Summertime, and the fishing is easy
On a path behind UMass, they feel the call of the sea
The hot breath of summer flares across Dorchester Bay on a hazy, still Sunday. Fish are grabbing, not biting.
A line of planes stretching to the Blue Hills buzzes over UMass-Boston while boats bob in the calm waters and cyclists and skaters duck under rows of rods and maneuver around the phalanx of fishermen.
Among them is Osvaldo Rentas, who guards his 8-foot Rhino fishing rod on the concrete strip that wraps around the rear of the university.
Like the other fishermen, he swings his rod backward, then whips it forward into the gentle waters in hopes of getting a pull from something other than the current.
''The fish are selfish today," says Rentas, a bearded man from Jamaica Plain who says he hasn't caught a fish in three weeks. ''They keep stripping my hook of mackerel."
Like the ocean, this urban oasis is full of fish tales. Even when these fishermen don't catch anything, they often leave with a personal story from a neighbor.
On any summer day around high tide, a rainbow of residents -- Asians, Hispanics, African-Americans, and whites -- park themselves on the path to enjoy the aquatic urban oasis that extends out of the mainland like a finger.
They drink soda, eat packed sandwiches, and talk about where they come from (mostly Dorchester neighborhoods, but as far as Ukraine and Vietnam) and what they hope to catch. Striped bass. Bluefish. Flounder. And maybe the occasional lobster, according to one fisherman.
Locals and UMass staff and students know about this urban fishing hole, but few others.
''One of the secret gems along the harbor," is how Vivien Li, executive director of the Boston Harbor Association, described the spot.
''It's not something that would show up in the Boston Chamber of Commerce in terms of where to go," she said. ''The more popular fishing areas are those that are considered isolated and away from tourist areas. The Dorchester waterfront is relatively unknown except to natives or people looking to fish."
Bruce Berman is one of those fishermen. He lives on a 44-foot boat on the other side of the harbor and calls himself ''the Baywatcher."
''It's a spectacular urban site," says Berman, spokesman for Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, a nonprofit group that promotes and protects Boston Harbor.
Berman says one reason fishermen flock to this watering hole is its easy access. ''Despite the fact some bureaucrats and regulators would prefer it that we all use public transportation, guys with coolers full of dead fish like to drive and need a place to park," he says.
Like a fish is lured by bait, Rentas is constantly drawn to the area, and he will quickly tell you parking is among the reasons. He leaves his pickup truck on the road near the UMass field.
''It's convenient and safe. I work for Legal Seafoods, and I am sick of fish, but I love to catch them," says Rentas, a cook who says he has plucked striped bass, bluefish, and occasionally a lobster from the harbor. He doesn't eat them, though.
''I give them to a friend or my mother-in-law," says the Puerto Rican native, who became familiar with the area when he was studying marine biology at UMass more than 30 years ago.
While his catches are few, he treasures the downtime.
Gazing at the sparkling water on this Sunday afternoon, he says, ''I don't care if I catch fish or not. It's about being near the water and relaxing.
''There have to be more places like this for people to have access to the shore," he says, admiring the ocean view with its smattering of islands on the horizon.
Clear water wasn't always on tap at the harbor. In 1988, former President George Bush called it ''the filthiest in America." It took a 1985 landmark court case to begin to clean it up. By 2000, when the cleanup was largely completed, the mission to make Boston's beaches safe for fishing and swimming had succeeded. The harbor beaches had undergone a renaissance. Families came back to sunbathe and splash. Some beachgoers brought fishing rods and found riches in the rapid tide that flows in the bay and brings in schools of fish.
''That fast-moving water is really attractive to fish," says Berman. ''Our big tides enter in and out of Dorchester Bay. The game fish are on their way to Maine or on their way to Virginia. They are always moving."
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Alex Taratin is hoping his fishing line taps that aquatic highway.
A picture of pure comfort, Taratin, a heating oil technician, wears one earring that sparkles in the sun and sunglasses that hide his sea-green eyes. Sitting back in a fold-up chair, b-r-e-a-t-h-ing in the salty air, he looks so mellow he could be asleep.
But when his pole begins to unreel and squeal, Taratin bursts into motion. He pops up out of the chair and dashes to his rod. But it's a false alarm.
No catch. Nada.
He's used to this dance.
''I don't have luck today," says Taratin, who says he enjoyed fishing in the rivers and lakes of his native Ukraine. When he moved to Boston in 1995, he didn't know where to cast his line until a coworker mentioned this place.
It's close to his Edward Everett Square home, and he says UMass security doesn't hassle him for parking on the school's access road, despite several ''Tow Away" and ''No Parking" signs.
Last month, Taratin, 34, caught a 29-inch striped bass, which he took home and grilled for dinner.
While UMass-Boston is a hot fishing spot, fisherman are required to abide by state recreational regulations, from size to possession limits. For example, fisherman can catch striped bass, as long as they are least at 28 inches long with a two-fish limit, while bluefish has no size limit but a one-fish possession limit. Flukes (summer flounder) need to be at least 16.5 inches with a limit of seven fish. Cod need to be 22 inches with a limit of 10.
No license is required for recreational saltwater angling, according to the state Division of Marine Fisheries.
Taratin says he doesn't understand why people buy fish when they can catch them close to home.
''There's nothing wrong with this fish here," he said. ''People are naive. This is the same stuff you buy in the store."
He wants to top his big catch, and that drives him to return, even if that means leaving empty-handed at times.
''If you get at least one fish the whole summer, then you did good," he said in accented English. ''I think I spend more money on the bait than the fish I get."
As Taratin settles into his chair, a marching band practices on the UMass field. Smoke from a barbecue scents the air. On the other side of the path closer to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, two men play chess while their fishing poles run on autopilot.
Down the path a bit, Luis Rodriguez, wearing a bright-red floppy cap, sits in his fold-up chair. He is armed with two fishing poles, a weight and scale, and a bag of frozen mackerel.
Rodriguez, 40, who grew up in the South End, has been coming to fish here since he was 10 years old. His father and grandfather taught him how to catch fish with a can and string behind UMass.
These days, Rodriguez frequently brings his own children and lets them ride their bikes while he does his own thing.
Rodriguez, who now calls Waltham home, has his fishing down to a science. He arrives two hours before high tide and waits through two hours after it ''because the fish follow the flow of the tide. You can catch everything going out."
Last month, he caught a 29-inch striped bass. Last August, he reeled in a 38-inch, 19-pound bluefish. He brings measuring tape and a scale to weigh his finds. At home, he filets the fish and freezes the rest for another meal.
Rodriguez remembers when the area was rife with flounder a decade ago (You could catch them in buckets, he said), but he believes vibrations from the former
The plant has actually been there for decades, but no matter; we're talking fish tales here, remember? Rodriguez goes on to say that he gets more bites when airliners fly directly above the water on their descent to Logan Airport.
But not today. He says he has missed the peak of the tide.
Regardless, Rodriguez says his visits to this fishing enclave are ''more about relaxing" than yield.
''I just watch the rod and think out loud," he says.