August 20, 2020

Fisherman Friday — Pat Ryan and F/V Sea Hag II

Pat Ryan has been fishing the F/V Sea Hag II for 10 years. Pat was a boat builder by trade and built out the original F/V Sea Hag, a Flye Point 26 in ’86. Then, after Bob Williams, the Godfather of the West Bay, told him he needed a bigger boat, Pat built the F/V Sea Hag II, an H&H 36.

Pat worked for 20 years with his brother running Pen Bay Boat. After a full career boatbuilding, Pat built one for himself and slowly began fishing full-time. He’d had a lobster license 38 years, and fished commercially while keeping his day job building boats. Once he built the original F/V Sea Hag he decided to take advantage of the fact that he had his license and slowly built up to fishing full-time. He has now been at it 20 years.


Pat has 800 traps, the limit allowed with a license, and pulls 200 or so per day, 5 days a week. The days are long, but efficient, with 5 buoy, 10 trap strings of doubles per location. Pat is meticulous about keeping records of the ‘strings’ and pays close attention to which locations are yielding more lobsters and moves the strings accordingly. Pat is confident in his knowledge of where the lobsters are and where they are going and puts them down in his favorite spots, the ones that have treated him well over the years. Our day involved hauling and baiting traps, assessing the output of the strings, and switching locations when the Captain deemed necessary. It’s like placing bets on a gambling table; some pay off big, and some come up empty. But the guys that have been doing it for years and pay attention to the detail, and take the information and data to ensure they come up winners more often than not. That’s the name of the game; hunting without seeing the prey. Tracking where they are and predicting where they are going. Using information from the current season for immediate trap placement decisions, and prior seasons to predict how things might unfold for the remainder of the season. No year is the same trying to find these migratory crustaceans. There are so many factors driving their behaviors.


Pat fishes out of Buck’s Harbor and is one of the 8 full-timers out of Brooksville. There are 5-6 part-timers making almost 14 fishing vessels ‘fishing the islands’ of the West Bay between Brooksville and North Haven along the shores of Islesboro all the way to Rockland. Buck’s Harbor has a rich fishing history, but has seen challenges in the past few years with lack of a consistent lobster buyer, no deep-water public landing, and a changing landscape of marine resources. The town of Brooksville is looking into a new dock and potentially dredging Betsy’s Cove, but the place is no Deer Isle in terms of resources for fishermen. Pat comes down to Stonington every day for bait and fuel from Greenhead and to sell his catch. He’s been doing it for years, and continues to do it because of the consistency of the service, the quality of the bait, and the long-established relationship he has with Hugh. He knows Hugh values loyalty and consistency, and that he has been and will be there in the good years and the bad, like he always has.


Pat’s sternman is named Kody, and he has a rich family history in fishing. Kody is from Penobscot, went to Bucksport High School and has been on boats since 2008. His grandfather was a lobsterman, and was killed along with his sternman back in 1971. Reggie Bunker fished out of Sorrento and had a two-year-old son, Kody’s father, when he drowned offshore. Kody’s father never fished, understandably so, but Kody felt the call after trying his hand at other jobs and told me he hasn’t found anything he likes more. His other grandfather worked at H&H and built the F/V Sea Hag II’s hull, so he has a rich tradition in fishing and with Pat’s boat.

This has not a good year for the lobster industry, not only because of a lower yield but also based on the lower boat price. It has not been a banner year for the catch, despite hopes for a rebound, but the bigger problem has been the price and the premium lost with closings of high-end restaurants, cancellations of cruise ships and retaliatory tariffs from China and Europe. Pat is optimistic about the potential for the late season as the lobsters are starting to come in, but that likely won’t do much to help the price. We need more demand not more supply.

Pat Ryan is a Brooksville guy through and through, and despite it being a more challenging environment to provision and sell, he was born and raised there and plans to stay. He did spend some time away while his dad was stationed with the Coast Guard outside of Maine, but they came back as soon as his dad got a job stationed in Southwest Harbor, and they came back to Brooksville despite the commute. Pat raised his sons here, including Casey who is also a Brooksville resident and fishes out of Buck’s.

Steaming home to Buck’s Harbor, we stood at the bulkhead looking north through the windshield of the F/V Sea Hag towards Brooksville and enjoyed a few cold beverages we’d picked up at Hugh’s pier. We ate some popcorn fresh from the microwave down below, and talked Brooksville history. It made me realize part of the reason Pat loves selling down in Stonington is the trip back at the end of the day standing at the best bar in Penobscot Bay!

As we came in to the harbor, Casey texted his dad saying he hadn’t found much that Monday morning. Pat had a pretty good day all things considered and I’m sure he’ll share that highly classified information with his son, keeping it ‘in the family’ over in Buck’s Harbor. Pat made clear the lobsters haven’t been great this year, but after the day he was encouraged things could pick up, and where he set his traps would be critical to finding the late-season lobsters.