N.H. WWII veteran reels in one more big tuna

Portsmouth Herald
Monday, August 21, 2017

Frank Chase became the talk of the dock in Seabrook last week after the 91-year-old landed a 300-pound bluefin tuna and hauled it into Yankee Fishermen’s Cooperative.

Chase, who lives on Railroad Avenue, landed the catch Saturday afternoon after a 35-minute fight with the fish. He caught the tuna on a 22-foot boat with just one friend to assist.

While Chase said 300 pounds is a common size for tuna, nearby fishermen who witnessed the catch were blown away. Chase’s granddaughter Tia has seen several posts on Facebook about the catch, with one fisherman writing “unreal, never heard or seen anything like that. What a tough bird.” Another fisherman texted Tia’s husband to call her grandfather a “frickn legend” (sic).

“I guess the muscles in my legs were aching for a couple days,” Chase said Wednesday. “You use muscles you don’t always use. It was a rough day.”

Chase said it was 1:30 p.m. when he saw his rod on the side of the boat hook up to a fish that pulled so hard he thought it was a shark. Chase grabbed the rod from its holder there and carried it to a holder at the front of the boat so he and his friend could follow the tuna from behind.

The tuna became caught at the boat’s anchor, where many fishermen lose their bluefins that are able to use the anchor to cut free from the line. Chase skillfully guided the boat around the anchor without breaking the line, and the battle went on.

Once the tuna began circling the boat from 100 feet below, Chase was able to slowly pull up the fish a foot or two at a time. When the fish finally surfaced, Chase attempted to spear the tuna, but the spear skimmed the fish’s scales without piercing. Chase was successful in his second attempt with the spear, and he and his mate dragged the fish onto his boat.

The tuna was flown to Japan, where it was set to be auctioned. Chase said the current tuna market is not as strong as it has in past years, when tuna could sell for $15 a pound.

The Chase family is steeped in fishing tradition, he said, going back to 1639 when Aquila Chase came from England and fished out of Seabrook. Fishing has remained an important part of the Chase family, down to Tia, who learned to fish with Frank and still loves it today.

Born and raised in Seabrook, Frank has always loved the ocean. He started fishing when he was 6 years old and has since fished all over New England from out of Kennebunkport, Maine, to Rhode Island.

In another part of Chase’s life on the water, he was honored for acts of bravery. He earned a Bronze Star Medal in World War II for helping fend off a bomber from attacking his aircraft carrier, the USS Franklin, after it faced a devastating attack less than 50 miles from Japan on March 19, 1945. A single Japanese plane struck the aircraft carrier with two bombs that day, killing more than 800 men and leaving it the most heavily damaged ship to survive the war.

Chase said he considered going to the chow line for food moments before the attack but decided against it because the line was too long. The first bomb was dropped just minutes later, killing the men waiting in the chow line.

Chase was one of seven men who manned an anti-aircraft gun after the initial attack to knock another plane off-course from dropping a bomb onto the ship, leading to his Bronze Star decoration. The fighting left Chase wondering if he was going to survive the war.

“I said, ‘Here we are out here, and 90 percent of us 18 or 19 years old, and we’re fighting a war we don’t know what it’s about, and we’re 12,000 miles from home, and I thought I was going to go also,” Chase said. “But I lucked out.”

Chase had a 25-year career in the Navy before retiring to become a fisherman and lobsterman. In the 1970s, he spent whole summers fishing, sometimes sleeping on the dock in Gloucester, Mass., so he could keep going. He has owned numerous boats, his current boat being named Last One Three. The previous boats were called Last One and Last One Two, as he jokes he has tried to quit fishing and owning boats but just cannot stop.

Last weekend was nowhere near the largest tuna Chase has ever caught. In 1985, he pulled in a tuna that weighed more than 1,000 pounds. He still has a picture of himself and a friend on the dock with the tuna.

Chase is still proud of reeling in his 300-pounder, though, as he has found tuna even that size to be less plentiful in the region than in years past. His granddaughter guessed he had a lifetime average of 20 tuna landings per season, but Chase said his totals have gone down in recent years. He believes commercial boats that drag large nets to catch tuna are much to blame for that.

“It was one of many, but it’s a hard job to get a fish out there, now,” Chase said.