photos and story by K. Stephens
In Maine, if you’re doing what you really you want for a living, you usually have about four part-time jobs. That’s how Captain Gary Libby makes his living in Port Clyde. When the weather is good, he’ll work seven days a week doing a little commercial fishing here, a little lobstering there, and when there’s time, he’ll run casual tours off his lobster boat, MisKim.
Until recently, if you ever wanted to know the ins and outs of lobster fishing, you had to rely on books, documentary DVDs or YouTube clips. Smart people do not approach working lobstermen in the harbor and ask them brilliant questions like “How come those lobsters in your trap are green?” There are better ways to find that out.
Port Clyde Lobster Tours originated out of the public’s need to get up close and personal on a lobster boat. Kim Libby, office manager for Port Clyde Lobster Tours, said: “I worked at the postal service in Port Clyde for several years and got asked the same question time and time again: ‘Is there any way a person could go out on a lobster boat and see how it was done?’ Back then, there really wasn’t. So, a few years ago, my husband saw the writing on the wall and got his lobster license back. He’s also a commercial ground fisherman. Once he got his lobster boat in operation again, we decided to put this tour together and started getting a lot of calls.
“You can expect a real live lobsterman who works 400 traps at any given time when he’s not fishing or doing tours. He’s got his Grundens on, and is usually looking pretty unkempt with fish goo up to his elbows. He always takes Red, our dog along. The dog’s part of the deal.”
Just then, Red climbed up into the canvas chair, the only other spot a person can sit on the boat. He’s a sweetheart of a dog, but it’s clear that this is his spot on the boat and he ain’t moving. Since the tour can only fit about four people comfortably, it’s easier to stand.
The boat itself is refreshingly grungy, as is Captain Libby. This is no sanitized schooner tour with life vests, cushy blankets and barrels of soft drinks. Grime splatters the windows and the mung flies off the warp as it coils onto the boat deck. Next to the canvas chair is a live well, which is a built-in saltwater tank to hold the lobsters he catches.
“If you don’t have a live well on your boat, ya got dead lobsters,” Libby said.
Just next to that is a tubful of bait — pogies, the term for menhaden, that have been sitting there salted for the last few days.
Captain Gary Libby is as nice a guy you could ever get for a guide, said his wife, who understands how curious people are about the profession, yet intimidated to approach a working lobsterman.
“He just a really laid-back, laconic guy,” she said. “If he were any more laconic he’d be dead. But his approach is really easy going; he doesn’t mind answering any questions at all.”
That said, one of their favorite questions from tourists is: “Why do all the boats point the same way?” Hint: Google this before you ask it.
The two-hour tour starts in Port Clyde as MisKim putters around the harbor. Captain Libby will tell you anything you want to know about lobstering as he hoists his traps up on a winch, opens them up, takes out the lobsters and demonstrates how to measure them with a brass gauge.
He likes to let his trap sit — or “soak” for at least four nights before he checks them again. Out of his wire traps, he pulls out large whelks, Jonah crabs, and a bunch of undersized lobsters, called shorts, before tossing them all back into the sea. After we’ve pulled up about six traps with only a few soft shell lobsters in each, Captain Libby does some calculations. Bait costs $120 a barrel and that covers roughly 100 traps. So he needs to catch at least a one-pound lobster in each trap to break even on his bait costs, but that’s not counting gas.
Ideally, catching five or six lobsters in each trap would make a profit. Captain Libby doesn’t like to waste anything. You get the sense when he’s hauling traps on these tours, it’s not just for the tourists’ benefit; he’d actually like to make his bait back while simultaneously educating his guests. As her husband of 17 years talks and tends to his traps, Kim Libby rubbed Red’s head and said, “All we have to do is bottle that accent of his and we’ll have it made.”
As Captain Libby motors between islands tending traps, you will get to observe seabirds, seals sunning themselves on rocks and the occasional porpoise. You will also have the opportunity to see take pictures of the Marshall Point Lighthouse most known for its cameo in the movie “Forrest Gump.” Winding through Huppers Island and Raspberry Island, you will understand what fishermen in Maine have known for centuries; there is nothing more beautiful than being on the ocean on a sparkling, sunny day.
At the conclusion of each tour, each customer receives a live lobster to take home. (Check out their website to see how you can remotely “own” a lobster trap and all of its sustainable lobster to be shipped to your home.)
For more information about Port Clyde Lobster Tours, visit portclydelobsteradventures.com/index.htm; call 593.6808 or email Kim@portclydelobstertours.com.
Columns about the sub-culture of lobstering that K. Stephens has collaborated on with Maine lobstermen and guest bloggers.