driving granite off the island, but Donnie wanted to stay closer to home. He got his lobster license while in school and started with a rowboat. Here is Donnie with his first two lobsters in 7th grade:

Donnie moved to a 16’ Gardner Gross with a 25hp outboard (F/V: Regina Ann). He’d go out before and after school and throughout the summer. By his senior year, Donnie “upgraded” boats again to an old, wooden, LEAKY Jonesport boat, The Sliver. “I learned a lot about repairs those 5 years” Donnie reflected, “I was broke down more than I was anything else.” From there he moved into a new 30’ fiberglass boat in 1977 (F/V: Angela Marie), but needed a bigger boat for scalloping, so he moved into a 34’ Webber Cove (F/V: Angela Marie II).

In addition to initial boats, Donnie remembered how he got the components of his first five traps. “My father was driving for Heanssler’s, taking lobster down to Boston, and he told me, “I’m going to buy you five traps.” He drove down to Kenniston’s in Warren with a fifth of Seagram’s 7.” This was the trade for Donnie’s first five traps.

Lobstering wasn’t the only work on the water for Donnie. While in high school, around 1967/68, he worked for the Isle au Haut mailboat making $15/week (plus tips) for two summers with Stan Dodge (Old Man Stan Dodge). Part of Donnie’s job while onboard was to help load and unload various cargo heading to & from Isle au Haut. One hot summer day, about 15lbs of ground beef was headed out to the hamburger joint ran by Dottie Dodge. When they got to Isle au Haut, Donnie unloaded the boat, and everything carried on. “The next morning, I came down, swabbed the deck, just like I was supposed to do, cleaned the boat up… well that 15lbs of hamburg was right where it had been put the day before. And it was quite warm. So the hamburg wasn’t any good.” Well, some of the folks around the dock heard what had happened, and Vern “one of the older fellas, started calling me Hamburger.” Which has morphed into Hammie, Hambone, “or whatever other variations on that name, but that’s where it came from, anyway. 15 pounds of rotten hamburg.” Here’s Donnie and Gina in high school:

Many boat upgrades later, Donnie has been fishing his current boat, F/V: Daddy’s Girls since 1993. Here’s a photo from the day it was launched:

This H&H is named for his two daughters, Angela and Traci (Regina, Donnie’s wife, gets a mention on the stern as well), this 37’ boat seemed massive at the time, but has remained comfortable and fully functional for 30 years!

Although retired from winter fishing now, Donnie used to go offshore for lobsters and would drag for scallops. “I started going scalloping on the stern for Honk Billings… there was a lot of raving and hollering” Donnie remembers. He also recalled one memorable February vacation during high school, “I think it was February of 1972… and me, and John Williams, and Frank Jones were out in Smalls Cove on LDI clamming… it was cold. Very cold. And we helped ourselves to a small camp on the shore nearby. There was plenty of chopped wood and we used the stove to warm up. We didn’t think anything of it! Well, John’s father found out, and made him go apologize to the owner and chop & replace the wood. “He said we didn’t hurt anything and there wasn’t a problem.”

When asked about the craziest thing he’d seen while out on the water, Donnie remembered a moose swimming around Spoon Island. “He was going South. We tried to get him turned around.” Another time, just a couple of years ago, when Donnie was out hauling gear, he remembered hauling up the first trap, “and the water next to the boat turned as white as a sheet of paper” then the next trap came up and when Donnie went to bring it aboard, a great white shark was there, biting the trap! “It was all teeth!!” The most unusual thing he’d ever hauled up in a trap? “I got a rear end of a pickup truck and a brake assembly.” These parts had been left in that back of his own truck and someone had taken them, and put them out in one of his traps. “Called it hard bait.” His favorite part about lobstering: “being my own boss (minus answering to Gina).”

Donnie has sold his daily catch to Greenhead Lobster for over 20 years. When not fishing, you might see Donnie and Gina out for a Sunday cruise in their Camaro. Many thanks to Donnie (and Gina!) and to all the independent fishermen & women who sell to us.