June 19, 2002

Recent Tragedies Stress Need to Be Careful Out There

Frank G. Dwyer
June 19, 2002

In the past ten days two Massachusetts’s men and one New Hampshire man died while fishing in New England waters. The stories are heartbreaking and tragic and reinforce the reality that there are inherent risks to this sport we love.

On June 11, a Dracut man either drowned or had a heart attack after the 16-foot boat he and two others were traveling in capsized in the Merrimack River after encountering a brief storm that blew through the area late in the afternoon. All three men, none of whom were wearing life jackets, were pulled from the water within five minutes of the boat capsizing. Donald Ducharme, a 59 year-old Dracut man was pronounced dead at Anna Jaques Hospital shortly after the accident. The other two men survived.

Just before midnight on June 12, a Martha’s Vineyard based Fly Fishing guide drowned after he stepped off a sandbar, and apparently into deep water, while fishing Edgartown’s outer harbor. Kenneth Schwam, 46, of Oak Bluffs and Wyncote, Pennsylvania, had been fishing with a customer on a sand bar and while walking back to shore in the darkness, the men stepped into a channel by mistake and became separated in the water. The client was able to make it back to shore and ran to a nearby house to call for help. A large search effort began shortly after the call and tragically Mr. Schwam was found floating partially submerged approximately 150 yards offshore at 2am and was pronounced dead at 3am. Mr. Schwam was an extremely experienced fisherman, with many years on the water. He owned a fly fishing shop in Pennsylvania that he recently closed so that he could move to Martha’s Vineyard and live year-round.

Carl Simonds Jr., 34, of Newmarket, NH, died on June 16 after either slipping off the rocks or getting hit by waves, while fishing in Gloucester. Mr. Simonds was found floating face down 50 yards offshore and was reportedly wearing a life vest. Soon after being pulled from the water, he was pronounced dead at the hospital. Weather was fairly rough in the area last Saturday, with six to eight foot waves pounding the shore.

Obviously none of the men who died had any intention of doing so when they headed out fishing. Other then some of the stories I had heard about folks wading into the water too far, I don’t think I ever thought about “what could happen” when I was strictly a shore fisherman. As my fishing experience grew, I quickly realized that fishing from shore could indeed be a dangerous activity and needed to be treated as such.

When a boat was added to my fishing mix, a certain amount of planning and safety awareness came with it. The boat allows for unparalleled access that shore fishing just does not provide, however it also allows for an increased chance for trouble by the very nature of being further from shore and the possibility of mechanical problems. In addition, having a boat allows me to take others out fishing with me, adding their well being to the items I need to be concerned with.

I’m writing about these sad and unfortunate incidents because I believe them to be newsworthy to the recreational fishing community, but also because these events have forced me to reflect on my fishing practices, and in some cases modify them. Perhaps we all can do well by examining our fishing practices.

Let’s all take a moment to send a good thought to the families of these men, and hope that their loved ones will rest in peace.


Bigger fish have taken up residence in the area, and anglers from both shore and boat are cashing in on the action.

Joppa Flats, while quite crowded over the last few weeks, continues to produce fish in numbers, and lately larger fish have become active. Reports have striped bass up to 25 pounds being caught. Large flies, up to 10 inches in length, along with large swimming and top-water lures are your best bet for the larger fish. One angler fishing Joppa with live mackerel reported landing several fish over 40 inches.

Fishermen at Plum Island Point have had success in the river using sea worms and clams on the bottom using fish finder rigs. Cut bait—mackerel and herring—has also been producing. If you can stand the crowds, some big fish come from the Point every year.

A less crowded option is the ocean front on Plum Island. I’m always amazed at the space available on the oceanfront vs. the real estate available to fish on the river. Anglers fishing the ocean front have had success with similar methods to those used in the river at Plum Island Point, however a float rigged above your hook is a good idea to keep the bait out of the mouths of the bottom dwelling, and annoying skates that take up residence in the sand.

Martha at Surfland Bait and Tackle reports good fishing all around the island. On Wednesday when I stopped in the unmistakable smell of striped bass was in the air and Martha let me know that was because a 20lb and 18lb fish had just been weighed in. Both fish were taken from the shore. On June 17th, Ron Kaufman of Wakefield, MA was in the shop to weigh what turned out to be a 31-pound striped bass he caught while fishing Plum Island Sound. On June 14th, George Bossi was in with a 26-pound bass caught from a boat on Joppa Flats.

When I visited Ryan at Captain’s Fishing Parties on Plum Island this week, he had some nice pictures of 41 and 45-pound cod caught this week by some happy customers. Anglers on the full day trips have caught these big cod, along with many market-sized cod. Ryan reports the half-day trips have also been producing well with mackerel and some blues and striped bass being landed.

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