Fishing with Eric Danilchuk

His line was strong and made for heavy fish and he held it against his hack until it was so taut that beads of water were jumping from it. Then it began to make a slow hissing sound in the water and he still held it, bracing himself against the thwart and leaning back against the pull. The boat began to move slowly off toward the north-west.”– Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway.

By John Lynds

For 30 years Eric Danilchuk has fixed countless smashed-up cars for East Boston residents and residents around the region. Danilchuk started Danilchuk Auto Body on Addison Street in 1988 with one employee and a three-bay garage. Today it’s one of the largest auto body shops in the area.

“Over the course of 20 years, I have grown to one of the largest auto body shops in Boston and on the North Shore,” he said. “I attribute this to a great working environment, top-notch technicians, a fantastic finished product, and most importantly, a very serious approach to customer service and satisfaction! When you become a customer of ours, you become more than that, you become part of our family.”

While returning dented and smashed cars back to their original glory is Danilchuk’s talent, his passion is fishing.

Like all serious fisherman, Danilchuk has his spot–a place where the underwater currents are warm, abundant with nutrients and the fish are plentiful.

For as long as he’s owned his auto body shop Danilchuk has been fishing the waters far past the Boston Harbor Islands in an area known as Stellwagen Bank. The steep sides of Stellwagen’s plateau cause deep-water currents to rise up when they hit the bank. This upwelling brings with it nutrients and minerals from the bottom, feeding the local ecosystem. Over 130 species from numerous classes of fish call the bank home. Some such fish are the haddock, Atlantic cod, silver hake, yellowtail flounder, bluefin and yellowfin tuna, striped bass, bluefish and numerous species of shark.

“You can catch pretty much anything out here,” said Danilchuk last Thursday as he took a group of locals two hours out from Orient Heights Yacht Club to his ‘spot.’ “You can mess around and try to go to other places to find fish but I like it here, there’s always plenty to catch.”

Leaving at 6 a.m. and arriving two hours later to the rich fishing grounds nearly 40 miles southeast of Gloucester, Danilchuk stops his boat and jokes, “Welcome to Nova Scotia.”

The seas in the morning are rough with three to four foot swells. But once the sun breaks the clouds and the temperatures rise the ocean calms and the fishing begins.

Danilchuk steadies the boat for the amatuer fisherman. He looks at his sonar that measures the depth to the bottom of the ocean.

“We are right in that perfect spot where it’s going from 280 ft. to 340 ft., we’re rolling down the edge here,” he announces.

The first in a series of droplines are baited and handed to the guys who will be fishing for the day. Dropline fishing is a method of fishing consisting of a long fishing line set vertically down into the water, with a series of fishing hooks attached to snoods.

Once the first line hits the bottom it only takes a minute or two for the first fish of the day to be hooked. It’s a good-sized haddock, probably 20-inches and well over 15 pounds.

The rest of the lines are baited and dropped and for the next six hours the fisherman rail in fish after fish. Haddock, Atlantic cod (that have to be caught and released due to state regulations), dogfish and other species.

“There’s so many fish out here,” says Danilchuk. “It’s amazing every time I come out here and I’ve been doing this for 30 years.”

He enjoys fishing so much he says he has a second boat docked in Miami. There he travels the 50 or so miles to Bimini, the closest Bahamian Island to the U.S., to catch marlin, tuna, swordfish and other sport fish. These are the same deep blue offshore waters between Florida and the Bahamas that Ernest Hemingway famously trawled for marlin, tuna and swordfish. It was stories of 500 pound marlin caught in these waters that inspired Hemingway to write ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and ‘Islands in The Stream.’

“I also like to go about 80 miles off Martha’s Vineyard, out into the Gulfstream,” said Danilchuk. “There you can catch the same fish as in Florida–marlin, different kinds of tuna, shark.”

Last week, before the finishing ends at 2 p.m. someone on board snagged a good sized haddock. As he was railing in the fish someone on the deck yells, “Shark in the water!”.

A nine foot blue shark, weighing around 100 pounds darts towards the catch, bites down on the struggling haddock and takes off for the open ocean.

“Once you’re fishing for a while and the fish are struggling and there’s blood in the water the sharks come,” said Danilchuk.

The shark is hooked but the line the fisherman are using is no match for the strong fish. They take turns fighting him for about 20 minutes and get him right up to the stern of the boat. The shark is upside down struggling with the line, his blue and white silhouette visible just below the surface. The shark, perhaps spooked by the sight of the boat and the throttling of the engine makes another run out to sea. The men struggle for a few more minutes but the shark with a few jerks of his powerful head and jaws snaps the line.

Danilchuk decides to bait a wire line and larger hook in an attempt to catch the shark that he’s sure will remain in the area.

Sure enough the shark returns about a half hour later and darts towards to 20-inch haddock on the hook.

“He’s going for it,” said Danilchuk.

After a bit of thrashing and commotion in the water of the boat’s stern they rail in the line.

All that’s left of the haddock is its head, everything from behind the gills to the fish’s is tail in gone and one clean bite.

While the group failed to nab the shark, they return to the dock with a pretty good catch, maybe 80 pounds of fresh haddock that Danilchuk expertly fillets on the dock for the fishing party.

That night, everyone ate well.

“It was a good day,” says Danilchuk. “There’s just something about being out there in the ocean. It’s peaceful, it’s how I relax.”

On Monday he’s back to the auto body shop, filling orders, fixing cars, dealing with insurance companies and answering the phone that endlessly rings in the office.

When you drive by Danilchuk Auto Body at any time of the week and witness the beehive of activity that is the hallmark of a successful local business one realizes those few hours of relaxation out in the middle of the ocean is something Eric Danilchuk not only earns but deserves.

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