The Boston Globe

By Brian McGrory, Globe Columnist, 6/7/2002

Admittedly, my idea of sport fishing is to sit in a bar with a plate of fried clams while the Red Sox play on TV.

But I got a package in the mail recently from good friend Scott Royster. He's a Southerner, the kind of guy who actually drives his off-road vehicle off the road. He's capable of killing his own dinner. He changes his own oil. He regards his tackle box as his most valuable asset.

And he sent the June issue of Saltwater Sportsman magazine, featuring a story about how the once-filthy waters of Boston Harbor were now yielding enormous, edible fish. This outdoorsman seemed to actually admire us.

All of which explains how I found myself standing aboard a 25-foot sport boat in the waters just off Logan Airport one morning this week. The Central Artery wasn't yet clogged. The downtown skyscrapers were still empty. The 7 a.m. US Airways shuttle bound for LaGuardia had just pulled back from the gate.

And Pete Santini was urgently pointing toward the back of our boat yelling about something called prop wash. ''Look at it!'' he was hollering. ''It's all white.'' Indeed, the water foaming around the outboards was as white as a country snow.

''A few years ago, that was yellow and brown,'' he said, proudly. ''It was awful. The water was covered in grease.''

Santini owns Fishing FINatics (, a bait shop in Everett. I had called and asked him if it was really possible to catch fish in the harbor that I could eat for dinner.

''We'll get you a buffet,'' he told me with his typical bravado. ''Stripers, flounder, cod. It's all there. You drop your line and - bang. And the stuff is beautiful.''

So there we were - me, Santini, and Todd Williams, owner of the Venture II. Williams sells cars, but he lives for the sea, specifically this harbor and all the tranquillity that goes along with it.

The two of them fish together every Wednesday - ''by court order,'' Williams says. They know each other's lucky bait. They carp at each other like a married couple. Two of life's good guys, they while away hours of time on vast stretches of quiet bay with only their thoughts, their hopes, and their fishing rods.

On this morning, we dropped anchor in 29 feet of water within the shadows of the egg-shaped tanks of the Deer Island sewage treatment plant as the city skyline glowed momentarily in a cameo appearance from the morning sun.

They speared live worms onto sharp hooks. We tossed our lines out. It wasn't 8 a.m. and Santini asked if anyone was ready for a fully loaded Italian sub.

Not two minutes later, my pole jerked. It was a monster, this fish, but I silently vowed to do whatever it took to deliver the creature from the unknown depths of these churning seas. When the beast broke water, Williams announced he was a cod, 5 pounds if he was an ounce, though at 22 inches too short to keep.

Didn't matter. Within the hour, we bagged another cod, 2 feet long. Then two flounder. It may not have been fish in a barrel, but it was fish out of friendly waters.

Later, we jigged, we trolled, and we tubed. They pointed out an island where seals recently lolled. They said they've seen porpoises in the harbor. They talked of nabbing 40-pound bass. They filled a bucket with sea water, clear as gin. When Williams dropped a quarter in it, you could actually read the date.

The real test came that very night, inside the clubby environs of the Capital Grille in Chestnut Hill. A chef broiled and roasted the fish. A waiter delivered them on a platter to Richard Brackett, general manager, expert foodie, and friend.

He silently took a forkful of scrod. He bit into the tender filet of sole. ''Delicious,'' he said, before adding, ''Incredible.''

It is, isn't it? We paid the price in high sewer bills. We hired the best managers around. We fulfilled our responsibility to the environment and to future generations. And now, in our clean harbor, dinner awaits, a success story like few others.

Brian McGrory can be reached at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 6/7/2002.

Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.